John Bruce (1794-1875), manufacturer

Burgess

For the next few years, John had to bring his three children up while running his business. The chances are that he had help from relatives, either from the Bruce or Low side of the family, but we are unlikely to know the truth of that. It would seem that his business must have had some success, for in 1831 he could afford to commission a stone for the grave where his sister Helen, father James and wife Elizabeth were buried, while in 1833 John was made a Burgess of Dundee.

“At Dundee the seventh day of November Eighteen Hundred and Thirty Three. John Bruce Manufacturer in Dundee for having paid Three pounds sterling to William Boyd Baxter Town Chamberlain of Dundee being the sum fixed by the council at their meeting of twenty sixth August Eighteen Hundred and Thirty One” – so runs the entry in the “Lockit Book of Burghesses of Dundee”. This meant that John was entitled to trade in the Burgh, to have a stall in the market and to be elected to the Burgh Council, among other things.

In fact, the old order of Burgesses, Masters, Trades and Guilds was passing – not least at the prompting of the members of those very bodies. Much of the past history of Dundee had been the result of self-perpetuating protectionism, for the constitution of the burgh was such that members of the Council chose and elected their own successors. This led to barriers against new names, and while the council had sponsored many advances over the years, the more forward thinking of them felt the need for reform both local and parliamentary. The Nine Trades supported reform legislation, even though they would lose their rights to seats on the burgh council and to exclusive trading rights. Some saw the opening up of markets elsewhere, as other town’s guild lost their monopolies, as a prize worth chasing. The Reform Act was passed in 1832, and perhaps this loosened the selection criteria enough to allow John to become a Burgess. In fact, the Nine Trades would go on and continue to play their part in fighting for Dundee’s trade, petitioning Parliament in later years on behalf of the Harbour Act, the Tay Ferries, railways and so on.

The entries in the Dundee directories for these years show John moving around Dundee, though it may be that this was only whatever building he used for a business address. There are a number of records of him living in the Hawkhill area of Dundee – one shows him paying his contribution to the help of Dundee’s less well-off inhabitants, for in a book called “Assessment for the Support of the Poor within the Town and parish of Dundee for the year from 1st February 1835 to 1st February 1836”, the assessment for St. John’s Ward shows “Bruce, John, manufacturer, Hawkhill” paying the sum of £1 10s.

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