John Bruce (1794-1875), manufacturer

The Leaving of Dundee

The difficulties continued with the Census of 8 April 1861 – we can find Margaret, Robert and Mary, who are living in Rankine’s Court, Dundee. This address led off Murraygate at number 6 and may be the same as the Rankine’s Close where their mother had died nearly two years before. Emily, who would be 17 years old at this time, is not with them. In fact, she is living at 115 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow, working as a milliner and one of seven boarders living with George and Grace Simpson – a draper and milliner respectively. Margaret is now 23 and is described as a “house proprietor”, Robert is 19 and a mercantile clerk in the flax and jute trade, while Mary, at 14, is still at school. Given that Margaret is a proprietor in her own right, and their father is nowhere to be found in the Dundee census, it appears that he may have left the children to run their own lives. Further support is given to this if we look back at the death certificate of their mother, Janet Constable, for it is Robert who informs the Registrar, not his father – in fact his father’s name doesn’t even appear on the certificate, since Janet is simply described as “wife of a Commission Agent”. Although we cannot be certain, their father is probably the Dundee born John Bruce, linen merchant , who is lodging in the Chorlton on Medlock district of Manchester, and staying with one Benjamin Terry, a 60y old book-keeper from Yorkshire, and his wife Hannah.

Sometime in 1863, Robert left Dundee and emigrated to California. At this time, the American Civil War was still raging, so it was hardly the most obvious destination. However, California was untouched and Robert sailed the long way round Cape Horn – the only practical way, in fact, to reach there. The supposition is that he was following in the tracks of his uncle, Alexander Constable, who after running his father’s jeweller’s business for a while, had emigrated some time previously and appears to have been living in Sacramento, California.

Emily Bruce married Robert Hunter, a Kirkcaldy builder, in Edinburgh on 4 July 1872, and Margaret went to Edinburgh to work at Donaldson’s Hospital, Edinburgh, as a sewing mistress. Margaret was at Donaldson’s in 1875 when she had to register the death of her father. John Bruce senior had died at 9 p.m. on 29 August 1875, at the age of 81. The cause of death was certified as a fracture of his femur, which he had suffered 40 days before, along with “congestion of the lungs”. He died in Edinburgh, at 8 Salisbury Place – apparently his home. Sadly, given that he had raised the monument over the family grave in the Howff, his own grave in Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh, is apparently unmarked.

Just over two years later, on 28 December 1877, James Bruce, John’s younger brother, died at his home in Small’s Wynd, Dundee, at 2:30 in the afternoon. The death was registered the next day by Alex Dow, a retired grocer and neighbour who lived in Hunter Street – just across the way from the end of Small’s Wynd. James was 78 and the doctor certified the cause of death as “old age”, together with “hemiplegia” – the paralysis of one side due to a stroke. Since his wife Jean had died previously, and his nephew John Bruce junior had left the textiles trade by then, this meant not just that the last member of that generation of the Bruce family was gone, but the last link between the Bruces and textiles had also gone.