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Henry Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 The Lord Aberdare 

In office
9 December 1868 – 9 August 1873
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister William Gladstone
Preceded by Gathorne Hardy
Succeeded by Robert Lowe

Born 16 April 1815 (1815-04-16)
Duffryn, Aberdare, Glamorganshire
Died 25 February 1895 (1895-02-26)
Nationality Welsh
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) (1) Annabella Beadon (d. 1852)
(2) Norah Napier
(c. 1827-1897)

Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare GCB, PC, FRS (16 April 1815 – 25 February 1895) was a British statesman who served in government during the late 19th century, most notably as Home Secretary and as Lord President of the Council.[1]


Background and education

Henry Bruce was born at Duffryn, Aberdare, Glamorganshire, the son of John Bruce, a Glamorganshire landowner, by his wife Sarah, daughter of Reverend Hugh Williams Austin. John Bruce's original family name was Knight, but on coming of age in 1805 he assumed the name of Bruce: his mother, through whom he inherited the Duffryn estate, was the daughter of William Bruce, high sheriff of Glamorganshire. Henry was educated at Swansea Grammar School, and in 1837 was called to the bar. Shortly after he had begun to practice, the discovery of coal beneath the Duffryn and other Aberdare Valley estates brought the family great wealth.

Political career

From 1847 to 1854 Bruce was stipendiary magistrate for Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare, resigning the position in the latter year, when he entered parliament as Liberal member for Merthyr Tydfil. During this time, he became involved in the management of the Dowlais Iron Company. In 1862 he became Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and in 1868, after losing his seat at Merthyr Tydfil, but being re-elected for Renfrewshire, he was made Home Secretary by William Gladstone. His tenure of this office was conspicuous for a reform of the licensing laws, and he was responsible for the Licensing Act 1872, which made the magistrates the licensing authority, increased the penalties for misconduct in public-houses and shortened the number of hours for the sale of drink. In 1873 Bruce relinquished the home secretaryship, at Gladstone's request, to become Lord President of the Council, and was almost simultaneously raised to the peerage as Baron Aberdare, of Duffryn in the County of Glamorgan.

Public career after 1874

Statue overlooking the Main Building of Cardiff University

The defeat of the Liberal government in the following year terminated Lord Aberdare's official political life, and he subsequently devoted himself to social, educational and economic questions. In 1876 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society; from 1878 to 1891 he was president of the Royal Historical Society; and in 1881 he became president of both the Royal Geographical Society and the Girls' Day School Trust. In 1888 he headed the commission that established the Official Table of Drops, listing how far a person of a particular weight should be dropped when hanged for a capital offence (the only method of 'judicial execution' in Britain, at that time), to ensure an instant and painless death, by cleanly breaking the neck between the 2nd and 3rd vertebrae, an 'exacting science', eventually brought to perfection by Chief Executioner, Albert Pierrepoint.

In 1882 he began a connection with West Africa which lasted the rest of his life, by accepting the chairmanship of the National African Company, formed by Sir George Taubman Goldie, which in 1886 received a charter under the title of the Royal Niger Company and in 1899 was taken over by the British government, its territories being constituted the protectorate of Nigeria. West African affairs, however, by no means exhausted Lord Aberdare's energies, and it was principally through his efforts that a charter was in 1894 obtained for the University of Wales at Cardiff. Lord Aberdare, who in 1885 was made a Knight Grand Cross of The Order of the Bath, presided over several Royal Commissions at different times.


Henry Bruce married firstly Annabella, daughter of Richard Beadon, in 1846. They had one son and three daughters. After her death in July 1852 he married secondly Norah Creina Blanche, daughter of Sir William Napier, the historian of the Peninsular War, whose biography he edited. They had two sons and seven daughters, of whom the youngest was the mountaineer Charles Granville Bruce. Lord Aberdare died in London on 25 February, 1895, aged 79, and was succeeded in the barony by his only son from his first marriage, Henry. Lady Aberdare died in April 1897.

Henry Austin Bruce's grave at Aberffrwd cemetery in Mountain Ash, Wales.


The words on Henry Austin Bruce's grave at Aberffrwd cemetery in Mountain Ash, Wales.

Henry Austin Bruce is buried at Aberffrwd Cemetery in Mountain Ash, Wales. His large family plot is surrounded by a chain, and his grave is a simple Celtic cross with double plinth and kerb. In place is written "To God the Judge of all and to the spirits of just men more perfect." It says a lot for the man that his memorial is simple and he is buried with family.


  1. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 4


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Josiah Guest, Bt
Member of Parliament for Merthyr Tydfil
Succeeded by
Henry Richard
Preceded by
Archibald Alexander Speirs
Member of Parliament for Renfrewshire
Succeeded by
Archibald Campbell
Political offices
Preceded by
G. Clive
Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
Succeeded by
Thomas Baring
Preceded by
Gathorne Hardy
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Robert Lowe
Preceded by
The Marquess of Ripon
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by
The Duke of Richmond
Academic offices
Preceded by
(new post)
President of the University College of Wales Aberystwyth
Succeeded by
Baron Rendel
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Aberdare
Succeeded by
Henry Bruce


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