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George Barclay Bruce

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1869. Designed by Mr. G. B. Bruce, M.I.C.E. for a Railway Station in Berlin.

Sir George Barclay Bruce (1821-1908).

1841 Living at St. Mary's Place, Northumberland Street, Newcastle upon Tyne: Mary Bruce (age c55), Independent. With Edward Bruce (age c30), Bookseller; Charles Bruce (age c30), Bookbinder; Thos Bruce (age c25), Bookseller; Anne Moneny Bruce (age c25); George B. Bruce (age c14), Engineer; and Robert Bruce (age c20), Farmer.[1]

1847 Married in Pancras to Helen Norah Simpson

1850 Elected as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers

1881 Living at 64 Boundary Road, St. Johns Hampstead: George Barclay Bruce (age 59 born Newcastle), Civil Engineer. With his wife Helen Norah Bruce (age 55 born Paisley, Scotland) and their daughter Annie Louisa Bruce (age 23 born London). Two servants.[2]

1901 Visitor at the Grand hotel, Hastings: G. Barclay Bruce, (age 79 born Newcastle on Tyne), Civil Engineer - Employer - Widower.[3]

1908 August 25th. Died. Of 3 Victoria Street, Westminster, and 64 Boundary Road, St. John's Wood. Probate to Alexander McKerrow and Robert White, civil engineers.


Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement

BRUCE, Sir GEORGE BARCLAY (1821–1908), civil engineer, born at Newcastle-on-Tyne on 1 Oct. 1821, was younger son of John Bruce, founder of the Percy Street Academy. John Collingwood Bruce [q. v. Suppl. I] was his eldest brother. Robert Stephenson [q. v.] was among his father's pupils, and Bruce, who was educated in his father's school, served five years' apprenticeship (1836-41) in the locomotive works of Messrs. Robert Stephenson & Company.

After two years' experience on the construction of the Newcastle and Darlington railway, he spent a term as resident engineer on the Northampton and Peterborough line, and then was appointed, at the age of twenty-four, by the engineers-in-chief Messrs. Robert Stephenson and Thomas Elliott Harrison [q. v.], resident engineer of the Royal Border bridge, one of the largest stone bridges in Great Britain, which carries the North Eastern railway across the Tweed at Berwick, on twenty-eight semi-circular arches, each of sixty-one feet six inches span. It was opened by Queen Victoria in August 1850, and in 1851 Bruce presented an account of it to the Institution of Civil Engineers (Proc. x. 219), for which he was awarded a Telford medal. While next engaged on the construction of the Haltwhistle and Alston Moor branch of the Newcastle and Carlisle railway, Bruce was called to India, and was thenceforth largely concerned with Indian railways.

After working on the Calcutta section of the East Indian railway until 1853, he served as chief engineer of the Madras railway until 1856, when ill-health compelled his return home. He had then laid out and partly constructed about 500 miles of the Madras railway, employing free native labourers under proper supervision instead of depending on contractors. On 5 Dec. 1857 Robert Stephenson presided at a dinner in London, when Bruce was presented by his associates on the Madras Railway Company with an address and with plate to the value of 515l. In 1857 he wrote a paper, 'Description of the Method of Building Bridges upon Brick Wells in Sandy Foundations, illustrated by the Viaduct over the River Poiney, on the Line of the Madras Railway' (Proc. Inst. Civ. Eng. xvi. 449).

From 1856 Bruce was established as a consulting engineer in Westminster, from 1888 in partnership with Mr. Robert White. He was consulting engineer for fifty years to the metre-gauge South Indian railway, and from 1894 to the Great Indian Peninsula and Indian Midland railways of five feet six inches gauge the broader gauge which Bruce preferred.

Bruce's work included the Kettering, Thrapston and Huntingdon, the Peterborough, Wisbech and Sutton, the Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont, and the Stonehouse and Nailsworth railway lines. Abroad he constructed the Tilsit-Intersburg, East Prussian, and Berlin-Gorlitz lines. During 1873-6 he constructed works for the shipment of ore from the Rio Tinto copper-mines at Huelva in Spain, including a railway and a pier of considerable magnitude and novel construction. He also did engineering work for the East Argentine railway, the Buenos Ayres Grand National tramways, and the Beira railway in South Africa.

Bruce was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1850, became a member of council in 1871, and was president in the Jubilee year 1887 (Address in Minutes of Proceedings, xci. 1). He served a second term as president in 1888, when he was knighted.

In 1883, while vice-president, he represented the institution in Canada at the opening of the Northern Pacific railway (cf. Proc. lxxv. 1).

In 1889 he was created an officer of the legion of honour of France. He became a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1874, and served on the royal commissions on the water-supply of London of 1892 and 1897.

Outside his professional work Bruce was deeply interested in the Presbyterian church in England and public education. To the extension of the Presbyterian church at home and abroad he gave time and money liberally, and he actively promoted the union of presbyterians in England, which was effected in 1876. At Wark-on-Tyne he built a church and manse. His chief services to the cause of public education were rendered as a member of the school board for London, on which he represented Marylebone from 1882 to 1885.

Bruce died at his residence, 64 Boundary Road, St. John's Wood, on 25 Aug. 1908. He married in 1849 Helen Norah, daughter of Alexander H. Simpson, solicitor, of Paisley, by whom he had one son and four daughters.

His portrait in oils by W. M. Palin was presented to the Institution of Civil Engineers by members in 1889.


1908 Obituary [4]

SIR GEORGE BARCLAY BRUCE, born at Newcastle-on-Tyne on the 1st October, 1821, was the son of the late John Bruce, the founder of an academy at that place, of high reputation throughout the northern counties.

In his father’s academy the subject of this memoir received his early education, and at the age of 15 he was apprenticed to the firm of Robert Stephenson and Co, serving for 5 years in the locomotive works at Newcastle, where most of the engines for the early railways were built. Robert Stephenson had himself been a pupil at Mr. John Bruce’s academy and sought to repay his old teacher by giving the son a start in life, besides befriending him in many ways in his after career.

Having served his apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer, young Bruce turned his attention to railway construction, and from 1842 to 1844 he was engaged upon the construction of the Newcastle and Darlington Railway, which was opened in the latter year.

He then acted as Resident Engineer on the Northampton and Peterboro’ Railway, and subsequently, while still only 24 years of age, he was appointed by Robert Stephenson and Thomas Elliot Harrison, as Resident Engineer on the Royal Border Bridge which carries the North Eastern Railway over the Tweed at Berwick. This splendid example of a masonry viaduct, among the largest of its kind in the world, is 2,160 feet in length and 126 feet in height from the bed of the river to the top of the parapets.

The construction of the work called for considerable resource on the part of the young engineer and on its successful completion in 1850 it was opened by Queen Victoria. The account of its erection which George Bruce presented to The Institution in 1851 won for its Author a Telford Medal. Subsequently he was entrusted with the construction of the Haltwhistle and Alston Branch of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, including some difficult work over Hurlston Moor, but before its completion his services were transferred to a distant sphere.

In 1851 he became one of the pioneers of railway construction in India, and for the first 18 months he was engaged upon the construction of the Calcutta section of the East Indian Railway.

In 1853 he was transferred to the appointment of Chief Engineer of the Madras Railway, a position which he held until the end of 1856, when in consequence of his health breaking down he was obliged reluctantly to close his service in India.

To Sir George Bruce belongs the credit of having introduced in the construction of the Madras Railway the departmental system of carrying out works without the intervention of contractors. From experience gained in Bengal he learned the difficulty of obtaining reliable men of this class and he decided to dispense with them in Madras, taking upon himself the responsibilities and risks of direct construction. He also set himself against the method commonly employed in India of carrying out public works by forced labour, and succeeded by patience and upright dealing in attracting the natives to his works as free labourers. In railway construction he adopted the method of building bridges in sandy foundations upon brick wells sunk by native divers, described in his Paper on the Poiney Viaduct presented to The Institution in 1857.

Sir George Bruce laid out and partly constructed about 500 miles of the Madras Railway, and before leaving in 1856 he had the satisfaction of seeing the first length opened for traffic at a cost of only £6,000 per mile, a figure which justified his experimental adoption of the departmental system and demonstrated the economy of his management. Although his actual residence in India was of comparatively short duration, his work was not without its influence on later railway construction there, and he retained until the end of his life a warm interest in Indian Railways.

Shortly after his return home he became Consulting Engineer to what is now the South Indian Railway, a system of some 1,300 miles on the metre gauge, a position which he held for the long period of 50 years. From 1894 he also acted as Consulting Engineer to the Great Indian Peninsula and Indian Midland systems, comprising a length of over 2,800 miles of broad-gauge line.

He took an active part in the 'battle of the gauges' which was fought over the question of the gauge of Indian Railways, and gave rise to long and animated discussions at The Institution in 1873. He was strongly opposed to the introduction of a gauge other than the standard of 5 feet 6 inches which then existed, and although in later years he had to do with both the broad and the narrow gauges, he always maintained that a grave error had been made in introducing the latter.

On his return from India in 1856, he established a consulting practice in Westminster, and shortly afterwards he proceeded to Canada to inspect the Victoria Bridge which carries the Grand Trunk Railway over the St. Lawrence River at Montreal. Robert Stephenson, who had designed this bridge, did not live to see it completed, and Sir George Bruce undertook its final inspection in deference to a request which had been left by his old master.

In the early sixties, Sir George Bruce was much, occupied with the construction of railways in Germany, and was Chiefs Engineer of the Tilsit and Insterburg line, the East Prussian Railway from Pillau to the Russian frontier, and the Berlin-Gorlitz Railway, all of which have since become State railways.

During the same period he was engaged in the construction of railways in England, being Engineer to the Kettering, Thrapston and Huntingdon, the Peterboro’, Wisbech and Sutton, the Whitehaven, Cleator and Egremont, and the Stonehouse and Nailsworth Railways, which have since been absorbed in the London and North Western and Midland systems.

Between 1873 and 1876 he constructed a railway for the shipment of ore at the Port of Huelva from the Rio Tinto Copper Mines in the South of Spain, together with a pier and shipping facilities at Huelva. This pier, which is a work of considerable magnitude embodying some novel features of construction, was the subject of a Paper read at The Institution in 1878. He also acted as Engineer of the East Argentine Railway, the Buenos Ayres Grand National Tramways and other works in South America, and the Beira Railway in South Africa.

During his later years Sir George Bruce’s services were much in request as an arbitrator, and he was a member of the Royal Commissions of 1893 and 1899 on the Water Supply of London, of which Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Lord Llandaff were respectively Chairmen.

In 1883 he visited America to be present at the inauguration of the Northern Pacific Railway, and after his return he gave to The Institution an interesting account of his reception and experience. During the last 20 years of his life Sir George was associated in partnership with Robert White.

He was elected a Member of The Institution in 1850, became a member of Council in 1871, a Vice-President in 1882, and President in the Royal Jubilee year of 1887, and again in 1888. During his second year of office the Queen conferred upon him the honour of knighthood, and in 1889 he was created an Officer of the Legion of Honour by the President of the French Republic.

The foregoing is a brief record of the principal engineering achievements of Sir George Bruce during a long and busy career, but apart from professional work, he found time and energy to devote to many private interests. He was deeply interested in the question of public education, and for some years was an active member of the late School Board for London.

His chief interest, however, lay in the welfare of the Presbyterian Church, of which he was a leading member. He was for 30 years Convener of the Church Extension Committee, and rendered yeoman service in the building of churches, and in liberally contributing to them. He was also one of the foremost in promoting the union, effected in 1876, of Presbyterians in England.

Sir George married in 1847 Helen Norah, daughter of Mr. Alex. H. Simpson, of Paisley, by whom he had one son and four daughters.

He passed away peacefully at his London residence, 64 Boundary Road, St. John’s Wood, on the 25th August, 1908, at the advanced age of 87 years.

The Institution being in recess, the President, on its behalf, conveyed to the family of Sir George Bruce an expression of condolence and of regret at the loss sustained by The Institution, the terms of the President’s letter being subsequently adopted by the Council.


1908 Obituary [5]

Sir GEORGE BARCLAY BRUCE was born at Newcastle-on-Tyne on let October 1821, being the son of Mr. John Bruce.

After receiving his education at his father's school, he, at the age of fifteen, entered Robert Stephenson's works in Newcastle, and served an apprenticeship of five years.

On its completion in 1842 he was engaged upon the construction of the Newcastle and Darlington Railway, which was opened in 1814, and formed the last link in the connection of London and Newcastle.

At the end of this work he was appointed resident engineer on the Northampton and Peterborough Railway, which was completed in 1845.

His next post was as resident engineer on the Royal Border Bridge, which formed the railway connection across the Tweed at Berwick. This bridge, which still stands as a splendid example of masonry viaduct — among the largest in the world — is 2,160 feet in length, with a height from the bed of the river to the top parapets of 126 feet 6 inches, and its successful completion was signalised by its inauguration, in 1850, by Queen Victoria.

He next became engineer for the construction of the Haltwhistle and Alston branch of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, which included some difficult work over Hurlston Moor. In 1851 he ceased his connection with the North Eastern Railway to go to India, and remained there five years. During this period he did splendid work, which was not without its influence on later railway construction.

After spending eighteen months in charge of the Calcutta end of the East Indian Railway, he was chosen to design the railway lines in the Presidency of Madras, being appointed chief engineer of the Madras line in 1853. The work was of an arduous nature, calling for great resource, because there were no satisfactory means of transit or communication; moreover there was a great difficulty in obtaining native labour, owing to the prejudice of the people.

The Madras line was about 500 miles long, but his health broke down long before the end of the undertaking, and he returned to England at the end of 1856.

On the restoration of his health, be commenced to practise as a consulting engineer in London, and one of his first appointments was that of consulting engineer to what is now the South Indian Railway.

Later he became also consulting engineer to the Great Indian Peninsula and the Indian Midland Railways. In addition, he had from this time onwards an extensive Continental and South American practice, and from 1872 to 1879 be acted jointly with Mr. C. W. Homans as consulting engineer to the government railways of New Zealand.

His work in England during this period was associated with many cross-country lines, which have since become part of the general systems of the London and North Western and Midland Railways.

In 1887-1888 he was President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and in the latter year received the honour of knighthood. His death, after an illness of some months, took place at his residence in St. John's Wood, London, on 25th August 1908, in his eighty-seventh year.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1874.


1908 Obituary [6]

. . . was born on October 1st. 1821. . . He was the son of John Bruce, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, a schoolmaster, at whose school he attended until he was fifteen. It is interesting to note that Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell and Robert Stephenson were also educated there.

It was perhaps owing to Robert Stephenson, who was, however, seventeen years his senior, Having attended the same school, that young Bruce when be left school entered the Stephensons' works, where he served a six year apprenticeship, afterwards taking service with the firm as an engineer. This must have been about the year 1842. . . . later on resident engineer-in-charge of the Royal Border Bridge . . . engaged for the next five or six years on railway construction in Bengal and Madras.

. . . President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1887-88, and in the latter year he received the honour of knighthood. . . . [more]


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