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British Industrial History

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John Vans Agnew Bruce

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John Vans Agnew Bruce (1822-1863) of Cornish and Bruce

1822 Born in Edinburgh the son of John Vans Agnew Bruce and his wife Catharina Robertson

1843 December 11th. Married in Edinburgh to Margaret Macfarlane

1851 Shown as a Grocer in Kelso, with his wife, three children, mother-in-law plus.[1]

Bruce gained his railway engineering experience in Scotland (?)

1854 April 4th. Arrived in Victoria, Australia

He partnered Peter Le Page at Gisborne in contracts for road construction contracts including the main Melbourne to Mount Alexander road.

From 13 September 1856 Bruce continued as a road contractor on his own becoming one of the largest employers in the colony by 1857.

1858 Joined William Crocker Cornish in a successful tender of £3,357,000 for the first thirteen sections of the Melbourne to River Murray Railway. Their line reached Sunbury ahead of schedule on 13 January 1859, but Cornish died in March and work was delayed by strikes on the northern sections: Woodend was not reached until 18 July 1861, and the line was opened to Bendigo on 26 October 1862.

On 3 March 1859 Bruce had moved to Castlemaine where the works could be more adequately supervised and where by 1860 he had established a large foundry turning out rolling stock and railway plant.

1863 April 5th. Died at Essendon, Melbourne, age 41.[2]

1868 October 4th. Death of his widow Margaret Macfarlane at Tintern, Toorak, age 47.[3]


Footnote from a researcher.[4]

I have searched very thoroughly in the records of Scotland and I am convinced that his father was in fact John Vans Agnew of Barnbarroch and Sheuchan and his partner, to whom he was never married, Catharine, aka Anne, Robertson. Absolute proof is lacking but

a) there is nowhere any record of a John Vans Agnew Bruce;

b) it is notable that JVAB christened at least 4 of his children —— Vans Agnew, with the simple surname Bruce.

c) John Vans Agnew, my 3x great uncle, attempted in his will to leave many of his assets to his partner Catherine/Anne but was prevented by the family’s legal action and by an entail on the estate. His children seem to have been disinherited and that may be why JVAB went off to Australia. His will reads (in part): I John Vans Agnew of Sheuchan in the County of Wigtown on account of the fidelity frugality industry and maternal tendencies ?evinced during a period of ten years under my observation by Anne Robertson spinster presently residing at number 68 Princes Street Edinburgh and for the love favour and affection which I have and bear to the same Anne Robertson and to John, Alaric and Anne all infants my natural children by the said Anne Robertson do hereby give grant and assign and dispone to and in favour of the said Anne Robertson and John, Alaric and Anne her natural children by me share and share alike and their heirs and assignees whomsoever heritably and irredeemably all and sundry lands and heritages debts heritable and moveable ?heirship moveables and whole goods gear sums of money and effects and in general my whole means and estate heritable and moveable of whatever nature or denomination (excepting) always the the entailed estates of my family over which I have no power and wherever.

I have speculated that his mother later married a Bruce which would account for JVAB’s choice of name - but have found no record of that.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1851 Census
  2. The Argus (Melbourne) 1863/04/06
  3. The Argus (Melbourne) 1868/10/05
  4. JV 2018/07/17