William Napier Bruce 410
- Born: 1 May 1858, Aberdare, Glamorgan, Wales
- Marriage: Emily McMurdo in 1882 in Fulham, London 10
- Died: 20 March 1936, 21 Bennett Street, Bath, Somerset aged 77 13
From The Times, March 21, 1936
The Hon. William Napier Bruce, C.H., who died at Bath yesterday at the
age of 78, was a great educationist. He began his offical career in
1886 as an Assistant Commissioner in the Charity Commission under the
Endowed Schools Acts, and for some years was continually travelling
about every district of Wales, thus laying the foundation of his
knowledge of Welsh education and its needs. In 1900, when the
educational side of the Charity Commission was transferred to the
Board of Education, he became an Assistant Secretary under the Board,
and three years later was appointed a Principal Assistant Secretary,
responsible for the new branch concerned with secondary schools, in
which he found abundant scope for his abilties.
From this time until his retirement in 1921 as Second Secretary he
exercised a great influence in the development of secondary education
in England. It was largely due to his tact and conciliatory
administration that the public schools came into contact, to their
advantage, with the inspectors of the Board, and his guidance did much
to keep the secondary schools established under the Education Act of
1902 on sound and humane lines. As secretary to the Commission on
Secondary Education, presided over by Mr. Bryce, 1894-95, he had
become familiar with the needs of the country in regard to secondary
education, and with the problems of curriculum and administration
He also had much to do with the establishment of the system of
intermediate education in Wales, for which his personal investigation
had given him an unrivalled knowledge of the facts. From an early
date he was concerned with the affairs of the University of Wales, in
the foundation of which his father had played a leading part, and his
own influence jointly exercised helped to steer it safely through many
dangers, and it was with general approval that on the death of Lord
Kenyon, Pro-Chancellor of the University, he was appointed to succeed
him in this office, which had been held in early days by Lord
Aberdare, and which he held till 1934. He received the honarary
degree of L.L.D. from the University.
Bruce was among the best men in the Civil Service: faithful and
diligent in sevice, with a wide outlook and the temper of a statesman.
He was an excellent chairman in a conference with people of
conflicting views, and his character and personality did much at a
critical time to make the schools and schoolmasters of England
recognize the Board of Education as a friend anxious to serve them and
make the most of them for the benefit of the country. And throughout
life he was the most modest and self-effacing of men. He had a fine
untroubled spirit keeping contact with great thoughts and ideals, but
with a humour and good sense that never lost hold on the realities of
life. Few men have served their generation so well or with such quiet
The second son of Henry Austin Bruce, first Lord Aberdare, by his
second wife Norah, daughter of Sir William Napier, the historian of
the Peninsula War, Bruce was born on January 18, 1858. He was
educated at Harrow under Butler, playing in the football eleven, and
Balliol under Jowett, where he was a conspicuous figure in the
undergraduate world of his day. It was an interesting period. Jowett
was in the midst of his rule as Master, and T.H. Green, who had just
become Professor of Moral Philosophy, was drawing Greats men to his
lectures. Strikingly handsome, with features that recalled his
grandfather, Bruce took an active part in the life of the college. He
was a member of the Dervorguilla, the senior debating society at
Balliol, and distinguished himself on the running path, representing
Oxford against Cambridge for the Quarter-mile in 1877, 1879, and 1880.
Then, as always, he was a great walker. On one occasion he walked
with his friend Frank Benson, of New College, to London through the
night, but such road-walking was not his choice. What he loved was
walking freely in the open country in Oxfordshire or Berkshire, Surrey
or South Wales. In the summer of 1880 he took the part of Agamemnon
in Aeschylus's play, then first produced in Balliol College Hall, with
Frank Benson as Clytemnestra. His figure and carriage lent a proper
dignity to the part. He read classics, took a second class in Greats
in 1880, and was called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1883.
Though he lived a busy official life, which at times involved much
railway travel, he found time for some literary work. In 1885 he
published an admirable short life of Sir Charles Napier, and edited
letters of Sir Henry Layard in 1903. He also wrote, for a book on
"Drawing" by his friend W.A.S. Benson, published after the author's
death, an attractive sketch of Benson's life and character. Many of
his friends regretted that he did not write more, but he preferred to
devote his time to reading, and had a rare knowledge of English poetry
and English political history in the last two centuries. His talk on
men and books was a delight to his friends. He was for many years a
notable figure at the Athenĉum, but had neither the taste nor the time
for general society; among his family and friends he was much beloved.
Those who were present at the dinner given to him by his colleagues at
the Board of Education on his retirement remember his speech and its
reception as something far beyond ordinary occasions.
He was made a C.B. in 1905 and a Companion of Honour in 1935. After
his retirement he served for four years on the Senate of the
University of London. In 1882 he married Emily, daughter of General
Sir Montagu McMurdo, whose wife was a daughter of Sir Charles Napier.
They had a son, William Fox Bruce, D.S.O., M.C., Brevet-Colonel,
Reserve of Officers, Royal Corps of Signals (T.A.), now an inspector
in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and a daughter.
Noted events in his life were:
1. Boarder: 1871, Roxborough Park, Harrow, Middlesex.
2. Census UK 1891: 1891, Tower Hill, Dorking, Surrey.
3. Census UK 1901: 1901, 34 Leinster Gardens, Paddington, London.
4. Census UK 1911: 1911, 14 Cranley Gardens, London. 10
5. Resided: 20 March 1936, Westfield House, Weston Road, Bath, Somerset. 13
6. His funeral was held on 25 March 1936 in Lansdown Cemetary, Bath.
7. He had an estate probated on 22 May 1936 in London. 13
William married Emily McMurdo, daughter of General Sir William McMurdo and Unknown, in 1882 in Fulham, London.10 (Emily McMurdo was born in 1857 in Westbury on Severn, Gloucestershire 10 and died on 15 December 1937 in Viale Hanbury 120, Alassio, Italy 13.)