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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bruce, Sir Wallace (1878–1944)

by Eric Richards

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Wallace Bruce (1878-1944), by Vandyck Studios

Wallace Bruce (1878-1944), by Vandyck Studios

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 4618

Sir Wallace Bruce (1878-1944), insurance broker and commission merchant, was born on 3 August 1878 at Kapunda, South Australia, son of John Albert Bruce, agent and his wife Harriett Ellen, née Cowie. He was educated at Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, and worked for the Alliance Assurance Co. Ltd for about ten years. For two years he was the commercial manager of the Victoria Tannery at Hindmarsh, but in 1904 he opened his own insurance business, Wallace Bruce & Co., at 3 Old Exchange, Pirie Street, Adelaide. Next year, on 11 October, he married Winifred Drummond Reid at the Congregational Church, North Adelaide.

Bruce built up a successful enterprise which dealt with prominent city, country and overseas clients. He established a Western Australian agency and employed correspondents in Melbourne and Sydney. His solid business reputation led him into the directorates of many large South Australian enterprises, including Holden's Motor Body Builders Ltd, the Adelaide Cement Co. Ltd, Clarkson Ltd, the British Automobile Finance Co. of South Australia, the South Australian Gas Co., and Clutterbuck Bros (Adelaide) Ltd (of which he was also chairman). From 1923 he was a trustee of the Savings Bank of South Australia and in 1923-25 he was president of the local Taxpayers' Association. In 1925-27 he was president of the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce and in 1927-28 of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia. In 1916-25 he was on the Adelaide City Council and was lord mayor in 1925-27, being twice unopposed. He represented the council on the Municipal Tramways Trust in 1919-25 and, after a visit to Europe and the United States of America in 1922, he produced a report for the government on tramways. He was knighted in 1927. It was said of Bruce that 'although not a prolific speaker, his remarks are listened to with attention and respect'. He chaired the Industrial Peace Conference of 1928-29 in Melbourne and Sydney which sought solutions to industrial relations problems, and in April 1929 presided over a round-table conference on reopening the New South Wales coal-mines.

Bruce's most important appointment was in 1932 when he chaired a Commonwealth government committee to investigate unemployment; its membership included the economists L. F. Giblin, R. C. Mills, E. O. G. Shann and L. G. Melville. They advised that little could be done to reduce unemployment in the short run, and that the first priority should be the reduction of production costs in the Australian economy. While advocating that the exchange rate should be managed to restore employment and that the tariff be reviewed, the Wallace Bruce report opposed any public works expenditure which was not self-financing. It recommended the creation of State employment councils to co-ordinate sustenance and relief measures being undertaken by numerous government departments and charities, and to prune unproductive programmes. In 1935 Bruce became chairman of the South Australian Harbour Board.

He had wide interests in sport and was a trustee of the South Australian Cricketing Association from 1928. Survived by one son and four daughters, Bruce died in Adelaide of cardio-vascular disease on 16 November 1944. His estate was sworn for probate at £67,028.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess, The Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1907)
  • Associated Publishing Service, The Civic Record of South Australia 1921-1923 (Adel, 1924)
  • E. O. G Shann (ed), The Australian Price-Structure, 1932 (Syd, 1933)
  • Universal Publicity Co., The Official Civic Record of South Australia (Adel, 1936)
  • L. F. Giblin, The Growth of a Central Bank (Melb, 1951)
  • C. B. Schedvin, Australia and the Great Depression (Syd, 1979)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 11 Mar 1922
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Dec 1928
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 17 Nov 1944.

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Citation details

Eric Richards, 'Bruce, Sir Wallace (1878–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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