George Bruce

Joseph Druce aka George Bruce, Convict, Royal Admiral 1792

Crime: burglariously and feloniously breaking and entering the dwelling house of William Dresser , about the hour of eight at night, on the 7th of March , and burglariously stealing, nine silk handkerchiefs, value 40 s. his property. Tried: 14 Apr 1791, Old Bailey London, Death age 12 years. On 14 Sep 1791 his death sentence was commuted to life. [1]

“I was soon over taken by the justices. many time I was cot thifing, but I was so small that the Ladies and Gentlemen all pitteed me. And let me go from time to time. but at last I was cought in the fact. and cast for death at the age of twelve. it was for braking a winder and taking out two pices of hankshif. I remained in newgate for some time and from thence to the houlks at woollige whar I Beamained. tell the year ninety one. then I was put on Bord the royal hadmarl east indamen to go to portjacksen. my employment. during the voge was to see all the boys cleen to Muster every morning be for the captin. the ship arrived at hir Respictef port wih the loos of seven Sales out of four houndred and thifty wich captin Bond had on bord. Captain Band was noblest one of the most nobelist harts that ever Existed on Earth for he haved bouth a father and frind to all on bord during a passage of four Mounths and four days”.[2]

Upon arriving at Port Jackson aboard the Royal Admiral in Oct 1792 “he was taken straight to Toongabbie and employed carrying water to a gang of tree-fellers. Next he was assigned to the botanist George Caley who was collecting insects for Banks, thence to the superintendent of convicts as a personal servant, and finally to Lieutenant Governor Grose as his body-servant. When Grose left Sydney for England Bruce received a free pardon. He then spent several uneventful years as a seaman on the Francis before to the Cumberland”. [3]

May 1801: off stores, Sydney, working for Sgt Major Grose of the NSW Corps

In 1803, this vessel was taken over by Flinders, who installed his own crew, and Bruce found himself out of work. He then joined the New South Wales police force but was promptly dismissed and sentenced to six months’ gaol when he consumed the brew associated with an illicit still he had seized. While in gaol, Bruce became involved in a violent brawl between English and Irish convicts which resulted in several serious injuries, and when he was sentenced to 200 lashes for his part in it, escaped and went bush with two associates. All three were employed by a settler to steal from the Government stockyards in exchange for their concealment. Eventually their farm was raided by the police, but Bruce escaped and fled cross-country to the Hawkesbury where he provided cheap labour for a number of settlers who concealed him. Subsequently, one of these received an interview with Governor King and obtained a pardon for Bruce, but on condition that he go back to sea. Bruce then joined the crew of the Francis, and when this vessel was wrecked transferred to the Lady Nelson”.[4]








In February 1806 when the New Zealand Chief Tippahee (Te Pahi) returned home after a visit to Sydney, Bruce nursed him through an illness whilst on the Lady Nelson, and then left the ship at the Bay of Islands.

His gentle manners and usefulness as an interpreter between the whalers and the natives, caused the tribe to respect and value him. One day the General Wellesley, an English vessel, arrived off the coast, and Captain Dalrymple begged Bruce and his wife to come on board to assist him in searching for gold near the North Cape. Distrusting Dalrymple’s simple word, Bruce extracted a promise that both would be landed safely at the place ‘where they had embarked. Disappointed at not finding gold, Dalrymple broke his promise and carried Bruce and his wife away from N.Z. At Malacca, Dalrymple left Bruce on shore, carrying off his wife to Penang, where he sold her to the master of another ship. Here Bruce, who followed in pursuit, found her, and with the Governor’s aid got her back, and obtained a passage for both to Calcutta, in the hope of meeting there with a vessel bound for Sydney. But neither Bruce nor his wife ever returned to the Bay of Islands.[5]

His wife Mary was Te Pahi’s daughter, George Bruce and Mary Ann Athoe married 28 Nov 1809 Hobart, with abode for both recorded as Bay of Islands, Joseph recorded as George Bruce.

Mary Bruce died 28 Feb 1810 of dysentery, age 18 years, buried 28 Feb 1810 Old Sydney Burial Ground. Her headstone reads:
Good Christians all that see this tomb.
What I am come to is your doom.
These Words is true I do lay.
The Secret that is between this Soul and the no mortal Soul that’s in the Life.
Will never know the Secret between me and my wife.
All tho She, is gone and I am Here.
Never till our Souls Before the Lord does appear.
When we are there, Both Great and Small
God will Discover our secrets all”.[6]

Her death was reported in the Sydney Gazette 3 Mar 1810:
On Sunday morning last, at four o’clock, at the house of Mr Francis McKuan, in Sydney, a Princess of New Zealand, and daughter of Tip-pa-l whose first name was Atahoe, but which at the age of 14 was changed to that of Mary Bruce by her marriage with an European of that name who had resided several years in her father’s dominions, from whence he went for India in the General Wellesley, accompanied by his royal bride. From India Mr. and Mrs. Bruce arrived lately in the Union, on their return to New Zealand, for valuable purpose of collecting and cultivating the flax to which that soil is so extremely favourable; at same time that the no less essential object was in view of improving the good understanding that has hitherto subsisted between our whalers and the native chiefs, which may hereafter prove of considerable interest to this Colony. In this intention Mr. Bruce has been encouraged by the countenance of HIS EXCELLENCY the GOVERNOR, and the aid of several Gentlemen of character and opulence, whose minds are capable of speculating on a universal rather than on a private benefit; and that their united efforts may become successful is most sincerely to be wished. The deceased Princess has had a fine infant, which Mr. Bruce intends to take with him in the Experiment.

Their child Mary Ann Bruce, who was born en route to NSW in 1809 was then placed in care of the Parramatta Female Orphan School. Mary Bruce married 4 Feb 1828 St Johns Parramatta, John Tucker.

Joseph was unable to return to New Zealand and heavily in debt, Bruce signed on the Porpoise, then leaving for England with ex Governor Bligh in May 1810.  He made several attempts to return to NSW and New Zealand, he died 9 Feb 1819 Greenwich Hospital England.

[1] The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, Ref: t17910413-7 and s17910914-1

[2] George Bruce: The life of a Greenwich Pensioner, 1778-1817, compiled by Thomas Whitley, pre 1898, ML, A 1618/1, pp. 8 – 9.

[3] George Bruce: The life of a Greenwich Pensioner, 1778-1817, compiled by Thomas Whitley, pre 1898, ML, A 1618/1, p. 9; D. Wayne Orchiston, George Bruce and The Maoris (1806-8) The Journal of the Polynesian Society Vol. 81, No. 2 (JUNE 1972), pp. 248 – 249.

[4] D. Wayne Orchiston, George Bruce and The Maoris (1806-8) The Journal of the Polynesian Society Vol. 81, No. 2 (JUNE 1972), pp. 248 – 249.

[5] Cyclopaedia of Australasia 1881

[6] Epitaphs in the Church Yard at Sydney New South Wales in Arnold, Joseph. Letters etc 1810 and Journal 1815, Mitchell Library CY Reel 339. CYA:1849-2.

Cite this article as: Cathy Dunn, 'Joseph Druce aka George Bruce, Convict, Royal Admiral 1792', Australian History Research,, accessed [insert current date]
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