Papers of John Ronald Bruce, deputy director of the Port Erin Marine Biological Station and Trustee of the Manx Museum and National Trust

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The content consists of correspondence, field notes, log books, scrap book, reports, lecture notes, site plans, maps, diagrams and sketches covering various Manx archaeological sites such as the Ronaldsway Neolithic house, Marown old Church, Smelt House (Derbyhaven), Kew ‘Giant’s Grave’, South Barrule, St Michael’s Isle, ‘Holmes Bakehouse’ (Castletown), Rushen Abbey, Monks Bridge and Cregneash (and its role as the folk museum).

Other material relates to the Isle of Man’s prehistoric megaliths, burial mounds, early Christian Keeils (chapel), crosses, inscriptions, churches, castles and mottes. Papers on Port Erin’s history, including the Rushen internment camp in the Second War is also present.

Correspondence to William Cubbon is present and includes topics such as the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, Ronaldsway, Rushen Abbey, the Manx Chronicle, lecture on Manx medieval history, the humour and pathos of the Manx character and newspaper cuttings.

Papers connected to ‘Manx Antiquities’, describing the journey from Andreas to Lonan and Malew to Santon are situated within the deposit. Other documents relate to the Manx Archaeological Survey Report VI on the Keeils in Rushen.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Ronald Bruce (1894-1986), marine biologist and local antiquarian on the Isle of Man was born in to Liverpool. He was the son of John Bruce (1868-1943), a solicitor and Mary Bruce née Williams (1868-1955). While attending Wallasey Grammar School Bruce was awarded a Wallasey Borough Scholarship which allowed him to enrol at the University of Liverpool in October 1912. In 1913 an opportunity arose for Bruce to travel and study at the Marine Biological Station (later the Port Erin Marine Laboratory) in the Isle of Man. This opportunity initiated his long-term fascination with marine biology and was the beginning of his long affiliation with the Island and its archaeology. During his studies at Liverpool Bruce met his future wife, a fellow University student. By 1915 Bruce achieved his Bachelor of Science (BSc) with Honours in botany and by 1918 he had graduated with a Master in Science (MSc) in chemistry. During the First World War Bruce (and his future wife) was employed as a works’ chemist at a munitions factory in North Wales.

In 1918 Bruce became an Associate of the Institute of Chemistry (now the Royal Society for Chemistry) and from 1919 until 1921 he conducted chemistry research at the University of Liverpool in which he held the Johnstone Colonial Fellowship in biochemistry. By 1921 Bruce had moved to the Isle of Man after accepting a position at the University’s Marine Biological Station at Port Erin. Initially acting as the naturalist, he later became acting director and then deputy director from 1950 to 1960. In 1922 Bruce married Laura Davies (1895-1962), daughter of William Thomas Davies (1874-1900) a tailor and Helena Davies née Christian (1864-1943) who was from Kirk Michael, Isle of Man. The couple had 3 sons.

Bruce had an illustrious career as a marine biologist. For example he was an authority on the physiochemical properties and fauna of sandy beaches as well as aspects of the biochemistry and physiology of marine organisms. Bruce regularly published in distinguished journals such as the British Journal of Experimental Biology, the Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom and the Biochemical Journal. Bruce’s work on collecting new Island faunal records was described in the definitive second edition of Manx Marine Fauna in 1963.

Bruce was also an important advocate for Manx antiquarian studies, with his main interest lying in the Island’s archaeology. Conducting various studies and excavations, Bruce wrote up many of his findings in the Proceedings of the Isle of Natural History and Antiquarian Society and the Journal of the Manx Museum. In 1930 he co-published a report with William Cubbon (1865-1955), director of the Manx Museum in Archaelogia Cambrensis on the excavation at Cronk ny How. 1968 saw his study on 'Keeils (early Christian chapel) and Burial Grounds in the Sheading of Rushen’ published in the Manx Archaeological Survey. An active member of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society (IOMNHAS), he was its president 1927-1928 and was elected an honorary member in recognition of his contributions to Manx scholarship. Bruce was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1968.

In the Second World War Bruce acted as a lieutenant in the Home Guard, and it was during this time Bruce worked with the eminent German archaeologist, Gerhard Bersu (1889-1964), whom was interned on the Island. Bersu was allowed to conduct various excavations around the Island in which Bruce took the opportunity to observe the man at work. Bruce edited Bersu’s report on the Viking ship burial found at Balladoole and in 1943 Bruce was a key excavator in the founding of the Neolithic house at Ronaldsway Airport (alongside archaeologist Eleanor Megaw [1911-1977]). Bruce also took a great interest in the Manx Museum and from its establishment (in 1922) he assisted Philip Moore Callow Kermode (1855-1932), the first director, cataloguing the collections. Bruce was a museum trustee for over 40 years, was vice chairman 1926-1976 and chairman of the Cregneash Folk Museum Committee.

After his retirement from the Marine Biological Station in 1960 Bruce focused on his study on the Rushen keeils, organised educational classes, gave talks to Island societies and led field excursions for the IOMNHAS. He was a member of the Port Erin branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and received a Record of Thanks in 1945; he was also the chairman of the committee at this time. Religion played a large part in Bruce’s life and he was a prominent member of St Catherine’s Church, Port Erin. He served as a sidesman and taught at the Sunday school and he contributed to pamphlets on the history of the church, one for its Golden Jubilee (1930) and the other for its centenary (1980). Bruce died in 1986 at the age of 91 and is buried in Rushen Parish Churchyard.

Conditions Governing Access

No regulations or restrictions are implemented on this material.

Advance notification of a research visit is advisable by emailing library@mnh.gov.im.

Archivist's Note

The biographical information was gathered from Dollin Kelly’s (ed.) New Manx Worthies (2006: 34-36).

Fonds-level description created by Eleanor Williams (MNH Project Archivist), May 2016.

Separated Material

Separated material held by Manx National Heritage includes photographs belonging to J. R. Bruce, documenting subjects such as Manx domestic buildings, farming, fishing, mining, folk life, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the TT, architecture, shipping, arts and crafts and Great Britain and Ireland. Reference number: PG/13650.

Related Material

Related material held by Manx National Heritage includes various library, archival, photographic, natural history and archaeological resources.