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Description found in Archives

Correspondence of Sir Frederick William Augustus Bruce [textual record] 

Series consists of



Place of creation

Various places

7.5 cm of textual records.

Scope and content

When and by whom these private letters were gathered and bound up together remains unclear. The letters follow two chronological sequences: those received by Sir Frederick between 17 April 1865 and 12 June 1867, numbered 1-171; and copies of those he sent, 30 April 1865-28 May 1867, numbered 1-44 (with a duplicate 14). Each of these numbers applied to any enclosures with the letter. Dockets indicate that these letters had formed part of a different filing system during Sir Frederick's lifetime. These Private Letters to and from the Commander of the Forces, the governors of colonies in British North America and the West Indies, and British consuls in the United States focus on information-gathering, exchanges and assessment relative to the defence of those colonies; the threats posed by the Fenian Brotherhood and the prosecution of captured Fenians; traffic in surplus Civil War weaponry; American access to British North American fisheries; tariffs, trade and the Reciprocity Treaty. Letters exchanged with the American Secretary of State focus primarily on the Fenians. Dockets on some letters record transmission of selected information to and from the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office. The absence of postal markings on integral covers and references within letters point to the use of messengers to ensure confidentiality and speed of communications. Though letters refer to telegrams, no texts survive to demonstrate whether they were encrypted. Taken as a whole, the correspondence outlines practices in the employment of and payments to secret agents, the development of information networks, and the use of private channels outside the offical system of communication by despatches. A similar volume, bringing together copies and drafts of 108 Private Letters from Sir Frederick to the Foreign Secretary, 1865-1867, which sold at auction in 1973 and now resides in the University of Rochester Library (with a photocopy in the British Library, reference RP 950) demonstrates that a parallel exchange of Private Letters ran in tandem with the official imperial channel of Despatches between the British Legation at Washington and London (for which, see Foreign Office 5). Sir Frederick's copies and drafts may be compared with the texts which Lord Monck retained (see MG 27, I B 1).

Textual records
90: Open
from 45 to 46
90: Open
Archival reference no.
Former archival reference no.

Biography / Administrative history

Sir Frederick William Adolphus Bruce (1814-1867) was born at Broomhall, Fifeshire, Scotland on 14 April 1814, the third son of the 7th Earl of Elgin and his second wife, Elizabeth Oswald. He studied law at Lincoln's Inn and qualified to practice as a barrister in England. Frederick Bruce began his diplomatic career in 1842 in the suite of Lord Ashburton, whose negotiations produced the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, resolving various issues relating to the boundary from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains. Appointed 9 February 1844 as Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong, Frederick spent two years in that post. Though nominated as Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland in June 1846, he chose to take up further diplomatic posts. After spending a decade as chargé d'affairs and consul general in Bolivia, Uruguay and Egypt, he accompanied his brother James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, as principal secretary on a mission to China, 1857-1858. After carrying the Treaty of Tientsin home, he was appointed Britain's Minister to China and chief superintendent of British trade there, remaining in that post until appointed the British Minister at Washington. He occupied that post from March 1865 until his death at Boston on 19 September 1867. Concurrently, he served as Umpire under an 1864 Convention for the adjudication of claims by American citizens against Colombia. He was created a Knight Commander of the Bath on 12 December 1862 and Knight Grand Cross on 19 March 1865.

Additional information

Custodial history
The tight stitching through and over the edges of the correspondence posed a threat to the preservation of these letters. The volume has been disbound to prevent further risk or damage. Numbering of the pages follows the sequence of presentation in the binding: the incoming, then the outgoing letters. Discrepancies occurred in the numbering; the sequence 1-942 uses letters (a, b, c) where pages had initially been missed, and hibits three gaps where the numbers 516, 662-671 and 735-784 were not used. The item-level descriptions record where integral postal covers, bearing post marks and seals or wafers, have survived.