Visiting Australian discovers Hong Kong's first police superintendent was ancestor

Visiting Australian knew ancestor had tie to HK but was overwhelmed to discover who it was

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 May, 2013, 7:10am

When Mal Bruce came to Hong Kong from Perth, Australia, to trace his family's ancestry, he was not prepared for the emotional rollercoaster he faced in a city he had never visited before.

Bruce, 47, was seeking to find out more about his great-great-great-grandfather John Bruce, the city's first superintendent of police. After visiting the Police Museum at 27 Coombe Road, The Peak, the enormity of the role his distant relation played in the city put him at a loss for words.

"No one followed our family ancestry in Hong Kong until I and my father started looking into it," he said. "My father had retraced our ancestry in England, Scotland and Perth, but he had not followed the Hong Kong trail.

"I must say I was compelled and driven to follow it up as I had built up our family tree online after viewing television programmes of people following their ancestry."

A notice in the Friend of China and Hong Kong Gazette dated March 2, 1844, reported that captain John Bruce of her Majesty's 18th Royal Irish Regiment had been appointed to temporarily serve as superintendent of police. He was sworn in as one of her Majesty's justices of the police in the colony of Hong Kong and its dependencies, and also for the dominions of the emperor of China.

The original appointee, Captain George Haley of the 41st Madras Native Infantry, had returned to his regiment before taking up the post.

"I never thought I'd get emotional about this," Bruce said. "But it's hard not to feel proud and get a lump in your throat when you realise one of your family was in Hong Kong and held one of the most influential positions of the day."

The senior Bruce was sent to Western Australia in 1850 to take charge of the convict stations.

In 1855 he became the commandant of the Western Australian military force and held that position for 16 years.

He went on to become a member of the Legislative Council and the Executive Council in 1854, and served as the acting governor of Western Australia in February, 1862.

He was noted as a philanthropist and also adopted measures to provide care for elderly soldiers and established a Pensioner's Benevolent Fund in Perth. Mount Bruce was named in his honour.