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Y.M.C.A. (MELBOURNE): J. M. BRUCE, PRESIDENT & W.G. MARSH, GEN. SECRETARY

This 1883 pale rose One Penny "Naish" post card on yellow card, introduced in September 1883, was postmarked MELBOURNE/ 8Y/ OC 4/ 83 and was addressed to Mr. J.M. Bruce, Messrs Patterson, Laing and Bruce, Flinders Lane, (Melbourne) (Figure 1).

The printed reverse advertised a Conversazione*, Y.M.C.A.Hall, Thursday, 11 Oct. 7.30 p.m. meeting for Members and Friends. The Programme was divided into 2 parts, the first consisting of a Pianoforte Solo, Songs, Recitations, and Duet by performers, who have not been identified. The second part of the programme was identified as Short Addresses and Collection presented by performers also unidentified, and the name of the Gen. Sec. W.G. Marsh was provided (Figure 2).

The first mention of the YMCA in Victoria was in 1853, and at its start up in 1871 it had strong religious involvement; in the same year, there was a record of YMCA’s work with young offenders; 1872, first recorded the attendance of women and in 1878 Victoria’s first gymnasium opened in Melbourne’s YMCA’s Russell Street building. The next 2 decades shifted the focus to even more secular pursuits. The seventh anniversary of the YMCA is recorded in the The Argus (Melbourne) of 22 May 1878: It was celebrated yesterday in the Town Hall and J.M. Bruce presided; the new building in Russell Street was mentioned and the tenor of the meeting was highly religious.

The Argus on Friday 13 June 1884 was attended by many of Melbourne’s elite and William McLean presided. His Excellency Sir William Stawell (acting Governor of the colony, and the first president of the YMCA) was in the audience. McLean stated that their buildings in Russell Street up to that time ‘were the finest of the kind in Australia’ but they were being outstripped by those buildings in Adelaide (which had the first Australian YMCA) and of Sydney. As in the previous meeting there were long addresses by religious leaders. Mr. Marsh, the secretary of the YMCA, thanked the speakers.

The Argus Saturday 11 1885 described the Marsh Testimonial Fund as follows: After 11 years of arduous and faithful service in the cause of God among all classes, but especially among young men, Mr. W.G. Marsh, General Secretary of the Melbourne Y.M.C.A., has been obliged to give up his beloved work in consequence of ill health. For two years past, his strength has been unequal to the strain upon it......The best available help was given, but in vain.....in order of wise Providence, his work among young men is done." The full text is seen in Figure 3.

John Munro Bruce, businessman, was born on 10 October 1840 at Brooklawn, County Leitrim, Ireland. The early death of his father, George Williamson Bruce, left his mother in straitened circumstances and in1858 he sailed to Melbourne in the Ellen Stuart, arriving in December. He joined Laing & Webster in 1860, and by 1868 he was a partner. In 1878 he joined a well-established softgoods firm, changing its name to Paterson, Laing & Bruce, with Bruce as its resident partner. In 1883 extensions to the warehouse made it the largest in Victoria and in 1885 new partners were admitted including his brother, George Williamson Bruce.

Bruce gave time to community affairs. He was a Harbor Trust commissioner from 1883 to 1890; a Chamber of Commerce delegate at the conference on intercolonial free trade; a delegate at the 1888 Australasian Commercial Congress. Bruce also had time to indulge his interest in politics and played a prominent part in securing support for the Gillies-Deakin administration at the 1886 general election. Bruce was president of the Young Men's Christian Association, the Melbourne Hospital, a Centennial Exhibition commissioner, and held captain's rank in the Prince of Wales Light Horse.

In 1887 Bruce visited Britain and soon after his return was plunged into the anxious years of the depression. His unwavering belief in himself, his determination and his shrewd business sense stopped him from losing heart and the firm survived. He was 'a man of utmost integrity and of unblemished character'. Overseas again in 1900, Bruce's health failed and he died of diabetes in Paris on 4 May 1901. Bruce was survived by his wife Mary Ann, whom he had married in May 1872, one daughter and three of his four sons, one of whom, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, became prime minister of Australia and later, Viscount Bruce of Melbourne.

 

*The Italian ‘conversazione’ is translated as ‘conversation or chat’ and its meaning is ‘a meeting for conversation, especially about art’.

 The information concerning John Munro Bruce has been abstracted from the Austalian Dictionary of Biography.

 
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