Henry Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare
Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare GCB, PC, FRS (16 April 1815 – 25 February 1895) was a British statesman who served in government during the late 19th century, most notably as Home Secretary and as Lord President of the Council.
He was born at Duffryn, Aberdare, Glamorganshire, the son of John Bruce, a Glamorganshire landowner. John Bruce's original family name was Knight, but on coming of age in 1805 he assumed the name of Bruce: his mother, through whom he inherited the Duffryn estate, was the daughter of William Bruce, high sheriff of Glamorganshire. Henry was educated at Swansea Grammar School, and in 1837 was called to the bar.
Shortly after he had begun to practise, the discovery of coal beneath the Duffryn and other Aberdare Valley estates brought the family great wealth. From 1847 to 1854 he was stipendiary magistrate for Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare, resigning the position in the latter year, when he entered parliament as Liberal member for Merthyr Tydfil. During this time, he became involved in the management of the Dowlais Iron Company. In 1862 he became Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and in 1869, after losing his seat at Merthyr Tydfil, but being re-elected for Renfrewshire, he was made Home Secretary by William Ewart Gladstone.
His tenure of this office was conspicuous for a reform of the licensing laws, and he was responsible for the Licensing Act 1872, which made the magistrates the licensing authority, increased the penalties for misconduct in public-houses and shortened the number of hours for the sale of drink. In 1873 he relinquished the home secretaryship, at Gladstone's request, to become Lord President of the Council, and was almost simultaneously raised to the peerage as Baron Aberdare.
The defeat of the Liberal government in the following year terminated Lord Aberdare's official political life, and he subsequently devoted himself to social, educational and economic questions. In 1876 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society; from 1878 to 1891 he was president of the Royal Historical Society; and in 1881 he became president of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1888 he headed the commission that established the Official Table of Drops, listing how far a person of a particular weight should be dropped when hung.
In 1882 he began a connection with West Africa which lasted the rest of his life, by accepting the chairmanship of the National African Company, formed by Sir George Taubman Goldie, which in 1886 received a charter under the title of the Royal Niger Company and in 1899 was taken over by the British government, its territories being constituted the protectorate of Nigeria.
West African affairs, however, by no means exhausted Lord Aberdare's energies, and it was principally through his efforts that a charter was in 1894 obtained for the University of Wales at Cardiff. Lord Aberdare, who in 1885 was made a GCB, presided over several Royal Commissions at different times. He died in London on February 25, 1895. His second wife was the daughter of Sir William Napier, the historian of the Peninsular War, whose biography he edited.