Alexander Livingstone Bruce (24 October 1881 – 12 February 1954) was a capitalist of Scottish origin, a director and major shareholder of A L Bruce Estates Ltd, one of the largest property owning companies in colonial Nyasaland. His father, Alexander Low Bruce, was a son-in-law of David Livingstone and urged his two sons to use the landholding he had acquired for philanthropic purposes. However, during almost 50 years residence in Africa, Bruce represented the interests of European landowners and opposed the political, educational and social advancement of Africans. After the death of his elder brother in 1915, Alexander Livingstone Bruce had sole control of the company estates: his management was harsh and exploitative, and one of the main causes of the uprising of John Chilembwe in 1915. During the uprising, three of Bruce’s European employees were killed and one of them, William Jervis Livingstone was held partly to blame for the revolt. Although Livingstone was carrying out Bruce’s orders, Bruce, as a leading landowner and member of the governor’s Legislative Council, escaped censure. Despite Bruce’s striving for profits, A L Bruce Estates lost money but was saved from insolvency by the colonial government’s need for land for resettlement following a famine in 1949. Shortly before his death in 1954, Bruce was able to sell the company’s Nyasaland estates, repay its debts and realise a surplus.
Agnes (born 1847), the daughter of David Livingstone and his wife Mary, married Alexander Low Bruce (born 1839) in 1875, and they had four children. The first child was a son, David Livingstone Bruce (1877–1915), the second child was a daughter who died young, the third child and second son was Alexander Livingstone Bruce (born 1881), and the fourth child was a daughter Annie Livingstone Bruce (1883–1954).
Alexander Low Bruce was a master brewer and supported East and Central African commercial and missionary organisations. After his marriage to Agnes Livingstone, he became a director of the African Lakes Company. He never visited Nyasaland, but obtained title to some 170,000 acres of land there, 162,000 acres in an estate named Magomero south of Zomba. On his death on 1893, aged 54, title to his African assets passed under his will to the A L Bruce Trust, whose main beneficiaries were his two sons.
Alexander Livingstone Bruce attended the Edinburgh Academy between 1888 and 1894. He was commissioned in the 16th The Queen's Lancers, and took part in the South African War, where he was wounded.
Bruce was married to Amy (nee Sanderson), the former wife of Roderick Laing who divorced her in 1923. Amy died in 1927, and they had one child, a daughter Diana Livingstone Bruce (born 1927), who in 1963 married the American visual effects creator and producer Ray Harryhausen.
Bruce died on 12 February 1954 in London.
Shortly before his death in November 1893, Alexander Low Bruce had appointed two managers for his principal estates in Nyasaland. Initially, Agnes assumed oversight of the A L Bruce Trust until Bruce's heirs, David and Alexander, could take over when they came of age.
The provisions of their father's will expressed the hope on how they would run the estates:
"…in the hope and expectation that they will take an interest in the opening up of Africa to Christianity and Commerce on the lines laid down by their grandfather the late David Livingstone."
In 1908, Alexander Livingstone Bruce moved to Magomero and took over the financial management of the estates. After their mother’s death in 1912, and as the Magomero estate showed potential, David Livingstone Bruce and Alexander Livingstone Bruce purchased the assets of the A L Bruce Trust in 1913, paying just over £41,000 for its estates. They then incorporated A L Bruce Estates Ltd in 1913 with a share capital of £54,000, largely held by themselves and their sister Annie.
When Magomero was acquired, it was uncultivated and largely unoccupied. The first estate crop tried at Magomero was Arabica coffee in 1895, but after poor crops and a collapse in world coffee prices in 1903, this was abandoned. When Alexander Livingstone Bruce came to live in Nyasaland, the main estate crop was cotton. In 1908, 1,000 acres of a hardy variety of Upland cotton called Nyasaland Upland was planted at Magomero; this was increased to 5,000 acres by 1914. Cotton required intensive labour throughout its five- or six-month growing season, and to ensure that sufficient workers were available, estate owners exploited the obligations of a labour tenancy system called thangata. This meant the work done by African tenants on European-owned estates in lieu of rent. Alexander Livingstone Bruce was said to have pioneered the thangata system, and once Magomero started to grow cotton, Bruce, who lived in Nyasaland and had control of the estate operations, instructed his manager to exploit thangata rigorously. When cotton growing started, the Bruce estates increased the labour demand to four or five months a year, mainly in the growing season, leaving tenants little time to grow their food.
A Legislative Council was formed in 1907 to advise the Governor of Nyasaland on legislation. Initially, this consisted solely of officials; from 1909 a minority of nominated "non-official" members was added. Bruce became a provisional non-official member of the Nyasaland Legislative Council in May 1908, and later a full member. He remained as a long-serving member of the Legislative Council and represented the interests of the large estates.
In August 1914, he was appointed second-in-command of the Nyasaland Volunteer Reserve. He later held a lieutenant’s commission in the King's African Rifles during the First World War and was involved in the battle of Karonga in 1915. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1917, and was a promoted to captain and later major in the King’s African Rifles and awarded the Military Cross in 1918. Bruce was later described as only able to walk with the aid of sticks on account if his injuries.
John Chilembwe was the pastor of an independent, African-led Baptist church that rejected control by European missionaries. Chilembwe sought social, economic and political advancement for Africans, and his frustration at their being denied an effective voice, and anger over African casualties in the First World War moved him from peaceful protest to a violent uprising in 1915. At the time of the uprising, Alexander Livingstone Bruce was serving with the King's African Rifles and was based at Karonga, but he returned to the south of Nyasaland in its aftermath and took part in the later phases of its suppression.
Chilembwe’s mission was close to Magomero, and Chilembwe provoked confrontation by erecting churches and schools on estate land without permission. However, Bruce thought that educated Africans had no place in colonial society: he opposed African education and recorded his personal dislike for Chilembwe as an educated African. He considered Chilembwe's churches were centres for agitation, and that by building them on the estate, Chilembwe was making a claim to part of its land and threatening its profits. Bruce (who had absolute control over estate policy) ordered his manager, William Jervis Livingstone, to destroy the schools and churches that Chilembwe had built on the estate. As a result, it was Livingstone rather than Bruce that became the focus for Chilembwe’s grievances, and he and two other of Bruce’s European employees were killed in the 1915 Chilembwe uprising. Alexander Livingstone Bruce, as a director and major shareholder of A L Bruce Estates Ltd, had complete charge of the company’s operations in Nyasaland. Bruce, and used Livingstone and other European employees to enforce his orders and tacitly approved of their methods of doing this.
In the Legislative Council, Alexander Livingstone Bruce noted that most of those who took part in the Chilembwe rising were mission educated, and he advocated the closure of all the schools in Nyasaland that had African teachers. Other planters giving evidence to the official enquiry into Chilembwe’s uprising held in June 1915 also blamed the missionaries, without distinguishing between European-led and independent missions. European missionaries, in contrast, emphasised the dangers of the teaching and preaching of African-led churches like Chilembwe's. The official enquiry needed to find causes for the rising and it blamed Chilembwe for his mixture of political and religious teaching, but also the unsatisfactory conditions on the Bruce Estates and its unduly harsh regime of William Jervis Livingstone. Alexander Livingstone Bruce escaped censure, although the local Resident told the official enquiry considering the revolt that the conditions imposed on the A L Bruce Estates were illegal and oppressive.
William Jervis Livingstone was killed because of the severity of the A L Bruce Estates management. Following the uprising, the protectorate government tried to replace thangata by cash rents. However, Alexander Livingstone Bruce led estate owners in threatening massive evictions if this change were implemented, and thangata remained. Even after Livingstone’s killing, the work obligation on the A L Bruce Estates was little modified, sometimes amounting to six months a year. A L Bruce Estates Ltd was undercapitalised and almost never made a profit except just after the First World War. After 1925, the company never again made a trading profit, and over the following 15 years, its cumulative deficit rose to over £72,000, which Alexander Livingstone Bruce met from his own resources. Although other owners largely gave up the attempt to manage estates, Bruce stubbornly persisted.
Livingstone Bruce’s chosen instrument to turn round the estate’s fortunes in the 1930s was Captain Kincaid-Smith, who negotiated a contract to supply tobacco to West Africa. In order to fulfill the contract, Kincaid-Smith resorted to preventing tenants from growing food crops and expelling those who failed to meet their quotas, both illegal actions, and underpaying for the tobacco grown. This was reminiscent of William Jervis Livingstone and, as was the case with in 1915 with Livingstone, Kincaid-Smith paid the price of following Bruce’s instructions while Bruce escaped official censure. Rather than allow Kincaid-Smith to provoke an outright revolt, the Nyasaland government ordered his expulsion in 1939.
Alexander Livingstone Bruce was reported as living permanently in Edinburgh in 1940, having left Nyasaland and retired, although the date he left is uncertain. However, after the departure of Kincaid-Smith, Bruce gave up the attempt to manage its estates actively, and by 1948 they were described as having many tenants who produced all its crops, as the owner was merely their broker. In 1945, Bruce announced that A L Bruce Estates Ltd wished to sell Magomero. A government survey of the estate showed that it had been badly managed and deforested, and its soil had lost fertility. Nevertheless, the Governor felt it was necessary to buy the land. Bruce wanted a figure that would wipe-out its accumulated losses since 1925, but the Governor considered this was excessive, and ended negotiations. In 1947 the company provisionally agreed to sell Magomero to a private buyer at a price of £80,000. However, this sale fell through, leaving Bruce feeling outraged.
A L Bruce Estates Ltd made further substantial losses in 1948 and 1949, and was virtually insolvent. However, the government’s need for land for re-settlement after the 1949 famine caused it to restart negotiations with Bruce. Some of the estate was sold to private buyers, but around 75,000 acres was bought by the government in 1952, much of which was of poor quality. These land sales made good the past deficits, and before he died in 1954, Alexander Livingstone Bruce saw the completion of the sale of the estate his father had acquired almost 60 years before. Although Alexander’s daughter, Dianna Livingstone Bruce opposed liquidation of the company, and prolonged the process for five years in disputes with other shareholders, the company was wound-up as a solvent entity in 1959.