Record

CodeNA8660
Dates1730-1794
Person NameBruce; James (1730-1794); of Kinnaird, African traveller
SurnameBruce
ForenamesJames
Epithetof Kinnaird, African traveller
ActivityJames Bruce was born in 1730 in Kinnaird, Stirlingshire, the son of David Bruce of Kinnaird. Educated at Harrow he decided, against his father's wishes, not to take up a career in law and in 1753 or 1754 married the daughter of a Portuguese wine merchant. His wife died just nine months after the marriage but Bruce continued with his plans to visit Spain and Portugal and while there began to study Arabic and Abyssinian. He was appointed to the consulate in Algiers and was also charged with examining archaeological sites there. By this time Bruce was devoted to the idea of exploring and finding the source of the Nile and to this end, before going to Algiers, spent six months in Italy studying antiquities where he obtained the service of Luigi Balugani (1737-1771), an accomplished draughtsman. After spending two years at the Algerian consulate, from 1763 to 1765, Bruce resigned his post and spent a year touring the archaeological sites of Barbary, making skilled drawings on the way. This was followed by tours through Syria, Egypt and Abyssinia between 1768 and 1771. Bruce suffered many hardships and was often in danger: he was only the second European to visit Abyssinia in 150 years. In Abyssinia he found favour with the ruling King and resumed his search for the source of the Nile but only found the source of the Blue Nile. Leaving Abyssinia he spent a year travelling through Nubia then in 1773 returned to Europe where, after an initial enthusiastic reception, many of his tales were greeted with horror. He retired to his estate in Scotland and in 1790 published a narrative of his travels in five volumes but never received the recognition he felt he deserved. He died in 1794 as a result of an accident.
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