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Stanley Melbourne Bruce CH MC PC

Portrait of former Prime Minister Stanley Bruce by William McInnes, 1926, Historic Memorials Collection, 00/0033

William Beckwith McInness (1889-1939), 1926, Stanley Melbourne Bruce (detail), Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection. View full image

1st Viscount Bruce of Melbourne
Prime Minister, 9 February 1923 to 22 October 1929
Nationalist Party, 1918 to 1929; United Australia Party, 1931 to 1933

Businessman, politician and statesman, Stanley Bruce (1883-1967) led a generational shift as the first Australian Prime Minister not a member of the 1901 Parliament. As Australia’s longest serving UK High Commissioner, ‘his work at the League of Nations laid the foundations of enduring international agencies’.1

Born in Melbourne, Bruce spent his childhood in Australia and England due to his father’s import business. Graduating from Cambridge University in 1906, he was admitted as a barrister and entered the family business, becoming its London chairman in 1908. He married Ethel Anderson in 1913; they had no children.

In World War I Bruce served at Gallipoli with the British Army and was awarded the MC and Croix de Guerre avec Palme. He returned to Australia in 1917 and the following year won a by-election for the federal seat of Flinders as the Nationalist Party candidate. He continued his commercial career while on the back bench. In 1921, he represented Australia at the League of Nations General Assembly and was appointed Australia’s Treasurer, the fifth in five years under Prime Minister Billy Hughes. When the Country Party secured the balance of power in 1922, its leader Earle Page sought a coalition with Bruce rather than the incumbent Hughes.

Bruce became Prime Minister in 1923, the second youngest to hold the role. The Bruce-Page Government revitalised the development of the national capital, with the first meeting of federal Parliament in Canberra held on 9 May 1927. Bruce accordingly became the first Prime Minister to reside in the Lodge. He instituted Cabinet process reforms and pursued an extensive policy agenda, including economic development through ‘men, markets and money’; foreign policy engagement with Britain; Commonwealth–State financial arrangements; and increasing federal responsibilities for industrial relations.

However, in September 1929 his robust approach to industrial relations proved to be his downfall, with Hughes’s rebel Nationalists combining with Labor to defeat the Maritime Industries Bill and bring down the Government. A resurgent Labor won the October 1929 election and the Coalition lost 18 seats, including Bruce’s own – the first of only two instances where a sitting Australian Prime Minister was defeated.2

Bruce returned to Parliament in 1931 but resigned in 1933 and was appointed High Commissioner to the UK. He remained in that role for 12 years, representing Australia at the League of Nations (1932–39) and at the British and Pacific War Councils (1942–45). He later served as chair of the United Nations World Food Council (1946–51). In 1947, Bruce received a British Peerage, becoming Viscount Bruce of Melbourne. Despite residing in England, he was appointed the ANU’s first Chancellor (1951–61). Following his death in 1967, his ashes were scattered over Canberra.

William Beckwith McInnes
William McInnes (1889-1939) studied at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School before travelling to Europe in 1912 to tour France, Spain, Morocco, and the UK. Regarded as the heir to great Australian landscape artist Arthur Streeton, McInnes exhibited his depictions of the landscape at the Royal Institute of Painters in London in 1913, returning to Melbourne the same year where he mounted a sold-out exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery. In the 1920s, McInnes won five of the first six Archibald Prizes. He won the prize twice more, in 1930 and 1936. In 1927, he was commissioned, with Septimus Power, to paint the opening of the first Parliament in Canberra. McInnes taught drawing at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School from 1918 to 1934, and from 1934 to 1937 was Head of the School. In 1935 and 1936 he acted as the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria. He was president of the Australian Art Association in 1923–24 and a member of various leading art societies. His work is represented in national, state, university, and regional galleries across Australia.3

Stanley Melbourne Bruce
by William Beckwith McInnes
Oil on canvas
121 x 103.6 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection

1.‘Australia’s prime ministers: Stanley Bruce’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 8 July 2021. Information in this biography has also been taken from the following: H Radi, ‘Bruce, Stanley Melbourne (1883–1967)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1979; ‘Biography for Bruce, the Rt. Hon. Stanley Melbourne’, Parliamentary Handbook, Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia; F Bongiorno, The High Commissioners: Australia’s representatives in the United Kingdom, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Barton, 2010. Websites accessed 8 July 2021.
2. The second instance was John Howard in 2007.
3. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: ‘WB McInnes 1889–1939’, National Portrait Gallery; ‘William Beckwith McInnes 1889–1939’, Carrick Hill; R Haese, ‘McInnes, William Beckwith (Billy) (1889–1939)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1986; ‘McInnes, William Beckwith’, A McCulloch, S McCulloch and E McCulloch Childs, eds, The New McCulloch’s Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Aus Art Editions in association with The Miegunyah Press, 2006, p. 646. Websites accessed 25 March 2021.

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