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A lasting reminder of draper David Bruce

High on the façade of the shop at 161 Charles Street, Launceston, the name David Bruce remains as a reminder of a successful and community spirited businessman.

Born in Scotland in 1850, David Bruce arrived in Launceston from Melbourne in 1880 to work in the Brisbane Street drapery and clothing shop of Williamson and Thomas.

Williamson and Thomas was a Melbourne firm that had acquired the Launceston drapery business of Henry Dowling junior in 1862 and traded in the city until 1883.

David Bruce had worked for the prominent London drapery firm Harvey Nichols of Knightsbridge before emigrating to Australia in 1879.

In Launceston he also worked for John Dunning’s Golden Fleece millinery and clothing business in Brisbane Street before opening his own shop which was reported in the Daily Telegraph of Saturday, September 27, 1884.

“That fine substantial block of buildings in Central Charles Street, known as Wherrett's Buildings, are now drawing towards completion, and already present a very handsome appearance.

“Today another of the large shops will be opened as a drapery and clothing establishment by Mr David Bruce, a gentleman of extensive experience in the best retail houses of Launceston.

“The shop, like the rest of the block, has a splendid frontage, with show windows on each side of the door.

“Mr Bruce has just unpacked a splendid assortment of all kinds of drapery and clothing, and the new establishment, as we saw it last evening, is a credit to the town.”

In October 1884, David Bruce married Elizabeth Coles who had been born in Somerset, England. The couple had three daughters and lived at 15 York Street.

The Examiner’s obituary for David Bruce on Monday, January 22, 1917, described him as a genial and unassuming man who took a keen interest in everything connected with Launceston and Tasmania.

He was an active member of a committee that promoted business opportunities in Launceston and on a trip to England in 1910 was part of a deputation promoting the benefits of manufacturing woollen goods here.

He also lobbied for a direct shipping link between London and Launceston.

World War I intervened in efforts to attract British textile companies to Launceston but in the early 1920s major British companies Patons and Baldwins and Kelsall and Kemp did establish large factories in Launceston.

David Bruce’s drapery store continued trading after his death and was later under the management of J. L. Lamb until the lease expired in 1933 when neighbouring retailer J. L. Craw acquired the stock and shop lease.

Today the shop is occupied by Lead’em Footwear.

(Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in the Sunday Examiner on 8 September 2019)

Top photograph from the Weekly Courier of 1 February 1917.

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