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James Bruce
Date of Birth: 14 December 1730
Place of Birth: Kinnaird House near Falkirk, Scotland
Date of Death: 26 April 1794
Place of Death: Kinnaird House near Falkirk

James Bruce was born in Stirlingshire in central Scotland. The family estate included a dilapidated coal mine. Misfortunes piled up. James’s mother died, his father married again and the eight-year-old was sent for his schooling to his influential lawyer uncle in London. William Hamilton had friends in the government. From him, his nephew gathered that law could enforce improvement; but James wanted to go to Oxford and be an Anglican priest. Scotish relatives urged that he go profitably to work for Britain’s East India Company, or to South Carolina where another of his uncles, James Glen, was governor. But James married the daughter of a London wine-merchant.

Bruce’s involvement in his new family’s business served as cover for his espionage visits to Mediterranean Europe. France and Spain were Britain’s principal enemies during the ongoing Seven Years War (known as the ‘French and Indian War in the American colonies). After the successive deaths of his wife and father Bruce returned to Scotland to improve Kinnaird. He extended access to his mine’s deeper coal seams by installing one of the newest pumps yet invented pumps; and he rented his house to one of the managers of the Carron Iron Works recently established almost next door. He contracted to supply Carron’s coal for the next twelve years. Then he was free –and funded –to live the life he chose. Accompanied by an Italian artist, he spent time in Italy, Syria, Algeria and Tunisia, sight-seeing, specimen-collecting, spying, exploring, and struggling for justice. He wrote letters, sketched and kept notes. But what made him notorious were his travels through Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. Just twelve years after he left London to become Britain’s consul at Algiers, he returned to London (in 1774) boasting and –people said –lying. His queerness gave rise to taunts and giggles.

Bruce retired to Kinnaird, married his neighbour’s daughter, and published his book claiming that he did something no one else had ever done. He had seen the mysterious Source of the Nile. From Bruce’s own day until ours, arguments waged back and forth concerning the truth of the geography, history, religions and personal narrative in his 5-volume Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1790). A few hints about his long-term humanitarian mission (in the course of which the emperor of Ethiopia “gave” Bruce the village of Gish Abay at the source of the Blue Nile) are dropped here and there in his Travels. But the core underpinnings of the Bruce travels have remained as deeply undercover as he put them.

 

Jane Reeve
Date of Birth: 9 June 1935
Place of Birth: Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland

Although neither of Jane’s parents reckoned that they were Scottish, she was born a little south of Glasgow on the west coast of Scotland. Either by chance or natural psychic similitude, both her father and her mother’s father were born in southern England and were orphans.

The father of Jane’s mother (Fred Judge, Jane’s “Gramp”) was orphaned when both his parents died in a typhoid epidemic. He was placed in a charitable orphans’ boarding school at Wargrave –but could spend some Sundays and holidays with his parents’ friends at West Wycombe who had 13 children. The eldest, Janet, made good cardboard insoles to repair passed-down shoes. She began to contribute to the family’s earnings when, at 14, she was taken on as a teachers’ helper at the big, miles-away grammar school. Janet’s father said he could get orphan Fred apprenticed to a chair-maker. But Fred ran away to find the future he wanted. Lying about his age, at 16 he enlisted with the British army’s Royal Scots Fusiliers. The regiment was sent to South Africa (where the Boer war was going on) and then to India, where conditions were very peaceful. He won prizes for his marksmanship; he saved his winnings; he asked Janet to marry him. So Janet hopped onto a ship –and luckily found Fred ready at Mumbai to meet and to marrry her. They made a happy and competent couple. Whenever an unfamiliar term came up, Jane’s Gramp pulled out their treasured encyclopaedia. Fred was one of the first English soldiers ever to get promoted beyond the army’s glass ceiling. He eventually reached the rank of Major.

Since the headquarters of the Royal Scots Fusiliers was at Ayr, Fred and Janet took their three children to live in Scotland. That was where Chris met Ian Reeve.

The Reeve family into which Chris married seems to have comprised only a father and son and to have been at first financially moderately well off. Ian was a semi-Scottish semi-orphan: his Scottish mother died. Ian’s English father had moved to Scotland to found “Reeve’s chocolates” with an associate in the Americas who could get the sugar and cocoa shipped. Machines that could take coins and dispense chocolate bars were set up on railway station platforms. But the public was not ready to nibble chocolate bars on smoky platforms. The enterprise failed. Ian’s mother became an alcoholic, was consigned to a care home, and died. Six-year-old Ian was sent to a boarding school where the cold-bath regime and curriculum were much the same as at the orphanage of his future father-in-law. But Ian could and did go for a university degree in engineering. He became an officer in the branch of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers appointed to do, and to teach, gunnery and railway-building in India. Ian asked Chris to come and marry him. Chris voyaged to Mumbai; and they were married at the very same church as her parents. Ian was an effective teacher, made Indian friends, and was happy to accept an invitation from the government of newly independent India to remain in place heading the Indian Army’s engineering branch.

Jane Reeve –an only child –grew up partly in India but from the age of 10 was mostly raised by (in the north of Britain) her Gramp Fred and Grandmother Janet and (in the south) at the “Abbey” boarding school. She had some trouble, at first, making (solo), all the train connections required. But she liked to read and was lucky. Always working (as waitress, carer, receptionist, teacher) to cover deficits, she became very educated. She won a scholarship to St. Hilda’s College in Oxford where she studied English literature and language and (before acquiring a Ph.D. at Columbia) she won a Fulbright scholarship to go (from England) to Indiana University to study American literature. There, she met her husband, Bernard Aptekar, an impecunious New York artist. There are two children and five grandsons.

When her teaching career was ended, Jane Reeve started out on her wide-world-different solo travels –on local buses, and eating and sleeping wherever the people living there did. She also worked as an editor with the United Nations until she took early retirement. After that, she settled at Oxford and used Oxford, Edinburgh, London (and also New Haven, CT) libraries to research the truth about James Bruce.