Bruce, William (1790–1868), presbyterian minister and classicist, was born in Belfast on 16 November 1790, the second son of William Bruce (qv) (1757–1841), presbyterian minister, and his wife, Susannah (née Hutton). After a schooling at the Belfast Academy (run by his father), he entered TCD on 2 July 1804, became a scholar, was exempted like his father from the sacramental test in 1807, graduated BA in 1809, and then spent eighteen months studying theology at Edinburgh (1809–11). On 3 March 1812 he was ordained by the presbytery of Antrim for the pastoral charge (jointly with his father) of the First Belfast presbyterian congregation, which had its meeting-house in Rosemary Street. He was to remain minister there for fifty-five years, until shortly before his death.
When he became a candidate for the professorship of Latin and Greek at the Belfast Academical Institution in 1821, controversy ensued, some members of the board opposing him on the grounds of his father's long hostility to that college (which then provided higher as well as secondary education), and to his own unitarian theology. But support from Edward Reid (moderator of the general synod of Ulster), Sir Robert Bateson (a leading episcopalian protestant) and Viscount Castlereagh (qv) (a friend of his father) carried the day and he began a 28-year-long academic career that ended only with the abolition of the collegiate department, on the opening of QCB in 1849. He proved a rigorous disciplinarian and an effective teacher.
He read several papers on ancient Greece to the Belfast Literary Society and may have had some influence on his father's The state of society in the age of Homer (1827). As a public figure he was less versatile and less forceful than his father, but he was active on the committees of the Belfast Charitable Society, the Belfast General Hospital, the Belfast Museum, the Botanic Garden and the Chemico-Agricultural Society of Ulster. Like his father, he was a leading member of the Belfast Literary Society (president in 1817–18 and 1824–5) and the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge (president from 1837 until his death). Bruce had a special interest in agriculture and planted the grounds of his house, called The Farm, in Antrim Road. His only known entry into the political arena was in 1844 when the dissenters’ chapels bill (to settle disputes between trinitarian and unitarian presbyterians over ownership of meeting-houses) was passing through parliament. On this matter Bruce, a unitarian, was bolder than his colleagues. He published little apart from sermons. William Bruce junior died 25 October 1868 and was buried at Holywood, Co. Down.
He married on 20 May 1823 Jane Elizabeth Smith of Belfast, whose father, William, had lived in Barbados. Of their nine children (three sons and six daughters) only two married. One daughter, Jane Elizabeth Bruce (1831?–1933), lived on at The Farm and presented to the Belfast Municipal Museum and Art Gallery a portrait of William Bruce senior and a wax effigy of his mother, Rose, and to the Linen Hall Library a mezzotint engraving of the former. William Bruce junior was the last of the seven Bruces who were presbyterian ministers in uninterrupted family lineal succession.