Bryce, John Annan (1843–1923), merchant, politician, and garden owner, was born 12 August 1843 in Belfast, the younger son of two sons and two daughters of James Bryce (qv), a teacher in Belfast Academy, and Margaret Bryce (née Young). The family moved to Glasgow in 1846 and John attended Glasgow High School and graduated MA from Glasgow University (1866). As Brackenbury history scholar, he entered Balliol College, Oxford, when he was 25. Like his brother James (later Viscount) Bryce (qv) before him, he was president of the Oxford Union (1871), and he graduated BA (1872) with first-class honours in classics and honours in history. He spent a year in Manchester in a mercantile business, and then went to Bombay (Mumbai), India, as an assistant in the firm of Wallace Brothers. He worked in Rangoon in Burma from 1878, and negotiated an expansion of his company's interests in the exploitation of teak. He was chairman of Rangoon chamber of commerce and, as such, a member of the Burmese legislative council. After his return to England (1884), when he was made a partner in Wallace Brothers, Bryce played an important role in the information-gathering, lobbying, and negotiations that resulted in the British intervention in and subsequent conquest of Burma in November 1885, and for the same commercial reasons he also enthusiastically promoted the trans-Burma railway in meetings in London and elsewhere in Britain in 1885. His travels and exploration of unmapped regions of Upper Burma and what was then Siam (Thailand), undertaken to discover commercially useful locations of teak and other commodities, were described in two papers read to the Royal Geographical Society in 1886. He served two terms on the council of this society.
He spent some time in Bombay, where he was head of his firm's Indian operations, but after being elected (1906) as a liberal for the seat of Inverness Burghs, he resigned from the company. He did, however, retain a number of directorships, including positions on the boards of banks and railways. His parliamentary career was uneventful, though on a number of occasions he spoke in strong support of home rule for Ireland, and like his brother (and equally unsuccessfully) he tried to have an act passed to permit much greater public access to the Scottish countryside. He was a member (1906–8) of the royal commission on congestion in Ireland. He was reelected till 1918, when boundary changes altered his constituency, and he decided not to stand. He came unexpectedly back into the public eye in November 1920, as a result of his outraged protests in a letter to The Times (London) about the treatment experienced by his wife at the hands of British authorities in Ireland.
On 2 August 1888 he had married Violet L'Estrange (1863–1939), a noted beauty of her day, who was of a gentry family long associated with King's Co. (Offaly). She was the only daughter of Champagné L'Estrange, Royal Artillery captain and later RM, son of Sir George Burdett L'Estrange who had raised a regiment in the Peninsular war and was chamberlain to four viceroys of Ireland. Despite her background Violet Annan Bryce was, like her husband, committed to the ideal of home rule for Ireland, and on 29 October 1920 she travelled from Ireland to speak at a meeting in Wales about the draconian conditions imposed by the Dublin administration and the Black and Tans. She was arrested in Holyhead on her arrival from Ireland, and deported back to Dublin by the British authorities, who suspected her of disaffection or of support for Sinn Féin. Her husband's letter, and other letters in support, described in detail the indignities, distress, and discomfort she suffered during her imprisonment overnight in the Bridewell in Dublin, and expressed the gravest concern about the illegality of an arrest without a warrant, solely on the authority of the military authorities in Dublin Castle. Though Mrs Bryce was released without charge (and without apology), her husband and others publicly questioned the nature of a regime that was inflicting much worse suffering on many equally innocent people in Ireland, and there was considerable controversy in parliament and in the press. In October 1920 Bryce had already complained about the activities of the Black and Tans in his neighbourhood in west Cork, but the November incident was particularly significant because it concerned someone who was so closely linked with the establishment and with the British military. Violet Bryce was able to state that the only speeches she had ever made in Ireland were at army recruiting meetings in 1914, and at meetings where an agricultural society was set up, and during the first world war she had run a small hospital for convalescent army officers in Glengarriff, Co. Cork.
The Bryces had bought Garinish (Ilnacullin) island, near Glengarriff, in 1910; it had previously belonged to Bryce's brother's wife, an Ashton from Manchester. Over the years they spent a fortune on it, transforming it from a rocky, heather-clad islet into one of the most famous gardens in Ireland. The climate in Bantry Bay was particularly mild, but there was at first very little soil, and more than 100 men were employed (1911–14) in moving rocks, laying out paths, and creating planting pockets and a walled garden. Harold Peto, well known as a designer of gardens in England, suggested the plans and designed the structures; the Bryces collected rare and tender plants of sub-tropical and antipodean origins, as well as statuary and ornaments, to recreate in west Cork a garden that recalls the gardens round the lakes of northern Italy. After the death (10 December 1953) of their son Rowland Bryce, who had lived in Glengarriff for many years, the garden at Garinish became the property of the nation; it remains, in horticultural terms, one of the most important in Europe and also very significant in its appeal to tourists.
John Annan Bryce died 25 June 1923 at his home in Bryanston Square, west London, and was cremated at Golders Green, north London. In October 1923 a huge sale, lasting eight days, dispersed a lifetime's collecting: 2,200 lots of mainly eastern and Italian objets d'art, furniture, and books. John and Violet Annan Bryce had two sons and two daughters; one of the sons died while at school. One of the daughters, Marjorie Annan Bryce, was a suffragette, and in 1911, to point up the almost total exclusion of women from public life, was chosen to lead a procession of women through central London as an alternative coronation day parade. She wore silver armour, to represent Joan of Arc, and was on horseback.