Edward Bruce was a government teacher in Fort Beaufort in 1855, when he classified the reptile collection of the South African Museum and promised to collect further specimens. The Museum had just been reconstituted in June that year, and had inherited the remnants of the collections kept by the South African Literary and Scientific Institution. In May 1856 Bruce, still living in Fort Beaufort, became a member of the Literary, Scientific and Medical Society of Grahamstown, founded the previous year. In 1865 he moved to Grahamstown, where he volunteered to take charge of the reptilian and shell collections of the Albany Museum, as far his health would permit. The museum committee welcomed his offer all the more because they regarded him as knowledgeable in these fields. He also took over as honorary secretary of the museum committee, a task that had been performed earlier by the honorary curator, B.J. Glanville*. Bruce had artistic talents too, for in 1871 he produced the first of three coloured portraits of a young live eagle that was kept in the museum grounds, recording its changes of plumage over a period of four years.
In July 1867 Bruce was present at the preliminary meeting to establish the Albany Natural History Society (1867-1875), and at the next meeting was elected as its first honorary secretary. He prepared a paper on the venomous snakes of the Cape Colony to be read at its meeting in January 1868, but was unable to deliver it because of illness. He did, however, read it at the March meeting. In October that year he described a boomslang brought in by Dr. W.G. Atherstone*, and at the November 1869 meeting again talked briefly on some snake specimens. In 1872 he discussed recent reptile acquisitions by the society, the proceedings being reported in the Cape Monthly Magazine. Most of the specimens collected by members of the society were donated to the Albany Museum.
Bruce made a life-long study of snakes and at the time of his death in 1876 the snake collection of the Albany Museum was largely the result of his efforts. However, he was an asthma sufferer and his condition was increasingly affected by the preservatives he used. At Glanville's suggestion he exchanged his work on snakes for the study of conchology. He presented the museum with several species of the genus Patella and some other shells from along the Cape Coast, but died soon afterwards. Glanville described him as a person of "undoubted ability and unassuming manners". He was married to Rachel, born Ralph.