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Brown, Maitland (1843–1905)

by H. Drake-Brockman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Maitland Brown (1843-1905), explorer, squatter and public servant, was born on 17 July 1843 at Grassdale, near York, Western Australia, the fourth son of Thomas Brown and his wife Eliza Caroline, née Bussey. His father had been bailiff to the 5th earl of Macclesfield in Oxfordshire, but when he arrived in the Stirling at Perth in March 1841 he appeared to have capital, for he bought stock and acquired Grassdale where he settled. In 1850 he took up leases on the Greenough River in the Champion Bay district and in 1852 bought several freehold blocks which he had named Glengarry. In 1851 he had become police magistrate at Fremantle, but in 1853 travelled overland from York to Glengarry with his family, his wife being the first woman to ride the 300-mile (483 km) route only twice traversed before. In 1858 he returned to Fremantle as resident magistrate, and in 1862 was appointed to the same office in Geraldton. He died 8 July 1863. His wife survived until 23 April 1896.

Maitland Brown and his brothers were educated by tutors. They early became expert bushmen. At 15 Maitland worked as a shepherd on Glengarry and three years later joined the expedition of Francis Gregory to explore the country behind Nickol Bay. The party landed at the mouth of the Maitland River, named for him, in May 1861. They discovered and named the Fortescue and De Grey Rivers, and penetrated inland to mark the Hamersley Range, commemorating Maitland's father with Mount Brown. Maitland distinguished himself 'by a brilliant feat of endurance and pluck [when] he saved Gregory and his companions from perishing'. Officially Gregory reported that he could 'not speak too highly of Messrs Maitland Brown and J. Harding'. Gregory's report led to the pioneering of the rich grazing lands of the north-west and to further explorations. In 1864 Harding became manager for the Roebuck Bay Pastoral and Agricultural Association Ltd, a Perth company formed after a report from F. N. Panter, police inspector who led a party to Camden Sound to investigate a rumour of gold put about by a convict named Wildman.

Meanwhile the Brown brothers were active in horse-breeding for the Indian remount trade. In 1864 Maitland landed at Freycinet Bay with 165 sheep and two horses. Later he took a shipment of horses to Madras, returning in February 1865 to learn that Harding, Panter and Goldwyer were missing, believed murdered by Aboriginals, near Roebuck Bay. He immediately volunteered to lead the search party about to leave Perth. Bishop Mathew Hale noted in his diary: 'M.B. goes in command of the searching expedition, a remarkable testimony to the reputation already gained by a young man of 22. Instructions to act entirely on his own judgement'. Brown's party was threatened by Aboriginals; in a final clash six were killed and twelve wounded, the whites narrowly escaping. The remains of the murdered men, brutally clubbed and speared, were found and brought to Perth for burial. As a mark of appreciation Brown was appointed a magistrate and later that year became resident magistrate at Greenough.

In 1870 Brown was nominated a member of the first part-elective Legislative Council in Western Australia. In 1874 he was elected to represent Geraldton. A clear and lucid speaker, forthright in debate, he served on many committees. 'An elegant figure who always attended council in full evening dress', he was regarded as a staunch Conservative and leader of the squatters. He was particularly concerned with immigration and 'the native question'; although his personal relations with the Aboriginals were benevolent, he was defeated in an attempt to introduce summary flogging as a penalty when depredations continued in northern areas. Until 1883 he opposed responsible government, which he saw as 'mob rule'. He then changed his mind and his electorate, becoming member for Gascoyne, in protest against 'the idle locking up of funds … provided by the people for public works'. He resigned in 1886 to become resident magistrate at Geraldton and various associated offices. In the Victoria district Maitland Brown was said to be the government. The press both praised and attacked this appointment. As a magistrate his decisions were sometimes considered harsh and often provoked acrimonious protest; but all his critics conceded that he did his duty honestly and impartially according to his lights and upheld the dignity of the courts.

In private life he had full charge of Glengarry by 1869 when the two brothers branched out on their own. The property was heavily mortgaged and in 1874 it was leased to (Sir) Frederick Barlee and Major. The year 1876 was disastrous: his eldest brother was involved in tragedy and Brown lost his case after attempting to eject Major for not fulfilling the conditions of the lease. Next year he sold Glengarry to the lessees for £25,000, and in 1880 sold the adjoining station of Newmarracarra, which he had founded.

Brown was a daring horseman, an excellent boxer, ardent sportsman, and 'an unqualified social success'. In 1871 he became a foundation member of the Weld Club. On 16 February 1875 at St George's Cathedral, Perth, he had married Amy Frances, youngest child of Rev. George Routh Howard, a widower, who arrived in 1864 with seven children. Amy bore him two sons and four daughters; she died in New Zealand early in 1905. In 1904 when Brown retired because of ill health, a committee of leading Perth citizens established a testimonial fund in his honour. He died in Perth on 9 May 1905 and was buried at Karrakatta. In 1911 his remains were removed to East Perth to lie with those of his fellow explorers, Harding and Panter, beneath the extraordinary bronze pyramid made in 1865 by prisoners in Fremantle gaol. Another monument to Brown, also commemorating the Roebuck Bay episode, was erected on the Fremantle Esplanade in 1912 by his friend George Julius Brockman; it was surmounted by an excellent portrait bust by the Italian sculptor, Pietro Porcelli.

Select Bibliography

  • F. T. Gregory, Journal of the N.W. Australian Exploring Expedition … 1861 (Perth, 1862)
  • W. B. Kimberly, History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • G. C. Bolton, Alexander Forrest (Melb, 1958)
  • Perth Gazette, 24 July 1863
  • Herald (Fremantle), 25 Nov 1876, 10 May 1905
  • Daily News (Perth), 30 Mar 1886
  • West Australian, 31 Mar 1886, 16 Aug 1888, 10 May 1905
  • Geraldton Express, 12 May 1905, 5 June 1937
  • W. F. P. Heseltine, The Movements for Self-Government in Western Australia from 1882 to 1890 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Western Australia, 1950)
  • G. J. Kelly, A History of the Champion Bay District (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1958)
  • N. Atkins, ‘Thomas Brown, pioneer’, Royal Western Australian Historical Society Lee Steere competition, 1966 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Bishop Hale diaries (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

H. Drake-Brockman, 'Brown, Maitland (1843–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brown-maitland-3080/text4553, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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