Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brown, Stephen Campbell (1829–1882)

by Vashti Farrer

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

Stephen Campbell Brown (1829-1882), solicitor and politician, was born on 21 October 1829 in Sydney, son of John Brown, merchant, and his wife Frances Helen, née Watson. He was educated at Sydney College under William Cape from July 1839 to March 1841. In 1843 he became a copying clerk in the office of William Thurlow, solicitor, to whom he was later articled. He was admitted on 1 May 1852 an attorney, solicitor and proctor of the Supreme Court. He practised as a solicitor in the firm of Thurlow, Dick & Brown, Pitt Street, Sydney, until 1868 when he went into partnership with Richard Holdsworth. In 1879 the partnership was dissolved and Brown began his own practice, which continued successfully until his death.

In 1864 Brown was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Newtown; an independent member, he retained his seat until 1881. He was an active legislator and introduced seven public bills, of which three were passed, and seven private bills, of which six were passed. Liberal in outlook and interested in law reform, he supported the Public Schools Act, 1866, the Municipalities Act, 1867, the Public Instruction Act, 1880, and the Employers' Liability Act, 1882. In 1870 he was on the select committee on the Sydney Infirmary and in 1875-76 was a member of the Council of Education. In 1879-80 he was called to give evidence to the select committee of the Legislative Council on the secret bills of sale amendment bill. He communicated with Sir Henry Parkes on the San Francisco mail system, the subsidy from the American government and quicker mail carriage across America. He spoke out strongly in the Milburn Creek Mining Co. affair, opposing the government's vote of £17,199 to the shareholders because he felt they had no legal claim to it. Later, however, he voted for a grant of £11,000 to the company when he found that most of the shares had been usurped by one or two men, including Ezekiel Alexander Baker. After refusing several ministries because of his professional work he accepted the office of postmaster-general on 14 November 1881, leaving the assembly and entering the Legislative Council. Sir John Robertson wrote to Parkes telling him of the difficulties between Brown and the Sydney newspapers over charges for press telegrams. The situation became too much for Brown and he resigned on 22 August 1882 to return to his practice.

Brown was a man of integrity and highmindedness. He was conscientious in the affairs of his constituents, often reminding Parkes of promises he had made to them. His legal experience enabled him to grasp facts clearly and speak plainly. Well versed in constitutional history and the workings of parliament, he often helped his colleagues, and never hesitated to protest at the slightest suspicion of corrupt dealings. Even opponents in parliament respected him.

Brown was an enthusiastic patron of the turf at Homebush and later at Randwick. In 1870-73 he was an official handicapper for the Australian Jockey Club, and a member of its committee in 1875-82. He was a particularly keen cricketer like his friend, Richard Driver, and at one time was said to hold the colony's highest batting average. He was a member of the Reform Club, and served on its committee in 1879-82; at his death, the club cancelled a dinner to honour the birthday of Sir John Robertson.

On 16 October 1882 while examining a witness in the Insolvency Court Brown had a stroke; he was attended by two doctors and removed unconscious to the Oxford Hotel where he died. As a tribute of respect the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly adjourned, the first double adjournment for that reason. He was buried in the Anglican section of Balmain cemetery and left an estate valued at £22,700. In 1860 Brown had married Emma Booth Jones. After her death he married Jane Garrett on 20 August 1870. She survived him, together with four children of the first marriage and three of the second.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1881, 1, 305, 1870, 1, 123, 2, 533
  • Bulletin, 13 Nov 1880
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Oct 1882
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vashti Farrer, 'Brown, Stephen Campbell (1829–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brown-stephen-campbell-3082/text4557, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 16 November 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 3

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