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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Browne, Sir Thomas Gore (1807–1887)

by Helen M. Amos

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

Sir Thomas Gore Browne (1807-1887), colonial governor and soldier, was born on 3 July 1807 at Aylesbury, England, son of Robert Browne of Morton House, Buckinghamshire, and his wife Sarah Dorothea, née Steward. His brother, Edward Harold, became bishop of Winchester and Ely. At 16 Thomas joined the 44th Regiment as an ensign and in 1824 transferred to the 28th where he was promoted lieutenant in 1826, captain in 1829 and major in 1834. In 1832-35 he had served as aide-de-camp to Lord Nugent, high commissioner of the Ionian Islands. In 1836 he transferred to the 41st Regiment which he commanded with distinction in the Afghan war of 1842, and for this service was promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel. In 1843 he was appointed C.B. and in 1845 promoted lieutenant-colonel. In 1849 he transferred to the 21st Regiment; he retired on half-pay in June 1851 and became governor and military commandant of St Helena, where his most important service was to obtain for the inhabitants an adequate water supply.

In 1854 Browne was appointed governor of New Zealand, and married Harriet, daughter of James Campbell of Craigie, Ayrshire. They arrived at Auckland on 6 September 1855. Next year when responsible government began in New Zealand, Browne insisted that he should control Maori affairs. This assumption led to continual friction with his ministers, especially after he appointed Donald McLean native minister as well as commissioner of land sales. Lacking Sir George Grey's understanding of Maori problems, Browne turned to McLean and in 1859 under his malign influence ordered a sale of land at Waitara against strong tribal opposition. Despite his good intentions the decision precipitated the Anglo-Maori wars and his report, demanded by the Colonial Office, led to his recall in May 1861.

On 10 December Browne was appointed governor of Tasmania. His predecessors had represented the 'old order'; as the first governor appointed after the colony had achieved responsible government he was warmly welcomed in Hobart with a carnival which lasted a week. He retained his popularity though the colony was in the grip of economic depression. He tried to encourage immigration to offset the loss of population from Tasmania to goldfields on the mainland, and advocated better farming methods and irrigation. He helped to make important changes in public education especially in the Orphan School and in the teaching of trades. His proposals that the Australian colonies should form a commercial union and use Port Arthur for their penal station were chiefly aimed at increasing Tasmania's revenue and won him praise for his vision. In his last year the Duke of Edinburgh visited Tasmania and revived loyal sentiment, but soon afterwards Browne's appointment of a favourite to a post held by an aged public servant discredited him with his ministers and many colonists.

Browne returned to England in December 1868 and in June 1869 was appointed K.C.M.G. From July 1870 to April 1871 he was temporary administrator of Bermuda. He died in London on 17 April 1887. He was survived by his wife who revisited Tasmania privately in 1898.

Select Bibliography

  • D. A. N. Lomax, A History of the Services of the 41st Regiment (Devonport, 1899)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 31 Dec 1869
  • Times (London), 19 Apr 1887
  • T. W. Bate, The Administration of Sir Thomas Gore Browne, Governor of New Zealand (M.A. thesis, University of Wellington, New Zealand, 1947)
  • GO 52, 56 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Helen M. Amos, 'Browne, Sir Thomas Gore (1807–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 28 September 2020.

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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