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Browne, William Henry (1800–1877)

by W. R. Barrett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

William Henry Browne (1800-1877), Church of England clergyman, was born at Mallow, County Cork, Ireland, the eldest son of Henry Browne, barrister of Ballinvoher. He was educated at Charleville school and at Trinity College, Dublin, (B.A., 1822). He first studied medicine but turned to theology. In 1824 he was ordained deacon, appointed curate of Whitechurch, and priested. In 1828 he obtained the degree of LL.D., and, under the sign manual of George IV, was appointed colonial chaplain on 27 February; he sailed from Cork in the Coronet and arrived in Hobart Town in October.

In November 1828 Browne was gazetted to St John's, Launceston, succeeding the first chaplain, Rev. John Youl, who died in 1827. The parish then extended from Campbell Town to George Town and from Longford to the east coast. Between the gaol, prisoners' barracks and house of correction he held more than six services weekly and travelled widely on pastoral work. After a fall from a horse, he had to take leave in 1838-39. Stalwart and independent in his Evangelical faith, he was fearless of man and unawed by authority. He early braved bushrangers and desperate criminals, and in 1849 joined issue with the powers of church and state by publishing a defence of Rev. John Ison who, he believed, had been unfairly dismissed from Norfolk Island. In 1834 Browne had published Jail Manual, a simple selection of prayers for use in prisons. In 1837 he refused his signature to his archdeacon's memorial disapproving the Church Act that offered state aid to other denominations, and in the 1830s he was aggressively suspicious of 'new' rituals and High Church tendencies. He earned the displeasure of Bishop Francis Nixon for signing the 'Solemn Declaration of the Association of members of the Church of England for maintaining in Van Diemen's Land the principles of the Protestant Reformation'. Undeterred, he led the six northern chaplains in a memorial to the bishop, criticizing the statement on 'baptismal regeneration' issued by the Australasian bishops at Sydney in 1850. His opposition lost him old friends and the ritualist storms did not clear until he went to England on furlough in 1853-55. By 1866 he had raised funds for repairs and alterations at St John's, and added a chancel.

Browne's community activities were also wide and independent. Keenly interested in education, he acquired a school soon after his arrival. It had to be relinquished when Archdeacon Thomas Scott disapproved, but in 1838 he helped to form a committee to establish the Launceston Church Grammar School. Sometime president of the Bible Society, he fostered friendly relations with ministers of other denominations, to the dismay of conservative colleagues. He also took a leading part in the anti-transportation campaign with Rev. John West. His chief public enthusiasm, however, was the encouragement of thrift. Prime mover in founding the Launceston Bank of Savings in 1835, he had long service on its managing committee. On return from England in 1855, he campaigned in public meetings and the press for the extension of secure savings bank facilities through post offices in country districts. His fervour led to indiscreet remarks that disturbed confidence in existing institutions. Browne fell out with some leading citizens but, being Irish, enjoyed the controversy.

Age and failing health induced Browne to retire in 1868 after forty years active service. In 1870 he was made archdeacon of Launceston and held the office for seven years. In retirement he prepared and published a selection of Sunday Services Adapted to the Use of Country Congregations (Sydney, 1876). He died at his home, Bifrons Court, Launceston, on 18 June 1877, and was buried with the simplicity he had long advocated for funerals.

On 3 September 1829 Browne had married Caroline Johnston, daughter of Richard Willis of Conara; she died at Launceston in 1845. On 25 June 1846 he married Julia Augusta, youngest daughter of Rev. John Gavan of Walls Town, County Cork; she survived him for twenty-two years. There were four children of each marriage. Of the five sons, William Henry was educated at St John's College, Cambridge (LL.B., 1870; LL.M., 1883), admitted to the Middle Temple in 1868, and ordained deacon in 1871 and priest in 1872. He joined the Archbishop's Mission to Assyrian Christians in 1886 and, as an orientalist at the court of the Assyrian Patriarch, died in Turkey-in-Asia in 1910.

Select Bibliography

  • Cornwall Chronicle (Hobart), 25 June 1846
  • Examiner (Launceston), 27 June 1846, 8 July 1862
  • Church News (Hobart), 1 June 1877, 2 July 1877
  • GO 33/78/821-2 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

W. R. Barrett, 'Browne, William Henry (1800–1877)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/browne-william-henry-1837/text2119, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 11 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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