Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Laughland Brown (1839–1907)

by Don Dignan

This article was published:

David Laughland Brown (1839-1907), merchant, was born on 1 February 1839 at Stewarton, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of John Brown, farmer, and his wife Janet, née Laughland. He was trained in the soft-goods business. In 1862 his elder brother Thomas, who had founded a drapery in Glasgow, sent David with thirty-two packages in the Clifton to launch an importing branch of the firm in the capital of the newly-independent colony of Queensland. Accompanied by his wife Margaret, née Bethune, whom he had married at Glasgow in 1859, his nineteen-year-old cousin William Brown (1842-1925) who was his first employee, and his own three-year-old son John (1859-1945), David Brown landed in Brisbane on 10 April. Despite major losses in the 1863 and 1893 floods and a devastating fire in 1888 the Browns built a large distributing business, apparently in a bid to expand trading with the centres of German settlements in Queensland. As wholesale drapers in the 1860s, D. L. Brown & Co. began to import other goods in the 1870s and in the next decade acquired the 90-ton Kalara, the 100-ton Fearless and the 214-ton Coquette to distribute merchandise to the Tweed River district and the South Sea Islands. In addition to a private wharf at the main warehouse in Eagle Street, the firm acquired at auction in 1877 from J. and G. Harris wharfage facilities in Short Street which it expanded into a major overseas terminal. There the Cutty Sark loaded a record cargo of wool in 1894. The first Eagle Street warehouse was totally destroyed in 1888, and the architect, F. D. G. Stanley, designed for the Browns one of the most imposing and ornate commercial buildings in a style then much in fashion in Brisbane, with Italian Renaissance elevations both to the river and to Eagle Street. In the late 1880s Thomas Brown of the parent firm sent out his own two sons, John Hunter (1861-1917) and Thomas Herbert (1862-1920), whose education for the importing business had been crowned by language training for a year in Germany and fifteen months in Paris.

In 1898 D. L. Brown & Co. was reconstituted a public company under the name of Thomas Brown & Sons and David retired leaving the management to his nephews. Although the directorate later became fixed in London, the company continued to grow in Queensland and established a branch at Darwin. David Brown's successors absorbed the Beenleigh rum distilleries in 1918, then took over several clothing manufacturing and food processing firms, and later acquired and greatly expanded a retail supermarket chain. David had made his family home, Langley Bank, on twenty-two acres (9 ha) at Bowen Bridge. He sold this property to the Queensland National Bank in 1901 and moved to Bowen Terrace, Brisbane. There he died aged 68 of a kidney disease on 15 June 1907. He was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Toowong cemetery. He was survived by his second wife Marion, née Wight (1851-1928), whom he had married at Brisbane on 29 November 1870, and by ten of their twelve children and by a son of the first marriage. Thomas Brown made several visits to Queensland, the first in 1882, and at 80 died in Kensington, London, on 4 April 1912 from pneumonia.

Select Bibliography

  • 'Thomas Brown & Sons Ltd Centenary Supplement', Retailer of Queensland, vol 26, no 10, 15 Dec 1962, pp 33-104
  • Brisbane Courier, 17 June 1907, 9 Apr 1912.

Citation details

Don Dignan, 'Brown, David Laughland (1839–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 3 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

David Brown, n.d.

David Brown, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 73726

Life Summary [details]


1 February, 1839
Stewarton, Ayrshire, Scotland


15 June, 1907 (aged 68)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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