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James Brown (1820–1895)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published:

James Brown (1820-1895), Anglican archdeacon, was born on 31 March 1820 in England, son of James Brown, wine merchant, of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, and his wife Martha, née Edwardes. As a child he spent some time in Wales, and was privately educated until he entered Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1845; M.A., 1853). He was made deacon in 1845, and ordained priest in 1846 by the bishop of Ripon. In 1845-47 he was curate at Lockwood, Yorkshire, and then at Ludchurch, Pembrokeshire. He arrived in Western Australia in the Sabrina on 6 June 1853 and became chaplain to the Fremantle Convict Establishment.

Before leaving Wales, Brown had applied to join the church mission in Borneo, but decided on Australia because of the more clement climate. In 1852 he wrote in his diary: 'I am disturbed in mind when I think of my qualifications—a frame not overstrong, and slightly, at least, inclined to rheumatism: a mind, but slightly cultivated, subject to much distractions, and not over capable of study at the best of times. With an utter want of mechanical genius, a want of facility in acquiring languages, a nervous temperament, and a near sight, and no musical ear'. Nevertheless he contributed greatly to the welfare of the convicts: he attended to their spiritual needs and was responsible for their education; he acquired a wide variety of books for the convict library and made sure that the collection was well kept. Aware that the convicts lacked intellectual stimulus because they tended to regard compulsory day classes as part of their punishment, he urged the government to start voluntary evening classes where prisoners could study subjects of their own choice. At his instigation a prison choir was formed and he also wanted to install an organ. In 1855 he was transferred to York and performed his pastoral duties with zeal and devotion. He directed the completion of the new church, Holy Trinity, helped to establish a girls' school and greatly extended the Sunday schools. On 20 November 1856 he married Frances Tree, daughter of Rev. William Mitchell and his second wife Frances Tree, née Tatlock, who had arrived at Perth in the Shepherd on 4 August 1838.

In 1862 Brown was appointed archdeacon in succession to John Wollaston and in 1864 became incumbent of the Perth Cathedral. Though he was never dean, his family lived in the deanery at Perth until April 1874 when Brown became colonial chaplain at the Upper and Middle Swan. There he remained in charge of the parish, the boys' branch of the Perth Orphanage founded in 1868 and the Native and Half-caste Mission until 1895. Always frail, Brown took sick leave in 1870-72 and in March 1889 had to resign as archdeacon because his health prevented him from attending diocesan meetings in Perth. In 1883 he was presented with a purse of 130 guineas for his tireless dedication to the work of the diocese and the Western Australian church. He helped to inaugurate synodal government and framed the necessary legislation. His continuing interest in education had been acknowledged in 1882 when he became chairman of a standing committee to promote religious education in day and Sunday schools. He also gave much time and effort to the development of the diocesan library. At the orphanage, as legal guardian of the boys, he organized their education and later their apprenticeships. When several mission boys were transferred to the orphanage Brown would allow no distinction between the children from the two institutions. In 1879 with a printing press at the orphanage he started the Standard, a fortnightly paper with a wide circulation; the profits helped to maintain the orphanage. In July 1888 vindictive letters in the press claimed that the orphans were given only the cheapest meat and that the orphanage was not for orphans but for the 'upkeep and employ of a certain family'. Brown emphatically denied the charges, reporting at length on his method of calling tenders, and on payment of the boys for any services to his household.

Brown died of rheumatic fever on 9 October 1895 and was buried in the Middle Swan graveyard. His wife had died on 7 July 1879. Of their four sons and six daughters. William and Alban farmed at Sandalford on the Swan; William became clerk of courts at Fremantle and then at Guildford in 1892-1915, while Alban became an Anglican priest. The archdeacon's brother, Rev. Stephen Brown, who arrived with Bishop Mathew Hale in the Mongolia in October 1868, was chaplain at Northam until his death on 13 May 1885.

Brown won affection and high esteem from his colleagues and friends, and was an acknowledged authority on the history of the Anglican Church in Western Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Burton, Church Beginnings in the West (Perth, 1941)
  • Correspondence on Convict Discipline and Transportation, Parliamentary Papers (Great Britain), 1852 (183), 1853 (1601, 1677), 1854 (1795)
  • West Australian, 14 Aug 1865, 1 Dec 1883, 30 Mar 1889, 9 Dec 1895
  • Herald (Fremantle), 13 May 1885
  • Daily News (Perth), 21 July 1888
  • J. Brown, Report on Swan Boys Orphanage, 1888 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Diocesan synod, report, 1895 (Perth Diocesan Registry)
  • F. T. Mitchell diary, 1838-40 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • J. Brown memorandum books, 1850-52, and papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • M. B. Hale letters, 1858-92 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Brown, James (1820–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 12 July 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

Life Summary [details]


31 March, 1820


9 October, 1895 (aged 75)
Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.