Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Harris Browne (1817–1904)

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with William James Browne

John Harris Browne (1817-1904), by unknown photographer, c1860

John Harris Browne (1817-1904), by unknown photographer, c1860

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 10843

William James Browne (1815-1894) and John Harris Browne (1817-1904), pastoralists, were born in Wiltshire, England, sons of Benjamin Browne, landowner, and his wife Anna, née Cotell. Their father died in 1821 leaving only a modest estate. Both brothers studied at the Ecole de Médecine, Paris, and John studied gynaecology at University College; both were examined at Edinburgh: William James (M.R.C.S., 1838) and John Harris (M.R.C.S., 1839).

William James arrived in South Australia on 21 March 1839 as assistant surgeon in the Buckinghamshire with William Allen and his partner John Ellis, and Joseph Gilbert who took up Pewsey Vale. There Browne cleared and ploughed a few acres and sowed wheat and maize. On 6 June 1840 John Harris (b. Ilford, 22 April 1817) and their sister Anna (1812-1873) arrived in the Orleanna. She married Joseph Gilbert in 1848. Although the Browne brothers' names appear in the first South Australian medical register in January 1845 they did not practise much but turned to pastoral pursuits. Their first joint venture was a farm at Lyndoch leased from the South Australian Co. In 1842 they had 1043 sheep; next year they acquired Booboorowie, twenty-eight sq. miles (73 km²) under occupation licence, and steadily increased it. By 1851 when they took their first pastoral lease, they held over 60 sq. miles (155 km²). By 1858 they had 859 sq. miles (2225 km²) and over 2000 (5180 km²) by 1867. Their leases then ranged from Streaky Bay throughout the far north and into the south-east, and included at least fifteen large stations. They also bought much freehold: Buckland Park from Allen & Ellis in 1856, Moorak at Mount Gambier in 1862 and Booboorowie in 1863. They made few improvements on their leases and at their peak were the biggest exporters of wool from South Australia. J. H. Browne told a select committee in 1867 that they were sheep-dealers rather than wool-growers. For example, they had leased Arkaba in 1851 and put on 6000 sheep which cut about 4 lbs. (1.8 kg) of wool each at 8d. a lb.; they sold the station with 27,000 sheep in 1862 but the buyer lost over half his stock in the drought of 1864-65 and defaulted, leaving the Brownes with a loss of £27,000 on the deal. By 1870 the brothers' partnership was completely dissolved.

In 1860-62 W. J. Browne represented Flinders in the House of Assembly. He was an active member, advocating the extension of roads, railways and bridges, but courted criticism when he introduced a bill to allow squatters to buy their leases on terms. He moved with his family to Moorak in 1863 and bought his brother's share of Buckland Park and Booboorowie in 1864. At Yahl near Mount Gambier he bought 18,000 acres (7284 ha) from William Clarke in hope of cutting it up for closer settlement. He introduced Lincoln sheep which he crossed with large merinos, aiming at long-fibred lustrous wool on the advice of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce. He also experimented with grasses and fodders. At Mount Gambier he was the chief founder of Christ Church, donating the land and half the building cost. His wife Mary, née Nixon, whom he had married in 1850 was also notable in the district for her charity. In 1866 Browne took his children to be educated in England. He visited South Australia several times before his wife died in England in 1878. He then settled at his estate, Buckland Filleigh, Devon.

In 1879, when plans were proposed for settling large numbers of European emigrants in the Northern Territory, where he had held several cattle runs, Browne wrote to the South Australian agent-general in London, Sir Arthur Blyth, recommending a scheme for attracting 500 young British 'capitalist-bachelors' by offering large leases at low rents and assisted passages for 'labourers who might also comprise natives of India, or other colored races, excepting Chinese'. Late in 1880 he contested the seat of Chelsea in the House of Commons without success. He died at Eastbourne, England, on 4 December 1894, in his eightieth year, survived by three sons and three daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £51,000 in England and £126,000 in South Australia.

John Harris Browne was a better bushman than his brother, more placid and wider in his sympathies. In 1844-45 he went as medical officer with Charles Sturt's expedition into Central Australia. Unusually observant and intensely practical, he was probably the most useful member of the party and, although he suffered like the others from scurvy, his courage and professional skill certainly brought Sturt back alive. In April 1851 he was appointed justice of the peace at Booboorowie; in 1853 he visited goldfields in Victoria and New South Wales. He went to England next year and returned with five rams from the flock of T. B. Sturgeon & Sons, which had been bred from Spanish merinos of George III, and in 1856-64 made Buckland Park his headquarters. He travelled constantly on visits to his stations and was particularly expert in assessing the condition of stock and feed in the dry interior. In 1862, hoping for new country to open, he equipped Joseph Bonnin's expedition into the Gawler Ranges, but the results were disappointing. He settled in England in the 1870s but made several visits to South Australia. He died at Bath on 12 January 1904, predeceased by his wife Margaret Anne Frances, daughter of Rev. Lansdowne Guilding, whom he had married at St Mary's Church, Kooringa, on 23 December 1857, and survived by four children.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Morphett, The Gilberts of Pewsey Vale (Adel, 1949)
  • Votes and Proceedings (South Australia), 1858 (75), 1867 (14), 1879 (128)
  • J. B. Cleland, ‘The First Fifty-Two Names in the Medical Register of South Australia’, Medical Journal of Australia, 29 Oct 1938, pp 732-38
  • H. J. Finnis (ed), ‘Dr. John Harris Browne's Journal of the Sturt Expedition, 1844-1845’, South Australiana, vol 5, no 1, Mar 1966, pp 23-54
  • Register (Adelaide), 7 Dec 1894, 15 Jan 1904
  • Observer (Adelaide), 4 May 1895.

Citation details

'Browne, John Harris (1817–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 18 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

John Harris Browne (1817-1904), by unknown photographer, c1860

John Harris Browne (1817-1904), by unknown photographer, c1860

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 10843

Life Summary [details]


Wiltshire, England


12 January, 1904 (aged ~ 87)
Bath, Somerset, England

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.