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.

Frederick Hugh Cust Brownlow (1859–1931)

by Robert Hyslop

This article was published:

Frederick Hugh Cust Brownlow (1859-1931), naval officer and public servant, was born on 8 August 1859 at Westminster, London, son of Edward Brownlow, sergeant in the Coldstream Guards, and his wife Charlotte Esther, née Burroughs. Educated at St Olave's Grammar School, Southwark, he began work in a surveyor's office but left in 1873 to be apprenticed to a Sunderland shipowner. He gained his mate's certificate and served in the merchant navy until 1881 when he decided to settle in Australia. Working his way to Sydney as an able seaman, he went into the coachbuilding trade with T. Moore & Son.

In 1885 Brownlow served as a private with the colony's Sudan Contingent and that year joined the New South Wales Naval Volunteer Artillery; he was commissioned sub-lieutenant in 1889 and lieutenant in 1892. During the Boxer Rebellion he helped to organize and equip the New South Wales contingent to the China Field Force. In 1888 he had joined the Department of Mines as a clerk, becoming mining registrar in 1908-11. He married Ellen Gillespie (1870-1929) in St Michael's Anglican Church, Surry Hills, on 18 March 1891. From 1902 he also held the part-time appointment of officer commanding the naval forces in New South Wales. Promoted lieutenant-commander that year, he was made commander in 1905, and in 1906-09 was the first and only consultative member of the first naval board of administration. From its foundation in 1905 he had been a State committee-man of the Australian National Defence League, and warmly supported creation of an Australian navy. On the formation of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911 he resigned from the public service to become district naval officer for New South Wales; he was promoted captain and awarded the Volunteer Officers' Decoration in 1913. In his time he was the only R.A.N. captain who had not served in the Royal Navy.

Brownlow was D.N.O. at Sydney until 1921; his main duties related to the recruiting, discipline, drafting, accommodation and control of personnel. In 1913, when the Australian fleet took over the Royal Navy's establishments in Australia, he assisted in organizing the transfer of responsibilities, and in World War I carried heavy administrative burdens. During the war years he lived at the naval depot in Rushcutters Bay, never leaving his post; for his devotion to duty he received the thanks of the Admiralty and the naval board and was appointed O.B.E. in 1919. He retired in October 1921, by which time he was the senior captain in the R.A.N.

A man of 'great organising ability', Brownlow was popular and active in naval circles even after retirement, and in 1922-29 was secretary of the Rawson Institute for Seamen. At the time of his death he was secretary of the New South Wales League of Ancient Mariners. Survived by his three daughters, he died in St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, on 1 June 1931 and was cremated after an Anglican service at his Double Bay home.

Select Bibliography

  • T. G. Ellery, Australian Defence: The Opinions of Experts (Adel, 1907)
  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), Blue Book, 1889, vol 3, 1895, vol 1, Public Service list, 1900-12
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 June 1921, 21 Dec 1929, 1-3 June 1931.

Citation details

Robert Hyslop, 'Brownlow, Frederick Hugh Cust (1859–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 August, 1859
London, Middlesex, England


1 June, 1931 (aged 71)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.