Friday, 6 July 2018

The Story of Henry Johnson Brown

This post tells the story of my paternal Great Great Grandfather, Henry Johnson Brown (1820 - 1868).

Photo from an article in the 'Northern Star' (Lismore), Wednesday 23 October 1929, page 16

When Henry was born in 1820 his father Henry Brown was aged 30 and his mother Eleanor Gowan was also 30 years of age.

My great great grandfather Henry was born in a town named Whitehaven situated on the west coast of Cumbria in England.

Before the birth of Henry, there had been two other children born.
William had been born in 1814.
Alexander had been born in 1816.
When Henry was aged 2, a sibling named Sarah was born in 1822.
Ann was born in 1829, when Henry was 9 years old.

Sadly, when Henry was aged 18 in 1838, his mother Eleanor died.  By this time Henry was working as a printer in Whitehaven, but it seems he thought his future looked rather bleak if he stayed in the town of his birth.  Indeed, Whitehaven's prosperity, which had been built on tobacco and coal in the 18th and early 19th centuries, was beginning to wane by the middle of the 19th century.

Just a year and a half after the death of their mother, Henry and his sister Sarah made the decision to leave home and head off to a new life in Australia.  What enticed this life-changing decision?  Why did only these two of the Brown children decide to emigrate?  Why did the other siblings decide to stay?  My curiousity knows no bounds!

Henry and Sarah boarded the ship Royal Consort under the assisted immigrant scheme (known as the Bounty scheme) in 1840.  The passenger list states that Henry was aged 20, a native of Whitehaven, the son of a shoemaker named Henry and his wife Eleanor.

Henry's occupation was listed as 'printer' and he was being bought out from England by a Mr. John Marshall for the bounty of £19.  His religion was listed as 'Protestant' and it was noted that Henry could both read and write.

Henry's sister Sarah was listed as a 'housemaid'.  She was also being bought out by Mr. John Marshall for the bounty of £19.  Her religion was listed as 'Protestant'.  Her native place was listed as 'Whitehaven', and it was noted that she could read.

The Royal Consort left Plymouth, England on July 15th 1840 with 245 emigrants aboard, arriving in Sydney on November 9th, 1840 - a trip of just less than four months.

I have managed to find references to the 1840 voyage of the Royal Consort in the newspapers of the time.  I just love finding out about the voyages of my immigrant ancestors if it's at all possible.  It adds another dimension to their story.
Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW), Tuesday 10 November 1840, page 2

Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser (NSW),
Tuesday 10 November 1840, page 3
This particular article gives an interesting picture of the voyage.  It tell of the ships that the Royal Consort "spoke" to along the way.  I'm guessing that meant saw in passing and perhaps sent a signal to!

The crew and passengers saw the Ann Mary on the 29th of August; the Dutch ship Prince Hendrick on the 13th of September; the French ship Le Amelie on the 25th of October.

What is fascinating to me though is the reference to spotting the possible remains of an wrecked ship floating on the surface of the ocean.

Apparently, on October 24th, they passed a "ship's bowspirit ... which seemed to have belonged to some vessel of about 350 to 400 tonnes.  It was painted white with bowspirit shroud and dead eyes."  What a scary sight!

This particular article also makes mention of the immigrants on board.  "The immigrants ... appear to be a respectable and industrious set of people, and being mostly agriculturists, will be a valuable acquisition to the settlers, as the harvest and wool season are just setting in."

Given that my great great grandfather Henry was a printer and not an agriculturist, I wonder what he thought would be his fate when he arrived in the colonies.  It's doubtful that a man with a working background in printing would be considered valuable to the settlers looking for farm labourers.  How was he going to find employment?  This must have been weighing on his mind during the voyage.

Another short article mentions that the crew and passengers also saw quite a number of sperm whales, and two whaling boats attempting to make a catch.  That would have made the long arduous journey a little more enjoyable!

As mentioned, Henry and Sarah arrived in Sydney in November of 1840.  I have been unable to find out what awaited them immediately after their arrival.  I did manage to pick up the story of Henry a few years later though.

By 1845, Henry had found employment as a cook on the station of Ward Stephen, known as Runnymede. I'm unsure about exactly when he had begun to work there.  He must have been an enterprising man to land a job as a cook, as I doubt he'd had much experience with that up until he arrived in Australia!

It was there, at Runnymede, that he would have met the Browning family, father William Browning, the mother Anne Littlejohn, sons John and William, and daughters Mary Anne and Caroline, who had been working as shepherds for Ward Stephens for around five years.

In 1846 Henry aged 25, married Caroline Penelope Browning who was aged 15. They married at what was known as 'The Settlement' on the Clarence River in New South Wales, and would have been married out in the open, as there would not have been a church or chapel built in the area at that time.  In their life together, Henry and Caroline went on to have 12 children born over a period of 20 years.

It's interesting to note that Caroline, Henry's new wife, could only make her mark on the marriage record.  She was not able to write her name.

I've been lucky enough to find out most of Henry's and Caroline's story from a couple of articles printed in newspapers many years later where some of their children recalled the details of their parents' lives.

This great article published in the Northern Star (Lismore) newspaper on Tuesday 10th of September 1929, re-tells the memories of a Mr. James Brown about the history of his father Henry Brown and his mother Caroline Browning.

It has provided a lot of valuable information about the early married life of Henry and Caroline, although some of the details are not entirely correct.  After loads of research, I can say that many of the dates are incorrect.  For example, James stated that his parents married in 1844, but that is clearly incorrect according to the record of their marriage.

I still consider the information shared by Henry and Caroline's son to be quite valuable though.
He recalls how they met at Runnymede Station where both were living and working.

He goes on to say that they both continued to work for Ward Stephens after their marriage.

James mentions the birth of his parent's first child, a boy named Henry.  Again, the date of Henry's birth was incorrect, as his record of birth shows he was born in 1847, not 1845.
Sadly, Henry and his new wife lost their first born child named Henry Johnson, not long after his birth, in 1847.

Just over a year and a half later, in early 1849 (not 1847 as told by James!) they decided to leave Runnymede Station, and the employ of Ward Stephens.  They had made the decision to apply for work with a William Wilson on Lismore Station, which was situated on the northern arm of the Richmond River.  At the time, Caroline was heavily pregnant with their second child.

The next part of the story is truly a tale of brave pioneering stock who faced challenges with determination and grit!

In order to get to Lismore Station, Henry and his new wife Caroline would have to get across the Richmond River.  There was no bridge across the Richmond at that time, so Henry swam across!!

He left pregnant Caroline on one side of the river, swam across to the other bank, walked onto Lismore Station, met with William Wilson ... and secured work!

Henry then walked back to the river and swam across to let Caroline know he had been successful in gaining employment.

In order to get Caroline across the river safely, Henry cut down / collected logs and tied them together with lawyer cane to assemble a makeshift raft.  Unfortunately the trip over the river was delayed slightly as Caroline gave birth to their second born son that night, beside the river.   (Alexander's birth date is recorded as March 1849 on his record of birth, so again James had the incorrect date).

Apparently, the very next day Henry, Caroline and newly born Alexander crossed the Richmond River on the raft and began their life on Lismore Station.  My great great grandfather Henry would have been 29 years of age.

Caroline and Henry remained working for Mr. Wilson for only a very brief time though, and it appears they made the decision to move on once more.  This is borne out by the details on the baptism record for Henry and Caroline's son Alexander.

This record shows that Alexander had been born on March the 9th in 1849, but Henry and Caroline didn't have him baptized until March of 1850.

Alexander was baptised in the Brisbane County of Stanley, which is those days would have been part of New South Wales.  Queensland didn't become a state of its own until much later, and that's when Brisbane became part of Queensland.

As you can see from this record, Henry's profession at this time was 'hawker' which meant they would have been travelling around, most likely in a horse- or bullock-drawn dray, like gypsies.  No doubt the family would have just set up camp beside the dray at night and then moved on in the morning from station to station and township to township, allowing Henry to sell whatever goods he had stashed on the dray.

Printer ... cook ... hawker!  Henry appears to have been a very resourceful young man who could turn his hand to almost anything in order to make a living!

Around mid-1850 however, Henry, now aged 30, had obviously tired of travelling and hawking, and he began work as a cedar cutter at Bald Hill (later known as Bexhill).

At this time Bald Hill was a major cedar camp, and it would have been a hard life for Henry and Caroline and their baby.  Cedar cutters were not permitted to purchase land, so they lived in temporary makeshift tents or slab huts in cedar cutters' camps.

Henry's son John Thomas was born in late 1850, when Henry would have been aged 30. Sometime during the following year, Henry lost interest in the life of a cedar cutter as well, and decided to begin another new job and life. He and his family moved to the small settlement which would later become known as Lismore.

Henry built a small cedar slab house, setting up a permanent home for his family to live in.  He also set up a saw pit on the river bank and began a business, milling and selling cedar.

Red cedar floated, so creeks near the cedar cutters' camps were used to float the timber down to the settlement that would later be known as Lismore. Logs would be stacked on the banks and marked with a branding iron to identify who they belonged to. When the rains came they would be pushed into the deep flowing water and carried downstream.  It was Henry Johnson Brown who sent to Sydney for a very large rope that was placed across the river at Lismore and caught all the logs coming downstream.

He would have sold locally but he also engaged sawyers to flitch the wood and then sent loads down the river to markets in Sydney.  Henry's business must have been successful almost immediately because he bought quite a large parcel of land not long after beginning this new life.

Register of Town and Land Purchases 1843-1854

Record of Returns of the Colony 1852

I have found a couple of records that show Henry bought a parcel of 50 acres of land in 1852.   It appears he then began to extend the family home into quite a much larger building, using slabs of cedar from his sawpit.

In 1853 it's likely that Henry, now aged 33, would have received news that his father Henry had died back in England.  His daughter Anne Caroline Penelope was also born that year.

Records from the year 1854 show that Henry applied for and was granted a Publican's License to operate a hotel (or what would have been known as a public house in those days).

By this time, Henry had added on 36 rooms to the family home which had become Lismore's first hotel, known as the Cedar Squarers' Arms. 

In 1855 surveyor Frederick Peppercorne had been sent by the Surveyor General Sir Thomas Mitchell to determine a suitable site for a township at the junction of the Wilson and Richmond Rivers. Peppercorne chose the site of Wilson’s homestead paddock and this was proclaimed the Town of Lismore in the Government Gazette on 1 May 1856.  According to Peppercorne's report, Henry Brown's public house, named Cedar Squarers Arms, was already established and consisted of 36 rooms all made of cedar.

In 1855, another son was born to Henry and Caroline.  They named him Henry Johnson, the same name as their first-born who had tragically died as a baby.

Elias was born in 1856.

Henry went on to purchase several more blocks of land in the area surrounding the home and hotel.   

The record above shows he purchased eight parcels of land in 1857.

Brown's Creek Bridge

He established a large garden near a creek that ran nearby (known as Brown's Creek for many, many years), most likely to provide food not only for the family but also for the customers who stayed at his hotel.  
Mention was made in the Northern Star newspaper, dated Wednesday 10 February 1954 p 12, of the school built by Henry.  This is an artist's impression from that article.

Henry also built Lismore's first school and arranged for the employment of the school's first teacher, Mr. Hayes, from Sydney.

More children were born to Henry and Caroline over the next ten years.

William Norman was born in 1858.  Sadly, Henry's son Elias died the same year, aged just 2.
James Irving Clarke was born in 1859.
Richard Joseph (my great grandfather) was born in 1861.
Eliza Duncan came along in 1863.
Frances Somers came along in 1865.
Robert Frederick Bayley was born in 1867.

Northern Star (Lismore, NSW), Saturday 23 March 1929, page 4

Another article that mentions Henry Brown established a small store during the early days of Lismore's history as well.

Unfortunately, by late 1866, Lady Luck was no longer smiling on Henry and things had begun to turn sour.
New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW ), Tuesday 12 March 1867 (No.44),
page 690

This notice had appeared in a Sydney newspaper in March of 1867.  It seems that Henry had been declared bankrupt by a sequestration order in December of 1866.
The notice provided two dates for meetings to discuss the debts that Henry had incurred.

Bankruptcy Notice 1867 - Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser 12 March 1867 - Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser 12 March 1867

This tiny little notice appeared in two newspapers in March of 1867 as well.  It seems that Henry's debts were enormous, although the value of his assets appear to have covered the amount of the liabilities at this stage.

Unfortunately things appear to have deteriorated even further when the following notice appeared in a Sydney paper in May of 1867.

New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW ), Friday 10 May 1867 (No.75), page 1180

This notice talks about arranging a third meeting to discuss whether or not Henry could keep "his household furniture, wearing apparel, beds, bedding and tools of trade"!  How degrading it must have been for him.  He must have been feeling quite desperate and depressed with the thought of losing everything and only being allowed to keep some furniture, his clothes, beds and bedding and some of his tools!

There is no mention at all in this article of being allowed to keep the family home!  What would that mean for the family?  I've been unable to find out so far exactly what happened after all this.  I assume that Henry lost just about everything.  I'm certain that most of his land acquisitions were sold off to pay his debtors, but I'm uncertain about the family home and hotel.

Henry sadly passed away the following year, in 1868, aged only 48.  His death certificate states that he had been suffering from something called 'erysipelas' for 10 weeks.
Further research led me to find out that 'erysipelas' is an acute bacterial infection that affects the upper dermis and the superficial lymphatics.  It was also known as "St. Anthony's Fire" because of the intense red rash associated with it.

It apparently predominantly affects the skin of the lower limbs which turn bright red, hard, swollen and sometimes blistered.  Having seen photos of it, I can say that it looks quite ugly and extremely painful!  Apparently onset is also accompanied by fevers, chills and shivering.

Given that Henry suffered with it for a period of ten weeks, I think I can safely say that the last few weeks of my great great grandfather's life would have been quite painful and extremely uncomfortable.  Today of course, an extended period of infection such as that experienced by Henry, would be treated with penicillin.  No such treatment would have been available for him back in 1868.

I can only imagine how scary it might have been for Henry's wife, my great great grandmother Caroline, and all his surviving children - Alexander aged 19, John 17, Anne 15, Henry 13, William 10, James 9, Richard 7 (my great grandfather), Eliza 5, Frances 3, and Robert aged just 1.

Extra note:
The prompt for Week 25 of the #52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge is - Same Name.  I chose my great great grandfather Henry for this post because of the history of the name 'Henry Johnson' in his family tree.

It all began with Henry's father - Henry Johnson Snr, my 3x Great Grandfather, born in 1782.

He named his third-born child Henry Johnson, my 2x Great Grandfather (the subject of this post), born 1820.  I'll call him Henry the 2nd.

Henry Johnson named his first-born Henry Johnson, but sadly the infant died not long after in 1847.  He can be Henry 3rd, even though he lived such a short life.

Henry Johnson then named his fifth-born child Henry Johnson, born in 1855.  I'll call him Henry the 4th.  Unfortunately this particular Henry Johnson never married.

That wasn't the end of the family name however.

Henry the 2nd, my Great Great Grandfather (the subject of this post) had a few grandsons also named Henry Johnson.

His second-born child Alexander, named his second born Henry Johnson.
His third-born child James, named his second born Henry Johnson.
His fourth-born child Anne Caroline, named her second born Henry Johnson.

It seems just a tad strange that all the grandchildren who were named Henry Johnson were second-borns!!!   An odd detail ... these are things I love finding out though.

Special Note to any family members:  If you have information to share, can I graciously ask that you do so.  Please use the comments box below or email me.  It may prove to be invaluable to the story and provide future generations with something to truly treasure.

Extra note:  I'm joining Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project / challenge.

The prompt for Week 25 is 'Father's Day'.

You can join by blogging or posting on social media with the tag #52ancestors.

Check out this FB page:  Amy Johnson Crow

1 comment:

  1. Hi. Bernadette,

    Thank you for posting this information.
    I remember my mother had lots of information that she passed away with. But one story was that Henry Johnson Brown, was to work for Ward Stevens - at the Sydney Morning Herald - butfirst he sent him up to Runnymede because he hadn’t heard from his Shepard and wanted to know how that enterprise was going.... He went there, saw what opportunities there were and married the Shepherd’s daughter and began his ventures.

    We are descended from James Irvin Clarke- but I noticed you mentioned another James born in 1851... do you know what happened to him?
    Also, mum said, Henry Johnson Brown died from something he contracted from the cedar trees he was working with.
    Also that Caroline Penelope, his wife remarried 2 more times and left a large wealth, but not to her children with Henry? do you know anything about this, or what happened with the Hotel... it is all so fascinating, such an interesting story. Thank you so much for posting this.
    My mum would also talk about her cousin Rupert Brown, whohad done extensive research on the family tree...
    My email is



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