BROWN, George (1835-1917)

BROWN, George (1835-1917)
son of George Brown, barrister, was born at Barnard Castle, Durham, England, on 7 December 1835. He was educated at a private school and on leaving, became an assistant in a doctors surgery, was afterwards with a chemist, and then in a draper's shop. He was, however, anxious to go to sea, and when 16 years old sailed in a large East Indiaman chartered by the government as a troop-ship. After going to the Mediterranean it went to Quebec. There Brown had an accident and broke his leg, providentially in his case, as the vessel was lost with all hands on her next voyage. After a short stay in Canada Brown returned to England but could not settle down. In March 1855 he sailed for New Zealand, among the other passengers being Bishop Selwyn and the Rev. J. C. Patteson, afterwards bishop of Melanesia. He joined Patteson's bible class, but "could not remember receiving any great spiritual benefit at that time". Landing at Auckland he went to Onehunga where he was kindly received by an uncle and aunt, the Rev. T. and Mrs Buddle. Under their influence he experienced a conversion and became a local preacher. In 1859 he decided to offer himself as a missionary to Fiji, and at the Sydney Methodist conference of 1860 was appointed. On 2 August he was married to Miss S. L. Wallis, daughter of the Rev. James Wallis. They left next month for Sydney where Brown was ordained, and going on to Samoa, arrived on 30 October.
When Brown began his work most of the natives were already professing Christians, and he immediately set to work building churches and mission houses and attending to the education of the children. He quickly learned the language, and every condition seemed favourable, but there was one disturbing feature. Germany was extending her influence in the islands, and some of her traders far from trying to keep the peace were selling arms and ammunition to the natives. One day war broke out between the natives of an adjoining district and those of his own centre, and Brown immediately hastened to place himself between the contending parties, and sat for the remainder of the day in the sun trying to make a truce between them. In this he was not successful and there was much fighting for some time. Brown, however, became a great figure among the Samoans. His varied experiences as a youth in the doctor's surgery and chemist's shop helped him in the simple doctoring of native ills, and his career as a sailor had taught him many things which were useful to him. His mastery of the language was a great asset, and his human charity helped much in all his relations with both the natives and the white beachcombers living on the islands. He left Samoa in 1874 with the intention of being transferred to New Britain and New Ireland, and travelled through Australia appealing for funds. In August 1875 Brown went to the New Britain group of islands and began his work there. In the early days he was constantly in danger of losing his life, as he worked among cannibalistic natives who were constantly fighting among themselves. Gradually he succeeded in winning his way among them, and after about a year had passed, the situation was so much better that his wife could join him. He was there a little more than five years and returned to Sydney in the beginning of 1881. During the next six years he was engaged in deputation and circuit work. He also wrote a series of anonymous articles in the Sydney Morning Herald dealing with the necessity of British control of the island of the Pacific. He was thoroughly familiar with German methods, and was convinced that they constituted a menace both to the natives and the world in general. In 1887 he was appointed secretary of the board of missions of the Methodist Church and held this position for many years. In the following year he was appointed a special commissioner to report on the position in Tonga, where there had been serious trouble for some years during the premiership of S. W. Baker (q.v.). He was able to speak the language of the natives and gather evidence for himself. He compiled a comprehensive and valuable series of Reports by the Rev. George Brown, Special Commissioner of the Australasian Wesleyan Methodist General Conference to Tonga, printed at Sydney in 1890. He continued for many years to keep in touch with missionary work in Papua, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomons, Samoa, Fiji and Tonga. In the islands in the German sphere of influence he had to walk warily, but his knowledge and experience were of the greatest value not only to his own church but to the British government. He resigned his position of general secretary of missions in 1907, and in the following year brought out his autobiography George Brown, D.D., Pioneer-missionary and Explorer. In 1910 he published Melanesians and Polynesians Their Life-histories Described and Compared, a valuable record of the manners, customs and folklore of the islanders written by a man who had spent much of his time among them over a period of 48 years, and who was familiar with the Samoan, Tongan, Fijian and New Britain languages. He died at Sydney on 7 April 1917. His wife survived him with two sons and three daughters. In addition to the books already mentioned Brown was the author of various pamphlets and articles, and was associated with the Rev. B. Danks in the preparation of a Dictionary of the Duke of York Language New Britain Group.
Brown as a young man belonged to the type that is always seeking adventure. Yet when he offered himself as a missionary it was feared he was too meek and mild, too wanting in spirit to be a suitable candidate. Yet this was the man who in 1875 went to the New Hebrides with his life in his hands, and in 1878 led a punitive expedition against a cannibal chief responsible for the massacre of Christian native teachers. He was essentially brave, honest, broad minded and sympathetic, much loved by his brother missionaries, everywhere respected and trusted by traders, officials and governors. He was a fine linguist and excellent ethnologist, who had a great influence for good throughout the Pacific islands.
George Brown, D.D., Pioneer-missionary and Explorer, an Autobiography; C. Brunsdon Fletcher, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society vol. VII, pp. 1-54; C. Brunsdon Fletcher, The New Pacific; The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 April 1917.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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