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Rob's Shed

"Battery Brown" and His "Delicate Affair"

The Scandal

In 1824, and probably until December 1835, the Ordnance Sergeant in the Colony of New South Wales was Abner Willerton Brown.

Abner's office was at Dawes Battery, and he was familiarly known around the town as "Battery Brown". On 15 May 1838 the Editor of the Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser wrote the following, which raises some intriguing questions as to his family situation:

Newspaper article about Battery Brown

It seems that Abner Brown had departed the Colony leaving unpaid a bill owed to the newspaper. Further details of the delicate affair had been given in the Gazette's edition of 13 March 1838:

Article about Battery Brown (1)

In confirmation of the Gazette report, the Sydney Herald of 30 April 1838 recorded the departure of the ship "Midlothian" the previous day; included amongst the passengers was a Mr Abner Brown. Intriguingly, the Gazette of 26 April, recorded the death at age 22 of Sarah, youngest daughter of A. W. Brown, late Ordnance Storekeeper, only 3 days prior to this departure (2):

Notice of death of daughter of Ordnance Storekeeper

Abner's Daughter Sarah

Sarah had married Thomas Makeig at Scots Church, Sydney, in 1832 (3). Thomas was the Superintendent of the Phoenix convict hulk between November 1831 and 31 December 1837 when the Hulk establishment was discontinued; he was given a year's salary as a gratuity. He survived Sarah by less than two years, his death being reported in the Sydney Gazette of 13 August 1839 at the age of 40 years (4). Sarah and Thomas had lost an infant son (John Edman Makeig) 4 years earlier, in September 1834; at the time they were living on the Phoenix. The Phoenix was moored off Goat Island and its convicts laboured there on the construction of the magazine.

Abner's Wife, Celia (Cecelia)

If the Abner Brown who departed Sydney in April was the "late Ordnance Storekeeper", there is no mention of an accompanying wife. This is understandable given the events related above. There is a probable explanation. In the case R. v. Macarthy and others, Supreme Court of NSW, Burton J., 17 November 1835 the stolen property involved was the lawful property of "Celia Brown, the wife of Mr. Abner Brown, of Sydney" who was "residing with" James Duffey, a settler at Campbell Town. It seems that Celia may have stayed in the Colony - there is only one death registration for that name in NSW between 1835 and 1920 - a death in Sydney in 1888. (5, 6)

Was Sarah's death related to the public humiliation of her father just six weeks before? There is a hint of scandal followed by family tragedy in all of this. (7)

A Postscript

Subsequent to my writing the above material, a descendant of Abner Brown has provided me with additional information about his life.

Abner was born in 1774 at Saleby, Lincoln, England, the son of George Brown, a wheelwright and Elizabeth Willerton. He was a shoemaker before joining the army in 1792 (or thereabouts). He married Catherine Charlton at the Chapel Royal, Savoy, London in 1796. His military career was in the Royal Artillery and he was on Malta in 1802. He was still on Malta when he married in 1815 (Abner Willenden (sic) Brown to "Sarah Dowdle of Ireland.")

Abner then turns up marrying Elizabeth Bean at Alford, Lincs (very close to Saleby) in 1819. He appears to have deserted her unless she died, because he went to Australia with Cecelia Halls, nee Lee of Alford in 1823 calling her his wife. They were married at Scots Church in Sydney later. (NSW BDM:V182733 73A/1827 BROWN,ABNER W to HALLS, CECILIA)

Abner went to Australia as an army veteran, promised a cottage and acre of land if he escorted a convict ship as a "pensioner guard".

After his return to England, in 1839 he married Charlotte Creake, a much younger woman, in Blackfriars, London. He said he was a "gentleman". He was 65 years old. They lived in Elham, Kent where he was a a Chelsea pensioner and she was a toll collector on the Royal Military Canal. They had six children. The eldest Charlotte Ann Willerton Brown was born in 1840 at Greenwich when Abner was a "clerk in the Arsenal". By 1842 they were living in Elham.

Abner died in 1855 at Lyminge workhouse (next village to Elham) of "senility and a diseased bladder". He was 81 years old.

My thanks to Glenda Burkett for this information.

More information is available on Abner's life in the Colony of New South Wales.

Notes:

1. Prince Street was in The Rocks; its site is now under the approaches to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Early maps show it running parallel with, and to the west of Cumberland Street. It ran down towards Dawe's Battery, where the Ordnance Storekeeper had his office. A description of the Battery sent to the Colonial Secretary in 1827 included this:
"...At the west end of the Guard Room are the Quarters allotted to the Ordnance Storekeeper, consisting of three Rooms..." (Quoted in Peter Oppenheim The Fragile Forts, 2004, p.25)
There is evidence of Abner Brown owning a cottage in Prince Street in 1834; it is mentioned in delineating the boundaries of a claim to land notified in the Sydney Herald of 25 May 1834.
2. NSW BDM V1838120 102/1838
3. NSW BDM V1832253 73A/1832
4. NSW BDM V18391311 102/1839; V1839259 103/1839
5. NSW BDM 1052/1888
6. The identification of Celia Brown as the wife of Abner Brown the Ordnance Storekeeper is confirmed by a law report in The Australian of 20 November 1835 which identifies the stolen goods as the property of "Abner Brown, Dawes' Battery".
7. The burial registers for Sarah and Thomas Makeig do not give the cause of death. However Sarah died less than 2 months after she gave birth to a daughter (on 2 March 1838) so her death may have been birth-related. The daughter, Mary M Makeig, may have died around the same time as her death was registered the same year (NSW BDM V1838122 102/1838). Thomas's entry records his occupation as "Seaman" and the ship on which he arrived in Australia as the"Lord Rodney". The Hobart Town Courier of 6 December 1828 recorded "Arrived on Monday, the brig Lord Rodney, Captain Thomas Makeig, from Sydney, Nov. 15...".


More about Abner Brown - Abner Brown, Impartiality and "Blossom" the Cow

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au