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William Henry Brown (1861–1926)

from Colac Reformer

William Brown, 1911

William Brown, 1911

photo supplied by Jonathan Brown

After a life-time marked by strenuous activity in whatever sphere he found an interest, Dr. W. H. [William Henry] Brown, formerly of Colac, passed away at a private hospital in Melbourne late on Friday night. Early last month he was attacked by an affection of the heart, which was at once recognised as serious. However, he made a wonderful rally, but when his condition appeared most hopeful the end came. The sincere sympathy of a very wide circle of his friends in this district is extended to Mrs Brown and members of the family in their bereavement.

Born at Erith, in Kent, 66 years ago, he was educated at Mill Hill, England, and Peterzell-Konigsfeldt, Black Forest, Germany. He graduated in medicine at University College Hospital, London, and was a contemporary of Sir Henry Maudsley, and of the famous surgeon, Victor Horsley, and a pupil of Huxley, who had a profound influence upon him. In 1885 he came to Australia, and commenced practice at Maffra, leaving that town six years later to come to Colac, where he practised first as a partner of the late Dr. T. Foster and afterwards acquired the practice. During the thirty years that he resided in this town, Dr. Brown built up a pre-eminent reputation as a physician and surgeon, his skill in the latter branch of his profession earning him recognition from beyond the confines of the State. In the words of Professor Osborne, of the Melbourne University, Dr. Brown was a man who conformed to the fine old standard of the medical profession – the wide outlook and cultured mind. He devoted a considerable time to study in order to keep abreast of the latest developments of medical science, and when his practice had grown so as to demand the greater part of the day’s time, he made a habit of spending the early hours of the morning, from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., in reading and writing. Some of his contributions to medical journals gained world-wide attention, and amongst the leaders in his profession he was recognised as a man of outstanding ability. One of his original treatises dealt with a peculiar convulsive malady known at tetany which had been shown to be due to absence or inadequate action of a minute gland in the neck called the parathyroid. Dr. Brown tried implantation of the parathyroids of lower animals, but only temporary relief was given. He then determined to transplant human parathyroid tissue. This feat, which was beset with considerable technical difficulty, was successfully carried out, and a permanent cure of the condition was effected. This was the first case of parathyroid grafting recorded and is mentioned, associated with his name, in authoritative text books. As a mental relaxation, Dr. Brown studied Continental literature in both German and French.

In public matters, the late Dr. Brown won general esteem by the fearless expression of his opinions through the Press or on the platform, when he was moved to take part in discussions which arose. Imperial politics and the development of the Labour movement were of great interest to him, and he personally initiated a “Round Table” circle for the exchange of ideas in this respect. When the war broke out, in 1914, he at once placed his services as a speaker at the disposal of those organising the recruiting campaigns and, notwithstanding that such action was not altogether popular, visited many country centres and addressed public meetings in the effort to arouse the district to a sense of its responsibility. Patriotic movements of every kind had his unqualified support.

When his son, Dr. A. E. Brown, returned to Australia in 1916, after service with the British Army Medical Corps, Dr. Brown took him in to partnership, welcoming the relief from the strenuous attention which his practice demanded. He, however, cheerfully took up the burden again when, a few months later, Dr. Arthur felt it his duty to return to the front with the A.I.F. After the war Dr. Brown carried on the practice in partnership with his son, and later with the former and Dr. K. McK. Doig, until he retired to the home he had built at “Kennagh,” Sorrento, in January, 1921. Practically during the whole of the period he was in Colac, Dr. Brown acted as Health Officer to the Shire of Colac and rendered invaluable service in that capacity. In his connection with the Colac District Hospital as honorary medical officer over an extended period, he gave of his best and retired with the gratitude of the committee and patients alike.

At Sorrento he took a great interest in the affairs of the Mornington peninsula. He greatly admired the spirit and conception of Coppin’s work in improving the foreshore and ocean park of that beautiful part of Victoria. It was his earnest ambition to continue this work, and by his personal efforts he raised a considerable sum of money towards that end. He was fortunate in being able to imbue others with some of his enthusiasm, and lived to see many of his ideals realised. He was a member since 1923 of the Flinders Shire Council, and for a year occupied the presidential office.

In the world of sport Dr. Brown was an enthusiastic devotee of tennis and, not only played an excellent game, but was also a liberal supporter of the pastime. He was president of the Colac club for a number of years. Until a short time before his illness he still enjoyed a tussle on the court he had laid down at his Sorrento residence. Dr. Brown was also, in his younger days, very keen with the gun, and enjoyed the quest of quail and duck.

The late Dr. Brown is survived by his widow and two sons and three daughters. The elder son is Dr. A. E. Brown, of Colac, and the younger, Mr Geoffrey Brown, of Red Hill, who, after service with the Imperial army, spent several years in the Colonial Office before returning to Australia. The daughters are Margaret (Mrs J. J. McMahon, of Kew), Phyllis (Mrs Murray Jones, of Red Hill), and Mollie. The interment, which took place at the Brighton cemetery yesterday, was of a private nature. Amongst the floral tributes were wreaths from the President and councillors of the Shire of Colac, the Colac Ladies’ Benevolent Society, and the Matron and staff of the Colac District Hospital.

Reference to the death of Dr. W. H. Brown was made at the meeting of the committee of the Colac District Hospital last night. The president (Mr A. E. Langhorne) said that the whole of the State and the medical profession had suffered a serious loss. He moved that a letter of condolence be sent to Mrs Brown, Dr. A. E. Brown, and the other members of the family, expressing the deep sympathy of the committee in their sad bereavement. Mr E. N. Thomas referred to the fact that Dr. Brown’s name was a household word throughout the district and far beyond it. The splendid work which had been rendered to the Colac Hospital by Dr. Brown, was emphasised by Mr G. C. Gray, who pointed out that he had done much to build up the institution by his loyal service. “The passing of Dr. Brown,” said Mr J. G. Johnstone, “should prompt them to learn the lesson of endeavouring to do everything well. The doctor had left behind him a name, the memory of which would long live in the district where he laboured so long.” Mr J. P. Callanan, in voicing his sympathy, remarked that probably no other man in this district had ever done such fine work for his fellow men as had been done by the deceased gentleman. After Messrs F. Parkes, G. A. McAdam, D. M. Gleeson, and J. Rolfe, had spoken words of appreciation and sympathy, the motion was carried, the members standing in silence for a few moments.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for William Henry Brown

Citation details

'Brown, William Henry (1861–1926)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

William Brown, 1911

William Brown, 1911

photo supplied by Jonathan Brown

Life Summary [details]


22 March, 1861
Erith, Kent, England


16 April, 1926 (aged 65)
Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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