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Sylvester John (Vessie) Browne (1841–1915)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Sylvester Browne, n.d.

Sylvester Browne, n.d.

from Pastoral Review, 16 September 1915

A few months ago the death took place in Melbourne of Mr. Thomas Alexander Browne (better known by his famous pen name of Rolf Boldrewood) and now the death is recorded of his brother, Mr. Sylvester John Browne, of Julia Creek, Queensland.

In his time, Mr. Sylvester Browne, who was 71 years of age, had travelled and lived in many parts of Australia, and his name was scarcely less familiar than that of the author of Robbery Under Arms, The Squatter’s Dream, The Miner’s Right, and other stories dealing with phases of Australian life that have now passed away. We may read of many of Mr. Sylvester Browne’s experiences in those books—his experiences with bush rangers, his life as a squatter, his life on the mining fields of Australia; but he lives therein under other names.

Mr. Browne was a son of Captain Sylvester Browne, who was at one time in the service of the East India Company, and afterwards became very well known in Australia. It was Captain Sylvester Browne who built Newtown House, from which Newtown took its name. Mr. Sylvester Browne married a daughter of Sir William Stawell, who was for many years Chief Justice and Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria and he is survived by a widow, three sons and two daughters—Ulick, Dennis and Svlvester and Maureen and Diana. There was another son Roderic, but his name is on the roll of honour of the Dardanelles—he was killed in action on the 28th of June. And Ulick, the eldest son, has just been invalided home from Egypt. Both boys enlisted as troopers in the Fifth Light Horse of Queensland. Dennis Browne enlisted, also, and is now with the Army Medical Service in Queensland. It is a proud family record. And the fourth son, Sylvester, who is at present too young to be accepted for service, hopes to follow the noble lead of his brothers should the war continue over Christmas.

Mr. J. Stawell, of the Railway Construction Department in Sydney, is a brother-in-law of the late Mr. Sylvester Browne. Mr. H. H. Massie, general manager of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney is a nephew; and it is of interest to note that his son, Lieutenant Massie, who has twice been wounded at the Dardanelles, had, like his father, and like Mr. Browne, before him, won his spurs as an athlete, especially on the cricket field and in the boxing arena. Another nephew is Mr. H. M. Cockshott, the well-known Sydney barrister. In addition to the mothers of Mr. Massie and Mr. Cockshott, Lady Darley was also a sister of the late Mr. Browne. Another sister is Lady Scratchley, wife of the late Major-General Sir Peter Scratchley, who was for many years the military adviser to New South Wales and Victoria. Sir Peter Scratchley was responsible for most of the existing fortifications, and Fort Scratchley, at Newcastle, is named after him. He visited New Guinea in connection with the British annexation and died while returning from there in 1885.

The late Mr. Sylvester Browne played a prominent part in Australian life. In mining circles and in our pastoral and dairying life his name was very well known. His was one of the most familiar figures for many years at the Royal Show in Sydney.

With Mr. Everard Browne, the eldest son of "Rolf Boldrewood," and Mr. Gordon Lyons, also well known in Melbourne, where Mr. Sylvester Browne was born, he floated a small company and went over to Coolgardie in the early 'Nineties and bought out early Bayley’s Reward claims from the original prospectors. Thus he was directly concerned in the first of those gold discoveries in the west, which electrified Australia and turned the tide in Western Australia's favour just at the most critical period of her existence. Since then tens of thousands of people have flocked to the golden West: towns have sprung up in every direction, and the State has been developed in a thousand ways. Wonderful were the tales—wonderful and weird—that the late Mr. Browne used to relate of those goldmining days in Coolgardie. But Mr. Browne was interested in other mining ventures as well. He was interested in the Gympie field in its early days, and at one time he practically owned the Junction mine at Broken Hill.

The late Mr. Browne lived for a considerable time in South Yarra, Melbourne, and later took up the well-known Minembah property on the Hunter River. This he sold a few years ago, and then purchased the property on Julia Creek, on the northen line of railway that runs inland from Townsville.

There was another field in which Mr. Sylvester Browne did the country great service—he was an explorer. If he took no part in any of the more notable of exploration journeys in Australia, we are, nevertheless, greatly indebted to him for much important developmental work in this country. Whenever he could find time for it there was nothing he liked better than to set off with a couple of packhorses and some black boys on an exploring expedition; and in this way he was responsible for the opening up of a good deal of new land.

A born raconteur, Mr. Sylvester Browne had a wealth of anecdote and story and it was the delight of his friends to gather round him and listen to his tales of other days—his stories of life on the mining fields, his experiences in the bush, his adventures with bushrangers—and he had more than one adventure with bushrangers. A man who stood 6ft 5 in high, and was of very powerful build—he was an amateur boxer of some repute in his younger days—he succeeded in overpowering a Queensland highwayman many years ago and handing him over to the police. He drove up to a station one day with a member of the Zouch family, well-known in the Goulburn district. To their surprise, as they arrived, they saw all the station hands seated on the top of the stock rails. They had been "bailed up." And, the next moment Mr. Browne and Mr. Zouch were "bailed up" too. The bushranger’s revolver was pointed at them. "I shot a man this morning" said he, "and I want your horses." Mr. Browne made the best of the situation and said, "All right; you can unharness them." The bushranger approached the horses and incautiously came within reach of Mr. Browne’s strong right arm, and that was the end of him. He was thrown down, and with the assistance of Mr. Zouch, was relieved of his revolver. The man was afterwards hanged.

If Mr. Browne had had the time and the inclination to set down in writing the story of his life we might have had a volume of entrancing interest. But he was not a writer like his brother. His work lay in other directions.

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Citation details

'Browne, Sylvester John (Vessie) (1841–1915)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Sylvester Browne, n.d.

Sylvester Browne, n.d.

from Pastoral Review, 16 September 1915