Family tree

George Brown(e) was my grandfather’s grandfather, that is, my great great grandfather. At the time of writing there remains uncertainty about his ancestry, for no certain record of birth has been discovered, nor any document certifying beyond doubt his parentage or any siblings. Therefore at present we cannot trace our ancestors back beyond George with any certainty. According to my grandfather, George was born about 1820, worked for the Coastguard service in Ireland and lost his life one night whilst on a fishing trip at Ballycotton. A storm blew up and he did not return.  He was later presumed to have drowned as one of his fishing boots was washed up in Cork Harbour. The year given for this event was c1860, but no record of his death has been found. It is difficult to imagine such a tale could be fictitious, but research shows that the year given is unlikely to be correct.


His Coastguard Service Record reads as follows:


About 1818           born at Maidstone, Kent


June 1843              applied to join the Coast Guard Service - no vacancies


December 18, 1844      accepted for Coast Guard Service whilst serving on HMS Indus


January 9, 1845      appointed to Coast Guard Station at Costelloe Bay, Co. Galway


October 16, 1845      married Susanna Carr at Spiddal, County Galway


January 8, 1849      transferred from Costelloe Bay to North Isle of Aran Station


May 12, 1851        transferred to Lettermore, Kilroran, North Aran


January 27, 1852      transferred to Soldiers’ Point, Port & District, Dundalk, Co. Louth

                                    called up as a reservist for the Crimean War


March 10, 1854    HMS Boscawan


July 2, 1854           HMS Royal George


April 29, 1856             discharged back to his Coast Guard Station at Soldiers’ 

                                    Point, Port & District, Dundalk, Co. Louth


June 4, 1857            transferred to Ballycotton, Co. Cork


October 16, 1860      transferred to Carnsore, Co. Wexford


August 31, 1868            discharged to pension.


The above records give us a fairly clear account of his life and indicate he was of English descent, but suggest his death occurred after 1868. His family of five children were all born in Ireland to his Irish wife Susan(na) Carr (1827 – 1890), and they were as follows:

William Henry Browne (c1851 – 1902), Louisa Rhoda Browne (1853 – 1922), Sarah Jane Browne (c1855 – 1927), Mary Catherine Browne (1856 – 1916) and Joseph George Browne (1858 – 1905). The A’Bear family descends from the firstborn, William Henry Browne. Family tree


Because he lived in Ireland during his adult life, one would not expect to find many English records relating to George. Somewhat surprisingly then, the 1871 census for Hythe, Kent, shows the following entries at 143 Church Hill:


George Brown, Head, Married, 53, Navy Pensioner, born Maidstone, Kent; Susan Brown, Wife, married, 43, born Ireland; Joseph G. Brown, Son, 13, Scholar, born Ireland.    


Whilst census records cannot be taken to be wholly reliable, from the amount of agreeing detail there can be little doubt that this is the same man. Therefore George was indeed born in Maidstone, Kent and lived beyond 1871. This discovery raises the question as to why the family chose to live (or at least stay) on the coast in Hythe after his retirement. Could there be any clues here regarding family connections?


Firstly, his surname is spelt without the letter ‘e’ on the end of it. This could be an indication that he was born without the ‘e’ and adopted it in Ireland where, perhaps, it was a preferred spelling of the surname, in which case we should be looking for family members spelt Brown (without the ‘e’).

Secondly, one has to wonder if, after spending so many years living and working in Ireland away from his parents and siblings, he chose to spend some time after his retirement closer to them. If this was the case, perhaps other Browns might appear in the Hythe census that would give us a lead. Indeed, he may even have grown up in the port of Hythe, which could explain his interest in joining the Coastguard service. Hythe was a busy military port around this time which developed through fear of a French invasion. 


A closer inspection of the 1871 census does indeed show other Browns living only two doors away from them at 145 Church Hill, namely:


Mary Horton, Head, Unmarried, 49, Laundress, born Folkestone; Henry Brown, Brother (in law), Married, 48, Bricklayer, born Hythe; Susan Brown, Sister, married, 47, Laundress, born Folkestone.


Confirmation and development of this family group comes from a study of two earlier censuses and the 1881 census:

In 1861 Henry Brown was a lodger living with the Horton family in the same road, and he married Susan Horton in 1862 at Elham in the same district.

In 1881 Susan Brown is living with her sister Mary at 241 Park Road, Hythe. Susan is declared widowed, so we know Henry Brown died between 1871 and 1881.

At the time of the 1851 census Henry Brown was declared an Uncle to the Philpot family, and was staying nearby with this family. James Philpot, a labourer, was married to Sarah Philpot nee Brown, born c1809. Sarah was working for Robert & Mary Clark as a servant just around the corner at the Swan Inn on the night of the census. Their eldest child was named Eliza (b1834), as confirmed ten years earlier in the 1841 census. The other children were Sarah (b1838), James (b1840), Henry (b1842) and Richard (b1845), and in 1851 they lived near Church Hill in Slade Street, Hythe.


In 1871 Sarah Philpott nee Brown was still living in Slade Street, and was recorded as having been born in Maidstone.


If we try to fit George into the equation as a possible sibling we have, in chronological order:


Sarah Brown (became Philpott) b c1809 Maidstone. Died after 1871.

George Brown(e) b c1818 Maidstone. Died after 1871, probably in Ireland.

Henry Brown b c1823 Hythe. Died between 1871 and 1881.


In an attempt to establish possible parents, the 1841 census shows a William and Elizabeth Brown both born in 1781 and living in Hardways End, Hythe, Kent, with a son Henry born c1826. Elizabeth was recorded as born in Aylesford, Kent, not far from Maidstone. William was born in Alfriston, Sussex, an agricultural labourer. They could have married and settled in the Maidstone area, begun their family there and moved to Hythe around 1820, perhaps for work reasons. By 1841 children older than Henry would have left home and not shown up in the census. The name Elizabeth ties up with Sarah's firstborn, Eliza. Ten years later in 1851 Elizabeth and William are listed again, living in Concrete Row, near Slade Street in Hythe. Her place of birth was then given as Shoreham, Kent, again not far from Maidstone. By then they are both aged 70 years and they do not appear in the 1861 census. There are likely records of their deaths in the same district soon after 1861.


In searching for confirmation of William and Elizabeth Brown’s family, the following family group of baptisms was found, all at Chatham near Maidstone:


John Brown 1795 Chatham

Joseph Brown 1799 Chatham

Daniel Patrick Brown 1800 Chatham

Mary Brown 1801 Chatham

George Brown 1804 Chatham

Jane Brown 1808 Chatham


No subsequent records were found, so it remains unclear if this is the same family. If it is, it seems George was born fourteen years earlier than stated in the Coastguard record, married a lady sixteen years older than himself and retired aged sixty-four, not fifty.Also Elizabeth started her family aged only fourteen years and continued producing until the age of forty-two years. Though not impossible, this is not a good fit.


Returning to the 1871 census, the two Brown families lived either side of the Smith and Ovenden families. For future reference, no connection with the Browns has so far been established. Ernest Ovenden (aged 4) is stated as nephew to William and Sarah Smith. Mary Ann Ovenden nee Smith (b1844) married Edward Alexander Ovenden (b1834) nearby at Elham in 1863, so William Smith and Mary Ann Ovenden were brother and sister, both born in Hythe, Kent. Finding a family connection with one of these families would further support a family link, but they could just as well have been friendly neighbours.


I can only conclude that it seems quite probable George returned to Hythe in 1871 to spend time with his brother and sister. If this were the case it seems sensible he would have asked his sister Sarah Philpott about possible lodgings, and she, through her contacts or brother Henry, found accommodation at Church Hill, conveniently close to both of them.



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