John Brown (1780-1859) Stonemason, Geologist and Fossil Collector
John Brown was born at Braintree, Essex in 1780. He died at Stanway, Essex on 28th November 1859 and was buried at St. Albright’s church Stanway on 16th December 1859. A photograph taken in 1856 shows him with a penetrating gaze. He had a strong bespectacled face, hefty large hands and sported a brown curly wig. He was a keen observer and kind to the poor. John Brown mainly lived in Essex. Brown was born at Braintree, and later worked in Norwich and Colchester before retiring to Stanway where he died, aged 79 of chronic liver disease.
John Brown had a sister Mary Goodchild. He married Jane Byford, of Whepstead, Suffolk at St. James, Colchester on 9th February 1818. She died on 21st May 1818, aged 30 and was buried at Whepstead. John Brown later married Elizabeth Eagle, widow, of Stanway at Colchester on 31st July 1820. She died, aged 54, on 11th June 1830. There were no children from either marriage.
Brown was a stonemason. He was apprenticed for 8 years and worked as a journeyman in Colchester and Norwich before establishing himself as a master stonemason on East Hill, Colchester. Brown retired about 1830 and purchased a small farm at Stanway. He was a communicant of the Church of England and regularly attended services at Stanway. Brown was well travelled, mainly in Essex, and also Kent, London, Suffolk and Sussex. The education he received in early life was limited to that imparted in a dame school, together with moral training from his mother. John Brown was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1836. He was also a member of the Ray and Palaeontographical Societies. Brown was also a member of the Geologists Association. His main geological work was carried out in his native Essex. He collected Pleistocene fossils from Ballingdon, Beaumont, Copford, Clacton, Colchester, Grays, Stanway and Walton-on-the-Naze. Probably his most important work was at Clacton. Further a field he collected fossils from the Oldhaven Beds of Grove Ferry, near Canterbury, Kent. He published more than 35 papers, mainly in the Magazine of Natural History, Annals of Natural History and Essex Literary Journal between 1829 and 1859. He was friends with Edward Charlesworth, John Henslow, Professor Richard Owen and the elder Searles Valentine Wood. John Brown formed a large collection of fossil mammals and fossil shells as well as modern shells. These were crammed into his property, Judd’s Farm, Stanway. He attended meetings in London and lectured on his favourite subject of Essex geology to the Colchester Mechanics Institute, Colchester Literary Institute and Bures Institution. He donated fossils to the Geological Society, British Museum and museums in Ipswich, Oxford and York. In his will he bequeathed his remaining books, philosophical instruments and specimens to Richard Owen who later passed them to the British Museum. Brown’s work is still of relevance. No less than six are cited by David Bridgland in his Quaternary of the Thames Geological Conservation Review Series (1994).
D.R. Bridgland. 1994. Quaternary of the Thames. Geological Conservation Review Series. ISBN 0 412 48830 2. 441 pages.
C. Edwards. 2001. The Parish of Stanway: People & Places c1700-c1840. ISBN 0 9541896 0 4. 172 pages.
J.C. Thackray. 2004. John Brown (1780-1859). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,.
A.P. Wire,. 1890. Memoir of the Late John Brown, F.G.S. of Stanway. Essex Naturalist. Vol. 4. pp. 158-168.
His personal estate was valued at £ 7,000 at his death.