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 John Ross Browne  (1821 - 1875)

About: John Ross Browne
 

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Lived/Active: California/District Of Columbia      Known for: travel book illustration, frontier painting

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BIOGRAPHY for John Browne
Facts/Data
Birth
1821 (Beggarsbush, Dublin, Ireland)
 
Death
1875 (Oakland, California)

Lived/Active
California/District Of Columbia

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travel book illustration, frontier painting

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Painted in Latin America
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A peripatetic illustrator for the United States government, John Ross Browne also illustrated and wrote his own travel books.  Combining personal and official travel experiences during the 1840s, 50s and 60s, Browne recorded adventures in gold-mining California, Apache country in Arizona, sailing around Cape Horn in South America, writing reports in Texas and New Orleans, sightseeing in the Middle East and Europe and serving his government in China.  Many of his writings with sketches were published in Harper's Magazine.

John Browne was born in Dublin, Ireland, and immigrated with his parents to Louisville, Kentucky in 1832.  He studied shorthand, and then worked in Washington DC for the United States Senate as a reporter from 1841 to 1842.

In 1849, he went to San Francisco as an agent for the United States Treasury Department to deal with problems of mass desertions of sailors to the gold mines.  On this trip, he sailed from New York aboard the "Pacific", and headed to Cape Horn where the ship was boarded by an American Consul who deposed the captain and replaced him with another who had lost his ship near Buenos Aires.  Weary of the turmoil and the long detention at the island of Juan Fernandez, Browne and ten other passengers got into a small boat and sailed 70 miles to shore.  His writings of these adventures, Crusoe's Island, created much interest in exotic South American travel.

Arriving on August 5, 1849, in California from that adventuresome trip around Cape Horn Ross Browne wrote: "I have reached the promised land at last." (Browne 120). However, he was unimpressed with the success of gold mining and wrote: "A young man having no family ties may do well to come here, but it is the greatest folly for any person in good business at home, or who has any prosepect of doing well, to sarcrifice his property and separate himself from his family on the uncertainl contingency of making money in California." (Browne 125).

He was based in Monterey where he also earned money from the U.S. government for recording and translating from Spanish to English state convention proceedings to prepare for statehood and elect state representatives to Washington.  His lengthy written report was much in demand when California applied for statehood admission. The U.S. Senate purchased 2000 copies and additional orders came from the California Legislature.

In October 1849, he returned to the East Coast via Cape Horn, and in the 1850s traveled in Europe, the Near East, Egypt, New Orleans and back to Latin America where he was in Mexico and then Panama on his return to California in July of 1854. There his commission was again from the U.S. government.  He had the title of Inspector General of Public Depositories, meaning he was to review the character of public employees and the condition of the revenue service and then suggest methods for preventing fraud and smuggling and other ways of cheating the U.S. government. He also performed the same services at Indian agencies on the West Coast, and these duties kept him in California until April, 1860.  Four years later, his book, Adventures in California and Washoe, that he authored and illustrated about his California experiences was published.

From 1860 to 1862, he traveled in Europe, then lectured on the East Coast for a year, basing himself in New York City.  However, that lecture tour was not financially successful, and he and his family returned to California in 1863.  From that time, lecturing about his many adventures proved remunerative.  But he did not stay long in one place, as he was in Arizona in 1863 and 1864 accompanying his friend, Charles D. Poston on a trip through Apache country.  His accounts of this period were published serially in Harper's Monthly and later published in books.  From 1864 to 1865, he was in Nevada and there made much profit from doing illustrations and reports of mining sites for potential eastern investors.

He returned briefly to Washington DC and to California in 1866 and then from 1868 to 1869, was in Peking, China briefly as United States Minister to China.  The assignment did not last long, as his views were not in accord with those of his superiors in Washington DC.

In 1870, John Ross Browne moved to Oakland, California where he remained until his death on December 9, 1875.

Sources:
Lina Fergusson Browne, J. Ross Browne
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born near Dublin, Ireland on Feb. 11, 1821. Browne arrived in Louisville, KY in 1833. He later studied shorthand and worked as a reporter for the U.S. Senate. He came to San Francisco in 1849 as an agent of the U.S. Treasury Department to deal with the problem of mass desertions of sailors to the gold fields. In 1864 Harper's magazine ran his serial featuring 78 illustrations entitled, "Adventures in the Apache Country." He authored and illustrated, Adventures in California & Washoe in 1864. In 1870 Browne settled in Oakland and remained there until his death on Dec. 9, 1875. In: CHS.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Artists and Illustrators of the Old West (Robert Taft); Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); Artists of the American West (Samuels); American West, Spring 1965.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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