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James Browne

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Major General Sir James Browne (1839-1896)

Constructed the Sind Pishin Railway

Buried in Brompton Cemetery


1896 Obituary[1]

We regret to announce the death of Major General Sir James Browne, the Agent for the Governor General in Beluchistan, a post in which he succeeded the late Sir Robert Sandeman in February, 1892.

Sir James Browne was born in 1839, being the son of Mr. Robert Browne, of Falkirk. Educated at Cheltenham and Addiscombe, he obtained a commission in the Bengal Engineers in December, 1857, being transferred to the Royal Engineers when the Indian corps were amalgamated.

Going out to India two years later, he served in an expedition against the Waziris in 1860, and in 1863 in the more eventful Umbeyla Campaign, when he was twice wounded and three times mentioned in despatches.

Having entered the Public Works Department, he was almost constantly employed, during the next ten years, in frontier districts, where he acquired an extensive knowledge of Pathan character and customs.

In 1870 he was promoted to a brevet Majority ; and, taking two years furlough next year, he spent a considerable part of his holiday in visiting various great engineering works in Europe and America.

After his return to India he was employed on more than one important project, and in 1876 was sent to make surveys for a railway from Sukkur to Quetta. Shortly before the outbreak of the Afghan War he was posted to Quetta as Political Officer, his chief duty being "to keep the door of the Kakar country open," and this he performed so effectually that, when our troops advanced, the Kakar Pathans never fired a shot.

He accompanied Sir Donald Stewart's Column to Kandahar, and his daring reconnaissances and unceasing energy in collecting supplies and intelligence largely contributed to the success of the operations in Southern Afghanistan. With less than a dozen native troopers he occupied the fort of Khelat-i-Ghilzai a day before the advanced guard arrived.

In 1882 he commanded the Engineers with the Indian Contingent sent to Egypt, and was present at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir. For his services in Egypt he was made a C.B.

In 1883 he was entrusted with the duty of superintending the construction of the Hamai Railway; and although it may be doubted whether the plans for that enterprise were made with a sufficient knowledge of the obstacles to be overcome, the devotion with which General Browne threw himself into the task has never been questioned. The line, which is over 200 miles in length, was completed by March, 1887. While it was in progress he had 3000 troops under his command, and ranked as a Brigadier General.

In the following January he was made a K.C.S.I. and in 1889 he was appointed Quartermaster General in India. This post he held till 1892, when, as already stated, he was selected as Sir Robert Sandeman's successor.

He has been blamed for the part he took in the deposition of the Khan of Khelat ; but there is no need to review the history of that episode now.

By the death of Sir James Browne the Indian Government has lost the services of a most distinguished officer, whose vigorous personality and capacity for hard work constantly led to his being selected for very arduous duties.

Endless stories are told illustrative of his resolute dealing with the refractory tribesmen of the Afghan and Beluch Border. On one occasion, it is said, an Afghan or Beluch Chieftain objected to the presence of the English in the country : whereupon "Buster Browne" — to use the soubriquet by which he was universally known to Anglo-Indians— threw the man bodily into a river, or, according to cne version, across it. Another border notable — the story goes — challenged him to personal combat, and paid for his temerity with his life. It is understood that Sir James Browne will be succeeded, as Governor General's Agent in Beluchistan, by Mr. Hugh Barnes, at present acting as Secretary to the Government of India in the Foreign Department. Mr. Barnes was for many years Sir Robert Sandeman's trusted lieutenant.


1896 Obituary [2]

MAJOR-GENERAL SIR JAMES BROWNE, R.E., K.C.S.I., C.B., who died at Quetta, Baluchistan, on the 13th of June, 1896, was the son of Mr. Robert Browne, of Falkirk, N.B. He was born on the 16th of September, 1839, and, was educated abroad and at the Military College, Addiscombe, obtaining a commission in the Bengal Engineers in 1857.

In 1860 he served with the expedition against the Mahsud Waziris on the North-West frontier of India, being present at the storming of the Burera Pass and at the capture of Kaneegurum and Mukeen. For this he was mentioned in despatches and received a medal with clasp. He then acted for a time as Assistant Engineer on the construction of the road between Lahore and Peshawar.

In 1863 he served in the Umbeyla campaign and greatly distinguished himself, being three times mentioned in despatches and receiving the brevet of Major. It was during the period from 1860 to 1864 that he laid the foundation of that colloquial knowledge of Pushtu and Persian which proved so useful in his subsequent career.

In 1864 Major Browne took a short furlough to England, when he married Alice, the daughter of Mr. C. Pierson.

On his return he was sent to open out and construct roads in the hill district of Kangra in the Punjab. His work there added greatly to his reputation, some of his bridges especially being distinguished by their great span and boldness of design.

In 1869 he again took furlough, part of which he spent in studying the best examples of iron bridge construction in England, America, and Holland......

Sir James Browne knew every inch of the country he ruled over and understood the people, who felt that he was a firm and upright official, from whom unflinching justice, tempered with sympathy for those he governed, might be obtained.

He was elected an Associate on the 5th of December, 1871, and three years later he presented to the Institution a Paper 'On the Tracing and Construction of Roads in Mountainous Tropical Countries,' for which he was awarded a Telford Premium.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. London Evening Standard - Monday 15 June 1896
  2. 1896 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries