Sir William Brown, 1st Baronet, of Richmond Hill

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Sir William Brown 1846

Sir William Brown, 1st Baronet DL (30 May 1784 – 3 March 1864) was a British merchant and banker, founder of the banking-house of Brown, Shipley & Co. and a Liberal politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1846 to 1859.


He was the eldest son of Alexander Brown of Ballymena, county Antrim, and Grace, daughter of John Davison (1764–1834) of Drumnasole, born at Ballymena, Ireland on 30 May 1784. At twelve years of age he was placed under the care of the Rev. J. Bradley at Oatterick, Yorkshire, whence in 1800 he returned to Ireland.[1]

Soon afterwards he sailed with his father and mother for the United States of America, and at Baltimore, Maryland, where his father continued the linen trade in which he had been engaged in Ireland, received in the counting-house his commercial education, he was sent with his brothers, George (1787–1859), John (1788–1852), and James (1791–1877), to be educated at the school of the Revd J. Bradley in Catterick, North Yorkshire.[2] In a few years the house at Baltimore became the firm of Alexander Brown & Sons, consisting of the father and his sons, William, John, George, and James.[1]

In 1809, William returned to the United Kingdom, established a branch of the firm in Liverpool, and they shortly afterwards abandoned the exclusive linen business and became general merchants; the transactions of the firm soon extended so as to require further branches. James established himself at New York City and John at Philadelphia, and on the death of their father the business, then the most extensive in the American trade, was continued by the four brothers, George remaining in Baltimore; the disastrous aspect of affairs in financial crisis of 1837, induced the brothers George and John, who had by this time realised ample fortunes, to retire from the firm, leaving William the eldest and James the youngest to continue the concern. Brown persuaded the Bank of England to advance him £2,000,000 to tide matters over in view of the firm's multiple interests. Brown only needed half the amount, which he repaid within six months, his business, both mercantile and banking, continued to increase, and in 1844 he was held one sixth of the trade between Great Britain and the United States. "There is hardly," declared Richard Cobden at this period, "a wind that blows, or a tide that flows in the Mersey, that does not bring a ship freighted with cotton or some other costly commodity for Mr Brown's house." They now became bankers in the sense of conducting transmissions of money on public account between the two hemispheres, and in this pursuit and the business of merchants they acquired immense wealth.[1]

In 1825, William took an active part in the agitation for the reform in the management of the Liverpool docks, he was elected an alderman of Liverpool in 1831, and held that office until 1838. He was the unsuccessful Anti-Cornlaw League candidate for South Lancashire in 1844.[1] In 1846, Brown was elected Liberal M.P. for South Lancashire, and held the seat until 23 April 1859.[1]

He was the founder of the firm of Brown, Shipley, & Co., Liverpool and London merchants, and at one time was the chairman of the Atlantic Telegraph Company.[1]

In 1856, friction arose between the British and American governments because British consuls were enlisting recruits for the Crimean War, but this was largely allayed by Brown, who in an interview with Lord Palmerston, then prime-minister, explained the objections taken in America.


William Brown Street

His name is probably best known by the munificent gift which he bestowed on his adopted town, he erected the Free Public Library and Derby Museum at Liverpool, which was opened on 8 October 1860, at a cost to himself of £40,000, the corporation providing the site and foundation and furnishing the building.

At the inauguration of the volunteer movement in 1859, he raised and equipped at his own expense a corps of artillery, which ranked as the 1st brigade of Lancashire artillery volunteers.

In 1863, he was selected as High Sheriff of Lancashire.[1]

He was created a baronet 'of Richmond Hill in the County Palatine of Lancaster' on 24 January 1863.[3]

He did not, however, live long to enjoy his honours, as he died at Richmond Hill, Liverpool, on 3 March 1864, he was always an advocate of free trade, and particularly favoured the idea of a decimal currency. On the proving of his will on 21 May 1864 the personalty was sworn under £900,000.[1]

Brown's family vault in St James's Gardens


He married, on 1 January 1810, Sarah, daughter of Andrew Gibson of Ballymena; she died on 5 March 1858; the eldest son, Alexander Brown, having died on 8 October 1849, the grandson, Lieutenant-colonel William Richmond Brown, succeeded to the baronetcy in 1864.[1]

Sir W. Brown was the author of a pamphlet entitled 'Decimal Coinage. A Letter from W. Brown, Esq., M.P., to Francis Shand, Esq., Chairman of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce,' 1854.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Boase 1886.
  2. ^ Killick 2004.
  3. ^ "No. 22697". The London Gazette. 9 January 1863. p. 119.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Lord Francis Egerton
William Entwisle
Member of Parliament for South Lancashire
With: William Entwisle, 1846–1847
Charles Pelham Villiers, 1847
Alexander Henry, 1847–1852
John Cheetham, 1852–1859
Succeeded by
Algernon Fulke Egerton
William John Legh
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Brown
(of Richmond Hill)
Succeeded by
William Richmond Brown