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John Ross Browne Edit Profile

also known as Often called J. Ross Browne. (Date of birth sometimes given as 1817.)

artist , traveler , writer , government agent

He was an Irish-born American traveler, artist, writer and government agent.


John Ross Browne was the third of seven children born to Thomas Egerton Browne, an Irish newspaper editor, and his wife, Elizabeth (Buck) Browne.


When he was thirteen years old, he emigrated to America with his parents. The family ended up in Kentucky, where the elder Browne set up a private girls school. There his father became a schoolteacher and eventually reporter on the proceedings of the U.S. Congress for the Congressional Globe. Ross Browne learned shorthand, worked for his father, clerk, attended medical school and worked as a deckhand on a flatboat. He wrote a book called "The Confession of a Quack: The Autobiography of a Modern Aesculapian," which was the beginning of his lifelong interest in exposing quacks and frauds. It is said that his literary career was encouraged by Edgar Allen Poe and that one of his books inspired Herman Melville to write “Moby Dick.”

In 1844, Browne married the former Lucy Ann Mitchell with whom he had two children. The next year Browne began a long career working for the government. In 1849, the family left for San Francisco where he was appointed Third Lieutenant for the United States Revenue Service. His job was to find ways to keep sailors from deserting their duty and taking off for the gold mines. During this time he was also responsible for setting up post offices between San Francisco and San Luis Obispo.

In September 1849, fellow Mountain View Cemetery denizen Senator William Gwin, appointed Browne as the official reporter to the Constitutional Convention in Monterey, for which he was paid the princely sum of $10,000.

Browne used his payment to travel across Europe and write about his experiences. In 1853, Browne became a “Confidential Agent” for the United States government. He was tasked with investigating custom house operations and report on fraud, corruption and poor work habits. Browne eventually upset the politically powerful and well-connected and was fired.

In 1854, he returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and devoted himself to his mining interests, real estate and an irrigation project. He also designed and had built a palatial home in Oakland’s Rockridge district known as “Pagoda Hill.” Browne is not only remembered for his vast literary works and government work, but as a passionate champion for the rights of the Chinese and Indians in California.

He died suddenly at the age of fifty-four, apparently of acute appendicitis.


  • In 1842, the younger Browne signed onto a whaling ship, traveling much of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The New York firm Harpers and Brothers published his Etchings of a Whaling Cruise in 1846. The book influenced Herman Melville and earned Browne international notoriety as an author and artist.


  • writings

    • There are Ross Browne's 47 articles in Harper's.


  • Other Interests

    Ross Browne was a man of interests, who loved reading, traveling, writing, playing the flute and drawing. Whenever he had the opportunity to explore an unknown land, he was off with his shorthand pad and sketchpad to describe the wonders he saw, whether it was a job on a whaling ship, a voyage around Cape Horn, a jaunt to gold-rush California, or a tour to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. He published numerous books and articles about his travels illustrated with his own drawings.


Thomas Egerton Browne - Irish - A newspaper editor

Thomas Browne was an ardent nationalist who ran afoul of the British government and was sent to prison, but released on condition of his leaving Ireland. In 1833 the family emigrated to the United States. They settled in Louisville, Kentucky

Elizabeth (Buck) Browne

Lucy Anne Mitchell

In 1844, Browne married the former Lucy Ann Mitchell with whom he had two children.