Brown, Robert (1842-1895) (DNB01)

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BROWN, ROBERT (1842–1895), geographical compiler, the only son of Thomas Brown of Campster, Caithness, was born at Campster on 23 March 1842. He was educated at Edinburgh University, where he graduated B.A, in 1860, and afterwards at Leyden, at Copenhagen, and at Rostock, where he obtained the degree of Ph.D. In 1861 he visited Spitzbergen, Greenland, and Baffin's Bay, and during the next two years he visited the Pacific, and ranged the continent of America from Venezuela to Alaska and the Behring sea. He was botanist to the British Columbia expedition, and commander of the Vancouver exploration of 1864, when the interior of the island was charted for the first time under his supervision. He visited Greenland with Mr. Edward Whymper in 1867, making a special study of the glaciers, and developing strong views upon the subject of the erosive powers of ice (cf. Geog. Journal, vols, xxxix. and xli.) Subsequently he travelled in the north-western portions of Africa. In 1869 he settled at Edinburgh, holding the post of lecturer in natural history in the high school and at the Heriot-Watt college. He became a frequent contributor to the periodical press upon geographical subjects, and wrote occasional memoirs for the 'Transactions' of the Linnean and Geographical Societies, varying geographical research with botany. In 1875-6 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the chair of botany in Edinburgh University, and his failure to obtain the post told heavily upon a very sensitive nature. He did a quantity of work for 'Chambers's Encyclopædia' and other works of reference, and in 1876 was writing for the 'Academy,' the 'Echo,' and the 'Standard,' his connection with these papers necessitating his removal to London in that year. Thenceforth he devoted a great part of his time to the preparation of popular geographical works, most of which were published by Messrs. Cassell in serial form. They include 'The Races of Mankind; being a Popular Description of the Characteristics, Manners, and Customs of the Principal Varieties of the Human Family' (London, 1873-6, 4 vols. 4to); 'The Countries of the World' (1876-81, 6 vols. 8vo); 'Science for All' (1877-82, 5 vols. 8vo); 'The Peoples of the World' (1882-5, 5 vols. 8vo); 'Our Earth and its Story' (based on Kirchoff's 'Allgemeine Erdkunde,' 1887-8, 2 vols. 8vo); and 'The Story of Africa and its Explorers' (1892-5, 4 vols. 8vo). Issued for the most part in weekly or monthly parts, and copiously illustrated, most of these works have been reissued in one form or another. These bulky compilations were commended in the press, proved widely popular, and did much to disseminate the results of geographical science, if not to advance geographical thought, but they scarcely gave Brown an opportunity of exercising his full powers. Apart from them he published 'A Manual of Botany, Anatomical and Physiological,' in 1874, and in the following year edited Rink's 'Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo;' in 1892 he collaborated with Sir R. L. Playfair in his valuable 'Bibliography of Morocco;' and in 1893 he edited Pellew's 'Adventures in Morocco.' His holidays in his later years were usually devoted, of choice, to travels in the Barbary States. In 1890 he was chosen vice-president of the Institute of Journalists, he died suddenly in London on 26 Oct. 1895, on which morning a leader, penned by him on the previous night, appeared in the 'Standard.' He was buried at Norwood on 30 Oct. At the time of his death he was seeing a new edition of Pary's 'Leo Africanus' through the press for the Hakluyt Society.

He was on the council of the Royal Geographical Society for several years previous to his death, and he was a fellow of the Linnean and many other learned societies. His name is commemorated by Brown's Range, Mount Brown, and Brown's River in Vancouver Island, by Cape Brown in Spitzbergen, and Brown's Island, north of Novaya Zemlya.

[Times, 29 Oct. 1895; Geographical Journal, 1896, p. 577; The Adventures of John Jewitt, 1896 (with a short notice and a portrait of Brown); Men and Women of the Time, 14th ed.; Chavanne, Karpf, and Le Monnier's Literatur über die Polar Regionen, 1878; Lauridsen's Bibliographia Groenlandica, 1890; works in Brit. Mus. Library.]

T. S.