BROWNE, Anthony (1769-1840), of Montague Place, Bedford Square, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 2 Oct. 1769, s. of Anthony Browne of St. Philip’s, Antigua by w. Sarah. educ. ?I. Temple 1797. m. 31 Oct. 1791, Dorothy, da. of Samuel Harman of St. Philip’s, Antigua, s.p. (1 da. adopted).
Agent, Montserrat 1790-d., Antigua 1798-d., St. Kitts 1808-11.
Collector of customs Trinidad 1814-32, Tobago 1832-d.
Browne came of a merchant family established in Antigua since the 17th century.1 There, he informed the House, 29 July 1812, he spent ten of the happiest years of his life. In London he became a colonial agent and a partner in the banking house of Bowles, Beachcroft, Reeves and Collins. From 1802 until 1816 he was a senior partner in the house of Browne, Cobb and Stokes.2 In 1806 he invested in a seat in Parliament for an open borough, introduced by George Johnstone* as his colleague at Hedon. Surviving a contest in 1807, he held it until 1818.
Browne’s chief motive for entering Parliament was the defence of the West India planters. In his maiden speech, 27 Feb. 1807, he admitted that the slave trade was ‘a great political evil’, but it was ‘interwoven with the most important interests of the country and with a complication of private interests on which thousands and thousands of our fellow subjects depended’. Africa was an inevitable nursery of slaves; Britain had only a fifth of the trade and to abolish it would ruin the West Indian colonies. He had not been able to catch the Speaker’s eye on 23 Feb., when he voted against going into a committee, and on 6 Mar. he was a die-hard opponent of the abolition bill.
On other questions, Browne was usually silent and independent. He voted for Whitbread’s plea for an armistice, 29 Feb., against the orders in council, 3 Mar., and for Irish Catholic claims, 25 May 1808. He was in the minorities against the Duke of York, 15-17 Mar. 1809. On 22 Apr. he was one of 12 Members invited to the London livery dinner to boost reform.3 On 11 May he voted for Madocks’s motion charging ministers with corruption, and on 12 June was in the minority who objected to the castration of Curwen’s bill for parliamentary reform. He opposed ministers on the address and on the Scheldt inquiry, 23, 26 Jan., 5 and 30 Mar. 1810, so the Whigs were ‘hopeful’ of him. But he voted against parliamentary reform, 21 May, and there is no evidence that he subsequently supported it. He was in the minority on the droits of Admiralty, 30 May 1810, and joined opposition on the Regency bill, 1 and 21 Jan. 1811. Was he the ‘Mr Browne’ who supported the London theatre bill (25 Mar., 9 May 1811, 20 Mar. 1812)? It was certainly he who opposed the proposal to cultivate the West Indies by means of free labourers as ‘visionary’, 4 Apr. 1811. He voted with opposition on the state of Ireland, 4 Feb. 1812, and for Turton’s censure motion, 27 Feb. On 24 Apr. he voted for Catholic relief and he remained in favour during the next Parliament. He favoured sinecure reform, 4 May, and on 15 June praised the bill as a bid to economize. He voted for a more efficient administration, 21 May, but was listed a Treasury supporter after the ensuing election. He had rushed to Hedon at the first report of a dissolution.4
Before the dissolution of 1812 Browne was spurred into debate by the West Indian revenues bill, 14 July. He objected to the regulation of the West Indies customs establishment by the British government: there being no evidence of abuse, it was a matter for the local authorities. On 29 July he was a spokesman for the white planters against Governor Elliot of Antigua’s aspersions against them. On 22 July and again on 7 Dec. 1812 he confronted Wilberforce with the fact that slaves were being recruited in Africa for the West Indian black regiments. He voted for Burdett’s Regency motion, 23 Feb. 1813; objected to the Abingdon canal bill, 7 Apr.; supported the claims of John Palmer* to compensation, 31 May, 15 June, and voted against the Admiralty registrars bill, 8 July. He opposed the renewal of legislation against machine breakers, 29 Nov. 1813, and next day complained of the violation of the sacred principle of preference to colonial over foreign produce in the brandy duties. The colonial offices bill did not meet with his approval, 28 Mar. 1814. On 18 Apr. he opined that leaves of absence for colonial officials should be granted in situ, not by the British government. He withdrew a motion to limit leave to a year and impose forfeiture on officials absent two years continuously, but persevered in opposition to a clause indemnifying existing officials from the restrictions of the bill. He was thwarted by 32 votes to 9. In revenge he conducted a vendetta against the appointment of Le Marchant as civil secretary of Antigua, 18, 25 Apr., 6 May, 13 June 1814, and on 22 June had the satisfaction of learning that the appointment had been revoked. On 24 June and 5 July he opposed the expulsion of Lord Cochrane from the House without further inquiry, and on 23 Nov. 1814 and 16 Mar. 1815 he took up the case of Daniel Lovell, the imprisoned proprietor of The Statesman.
He called on the House to admire the efforts of the Antiguan assembly to enforce the abolition of the slave trade, 18 Apr. 1815, and on 13 June and 5 July opposed the bill to prevent illicit importation of slaves to the West Indies as ‘a questionable and hazardous interference in the internal conduct of the colonies’. He supported the new Post Office bill, 1 June, and voted with ministers for the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill, 3 July 1815, as well as for the army estimates as they stood, 8 Mar. 1816; but he was in the opposition majority against the property tax, 18 Mar. After voting with ministers on the civil list, 24 May, he opposed them on the public revenues bill, 17, 20 June 1816. On 26 June the House was counted out when he started a complaint against the conduct of missionaries in the West Indies. He agreed with Brougham that the government of Trinidad (where he now held the appointment of collector of customs) left much to be desired.
He objected strongly to the abolition of the secretaryship of state for the colonies, 29 Apr. 1817, claiming that the present secretary had overcome deep-rooted prejudices among the colonists against the British government. He voted against the civil services compensation bill, 10 June, but voted with ministers for the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817. On 9 July 1817, 22 Apr. and 20 May 1818 he warned the House against ‘exaggerated statements’ about the West India planters’ attitudes and conduct, without resisting careful inquiry in cases of alleged cruelty. The planters had been ‘much milder of late years’ in their treatment of slaves. On 14 May 1818 he voted for inquiry into bank-note forgeries, his only known vote that session.
After a discouraging canvass, Browne was not expected to seek re-election in 1818 and was nominated and defeated at Hedon in his absence.5 He petitioned in vain against the return and did not seek to re-enter Parliament. He died in London, 6 Mar. 1840.