The People of Gibraltar
1861 - Browning and Dansey - Part 2

(c 1854)

Mark Twain is reputed to have said that he was prepared to shift elsewhere entire American states - if he found it necessary to do so to make them fit his stories. 

Mark Twain in Gibraltar

I am no Mark Twain but I get the feeling that the kind of licence often assumed by novelists such as him has crept into the narrative of this essay - and far more often than I would have wished. Photographs can also of course be made to lie - but on the whole far less than words - so I will start with one of them.

Tenby Beach, Pembrokeshire   (c1910)

The fellow standing second left smoking a pipe is Benjamin Browning Jnr, a retired doctor and a one-time dabbler in amateur photography. My guess is that the pose was set up by him and the photograph was taken using his own out of date equipment. His smiling wife Mary Frances sits on the middle deckchair surrounded by her children and some of their friends.

Well over half a century earlier when Browning was a slim young man of twenty one he is reputed to have taken the photograph shown below. Personally I have my doubts that this photograph was actually taken by Browning Jnr but for the sake of argument, let’s say it was.

“Trees at Mount Edgecumbe Park”  (1856)

Apparently it took him more than two and a half hours to develop and print - a labour of love  . . . or perhaps he was beginning to learn the black arts of photography and this was his maiden attempt.

During the early 19th century all photographic prints were produced using materials prepared by the photographer as the first commercially produced albumen photographic paper only appeared on the market in 1854. Even then this was still only a paper substrate coated with salted albumen that needed to be sensitized with a solution of silver nitrate. It was only after 1872 that presensitized albumen photographic paper with a longer shelf life became available

Given its date this particular print may easily have been produced using material which he created himself.  However, by 1864 his portfolio of photos had increased considerably as evidenced by an album held by the University of Harvard showcasing what I am almost certain contains some of his later work in which one would reasonably expect him to have used the commercial variety.

The album is an eclectic mixture of items a few of which are not even photographs and many of those that are, appear to have been taken by one person and printed by another on a completely different date. To make things even harder whoever created the album made no attempt to display the contents in any sort of chronological order. 

I will attempt to avoid following suit in this essay but I might find it hard to do so as the story involves two main families and any number of people. I will start with the Brownings:

Benjamin Browning Jnr - identified on the captions of the photographs as BB -was born in 1835 in Alverstoke, next to Gosport. His father - also called Benjamin - had recently graduated from Glasgow University as a medical doctor and had married his mother, Emma Trenchard Pyke - daughter of John Pyke, the Captain of an east Indiaman - in 1833. 

Five years later Browning Snr got himself a job as the surgeon of the New Juvenile Prison Establishment at Parkhurst in the Isle of Wight. It was “New” at the time in the real sense of the word. The place had been inaugurated in 1838 - the year he joined. It was considered to be one of the nastiest prisons in the UK. 

New Juvenile Prison Establishment at Parkhurst in the Isle of Wight - Doom and gloom

A year later Benjamin’s brother John Alexander was born at Newport in the Isle of Wight but whatever joy this might have brought to the family it didn’t last very long -  a couple of months later their mother Emma Browning was dead. 

Browning Snr must have found it hard to cope with his wife’s death - as well as having to look after two young boys while at the same time holding on to his post as prison surgeon. He opted for what was probably a common solution at the time among the more affluent members of society - the sending of motherless children to live with some other female member of the family. Benedict and John went to live with Browning Snr’s mother-in-law Deborah Pyke in nearby Swanage. 

Heaven knows how often he visited his sons - Parkhurst in the Isle of Wight is not all that far from Swanage but it was and probably still is quite awkward to get to from there.  Whatever his relationship with his children the next ten years were both busy - and tragic.  In 1841 he treated no less that 418 children at Parkhurst. According to J.Duckworth in her Fagin's Children: Criminal Children in Victorian England, Browning’s treatments included:
. . . cynanche (severe sore throat), rheumatism, catarrh, diarrhoea, cutaneous and scalp afflictions, boils, abscesses and chilblains. . . . cephalagia (headache), ophthalmia, dyspepsia, colic and accidental wounds . . . 
Meanwhile he still found time in 1842 to write a lengthy medical report on health at Parkhurst Prison and the following year - joy! - he married his second wife, Eliza Ann Triscott - double joy perhaps when Browning Snr’s younger sister Mary married his wife’s brother Captain Richard Triscott of the Royal Navy.  

The joy lasted scarcely a year as Eliza Ann died during childbirth in 1844. Things went from bad to worse when he was fired for incompetence from the Parkhurst Prison. Browning never managed to get his bosses to reveal why they thought him incompetent. It was an omission that persuaded Browning to write a lengthy article explaining in excruciating detail why he thought the dismissal was unjustified. 

Statement of Circumstances - A delicate way to explain to the world that you have been unfairly fired     (1845 - Benjamin Browning Snr)

Browning Snr, however, was apparently not the kind of man to either give up easily or live for any length of time without a woman at his side. In 1850 he married his third wife - Emma Letitia Compign, the daughter of David Campigne a Gosport solicitor.

It is quite possible that this was when he and his new wife decided to make their home in Clatterford House on the Isle of Wight. Whether this was so or not it is evident that his son Browning Jnr - now 15 years old - would not form part of the family group. He was enrolled as a boarder in Charterhouse, a school near Smithfield in London and perhaps not as exclusive and expensive as it is today. At the time of writing it was among the most expensive of public schools - that is to say private ones - in the country. It was also even further away from Parkhurst than Alverstoke.

One has to assume that Jnr must also have been exposed to some sort of general education elsewhere both before and after he had left Charterhouse for good in 1851. Nor am I entirely sure how he spent the following few years but in 1854 he had became an undergraduate at London University. It would seem that he wasn’t overly enamoured with university life as he didn’t last too long there as a student. By 1856 by which time he was 21 years old, he joined Plymouth Naval Hospital as an Assistant Surgeon of the Royal Navy.

HMS James Watt was at Devonport in 1856 right next to Plymouth Hospital - this might be among the first set of photos Browning Jnr ever took   (1856)

View of Fore Street in Devonport with Byers Newspaper publishers at No. 116, and George Wills Hearle Navy Stationer, Bookseller & Publisher at No. 118 - more importantly within walking distance of Plymouth Naval Hospital    (Undated but my guess would be that this was taken by Browning Jnr in 1856)

Browning was in fact following in his father’s naval and medical footsteps.  Browning Snr’s first serious job had been with the Royal Navy which he joined in 1823 where he had been appointed assistant surgeon the following year. 

In 1827 he had been aboard the flagship of Admiral Sir Edward Codrington as Senior Assistant Surgeon at the Battle of Navarino during the Greek War of Independence. The Admiral was so impressed with his work that, to quote Browning himself:
 . . . was pleased to promote me to the rank of surgeon for my services on that occasion. . 

The Battle of Navarino - Admiral Codrington’s ship with Browning Snr on board may very well be the warship on the right     (1827 - Ambroise Louis Garneray)

Browning Snr was in the Navy for a considerable number of years, many of which were on active service aboard a long list of Royal Navy ships including HMS Fly, Creole, Victory, Asia, Talbot, Nimrod, Gannet, Actaeon and Blonde - some of them more than once - as well as a short stint at the Royal Hospital Haslar at Gosport near Portsmouth. It was at the time Britain’s foremost military hospital - and eventually its last.

The Royal Hospital Haslar

As far as I can make out, however, if he had joined the Navy to see the world - as the saying goes - he must have been rather disappointed as he seems mostly to have seen the sea. At any rate there are few records of what he thought about his travels with the Navy - and certainly no photographs to warrant a place in the album. 

Browning Jnr’s experiences in the navy on the other hand were somewhat different. Also based in Plymouth, his first years of service must have included what was in effect an apprenticeship towards a full medical career.

Benjamin Browning Jnr’s Royal Navy Service Record   (1856 - 1869)

The album contains several photographs taken by Browning Jnr in Australia and New Zealand dated from 1858 to 1859 which are consistent with the idea that he was not just a printer of other people’s photos but a photographer in his own right. They also hint that he must have taken up his hobby during the middle of the 1850s.

Photographed from the back, the fort was situated where the Sydney Opera House now stands   (1858)

Australia’s oldest museum, established in 1827   - The original museum occupied rooms in various Government offices and it then moved to this building - It was opened to the public in 1857 - just one year before Browning Jnr took this photo    (1858)

The Mariner’s Church (chapel) is the building with the Greek style pediment seen almost in the middle of the photograph. It was completed in 1858 so must have been brand new when Browning took the photo    (1858)

Fort on the south side of Sydney harbour -  Soldiers as well as several unknown civilians - one of them perhaps a woman - appear on this one   (1858)



New Zealand Friends?   (1859)

Anna Clouston appears on the photograph above this one - Hauraki is just across the bay from Auckland -    (1859)



There is also evidence from two photographs in the album that Browning Jnr visited his father and his step-mother Emma at Clatterford House in 1860 after returning from Australia.

Clatterford House - Browning Snr showing signs of ill-health, with his third wife Emma and their cook, Sarah Way - these are the only photos of Browning Snr in the album    (1860 - Browning Jnr)

These two photos are curious in the sense that both have captions written in a different handwriting. The “I of Wight” and the anachronistic “Browning’s grandfather” must have been written long after the album was created.

As it was in the early 20th century    (Not from the album)

Jnr may very well have been staying with his parents at the time as he obtained his membership of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1860. Perhaps his dad gave him a few tips on how to negotiate the necessary exams and interviews in order to obtain his MRCS.

A year later in 1861 Browning Snr and family minus Browning Jnr all appear on that year’s census living in Clatterford House with their niece Harriet Mapleton and an extra servant called Elizabeth Spearing. Browning Snr’s choice of Clatterford House as his home was an odd one - he was no longer a practicing doctor and had to make do with his Royal Navy half-pay pension.  It was also well within striking distance of Parkhurt Prison, not exactly a place which would have held any fond memories for him.

(1861 Census)

Browning Jnr’s absence from the census is explained by the fact that HMS Cockatrice had sailed for Tangier and Gibraltar in 1861. Browning Jnr was on her. I can’t tell if he took any photographs when he was in Tangier but he certainly did so when in Gibraltar. Nine of these dated 1861 appear on the album. They are among the oldest ever taken of Gibraltar, probably as old as those taken by pioneers such as Francis Frith and Robert Peters Napper and only beaten by about a decade by the oldest known photographs by an amateur - Alfred Capel Cure.

A newspaper report dated April 1861 mentions HMS Cockatrice steaming into Barn Pool an anchorage below Edgecumbe in Plymouth - She was probably just about to leave for Tangier and Gibraltar   (1861 - Browning Jnr)

The album’s nine Gibraltar photographs are dealt with in detail in a separate chapter. There are no photos for 1862 although he may very well have been in Malta aboard HMS Hibernia at the time. She had once been the Flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet and had almost certainly made frequent calls at Gibraltar on her way elsewhere. 

H.M.S. Hibernia in a dry dock in Malta     (Unknown Date - Not from Album)

He certainly did visit Malta in 1863 and perhaps also the following year aboard H.M.S Cumberland. It was while he was on the island that he joined a Masonic Lodge. Apparently this was not his initiation into Freemasonry. He is recorded in the appropriate Masonic ledger as a Captain of the RN.