This is the story of John, the first Browness. It covers his life and times and those of his immediate family. John can justly be titled “the first Browness” because it was during his career in the British Army that the family name first adopts this spelling. John was illiterate and therefore left no memoir of his life but detailed and exhaustive research into parish and army records have enabled the following account to be written. Of great assistance in following in the footsteps of the 36th specifically (as opposed to the British Army as a whole) has been Richard Cannon’s Historical Record of The Thirty-Sixth or the Herefordshire Regiment of Foot (London, 1853).
Part 1 – Beginnings
The following is an extract from the Parish records of the Church of the Holy Rood, Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire:
We know that this is the parish from which John Browness originated because his Army Discharge Certificate of 15 May 1817 identifies ‘Amney’ as the Parish in which he was born. There are three Ampney (the ‘p’ is silent) parishes: Ampney Crucis, Down Ampney and Ampney St Peter & St Mary. Only in the parish baptism records of Ampney Crucis is there an entry bearing a name similar to that of ‘John Browness’ (see above) and it identifies his mother as ‘Mary Brawnus or Bronas’. Although it is not clear from the above image, the entry ends ‘base born’ meaning that no father is identified. So we are very unlikely ever to know who John’s father was.
Almost as problematic has been the identity of his mother. The fact that the curate had to make two attempts at spelling Mary’s surname (a very rare occurrence in any parish register) tells us the following: Firstly, it is clear that Mary was illiterate otherwise this difficulty would not have arisen. Consequently, the curate attempted to record what he heard Mary to say. Secondly, it is likely that Mary was not a native of this parish. If she was, her family name would be familiar to the church officials – the population of Ampney Crucis in 1800 was only 514. This issue with spelling her surname would crop up again seven years later when Mary married John Tripper. As in 1784, the same two versions of her surname appear in the banns but by this time both she and John Tipper are shown as ‘of this parish’. Both made their mark indicating that he, too, was illiterate.
So, if Mary Brawnus or Bronas was not originally from this parish, where did she come from? The most likely parish is Oddington where in 1754 Mary Brandis was born, the youngest of the eight children of James and Ann Brandish. The question which has to be asked is, even allowing for Mary’s illiteracy, how does the name Brandis morph over time into Brawnus or Bronas? The answer is to be found in the Oddington Parish records.
The image below is from these records and is held in the Gloucestershire Archives. The document shows the Banns of Marriage of 22nd June 1774 of Martha, the oldest child of James and Ann Brandish, and William Kerry of Longcompton. When Martha was baptised on 11th January 1736 her surname was recorded as ‘Brandish’. Yet when she gives her name for the Banns of her marriage, it is recorded as ‘Brawniss’. As can be seen in the image she makes her mark (indicating her illiteracy) but below that one of the witnesses, most likely her literate brother, signs as ‘John Brandis’.
At the time of this event, Mary would have been 20 and, being illiterate, would very probably have pronounced her surname in a similar manner to her older sister. So ‘Brawniss’ or something very similar to it would be the name she brought to Ampney Crucis.
Mary certainly left Oddington as their parish records have no mention of Mary being either married or buried there so she is likely to have moved away. If, when she left Oddington, Mary was pregnant, an additional factor in her decision to move away may have been that her elder sister, Sarah, had given birth to an illegitimate son, George Moore, in November 1767. It is possible that there was some adverse familial reaction to this event and the memory was such that Mary chose the course of discretion. Sarah’s choice of the name for her son suggests that she was identifying the child’s father as George Moore. Mary, on the other hand, does not identify a father in her choice of name for John.
So why did Mary come to Ampney Crucis, a journey of seven to eight hours by foot? She would have had to find some friendly parish to support her. Now this would be by no means easy as all parishes were reluctant to take on financial responsibility for newcomers. It is likely that she tried a number of parishes on her long trek south and perhaps someone in Ampney Crucis was prepared to accommodate her for the 40 days necessary to qualify for parish support. Unfortunately, Gloucestershire Archives have advised that there are no surviving Settlement Certificates for Ampney Crucis – which would have given details of Mary’s parish of origin – or Bastardy Bonds which may have identified John’s father.