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 is 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) indicates a number of possibilities. 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 possible 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.
However, if she was not originally from this parish, where did she come from? We will explore this in due course but first there is an alternative scenario. This is that she was born in this parish but with a different surname. She then married and adopted the surname of her husband. However, John was 'base born' which would indicate, if this theory is correct, that by 1784 Mary's marriage had ended. What evidence is there to support this possibility? There is another, earlier, 'base born' entry in the Ampney Crucis parish register; in 1777 'William the Son of Mary Brandice March ye 2nd base born'. In 1779 there is the following burial record: 'William Brandice was buried March ye 20th'. So this throws up the surname 'Brandice' or variants thereof. Who might Mary Brandice be? The following marriage entry in the Ampney Crucis register of 1770 is (to date) the only plausible possibility:
The font of the Church of the Holy Rood, Ampney Crucis in which John Brawnus or Bronas was baptised.
James Brandis and Mary Day were married by licence December ye 28th
The Banns provide further details:
James Brandis of the Parish of Bibury and Mary Day of this Parish were married in Church by Licence this 28th day of December in the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy by me Joseph Twyning Clerk This marriage was solemnised between us James Brandis The mark X of Mary Day In the presence of Edward Howlings John Hicks
From this it is clear that James Brandis was literate – his signature is in a different hand from that of the Clerk as are those of the two witnesses. James is shown as from Bibury which is not far from Ampney Crucis though searches can find no record of his being born there. If not there, then where was James Brandis baptised? The parish register for Oddington, which is about 13 miles to the North East of Bibury, shows the baptism of a James Brandis on 23rd January 1742. On 5th May 1771, the Ampney Crucis parish baptism records show 'Mary the Daughter of James Brandis and Mary his wife'. Note that this entry is less than 5 months after the foregoing marriage record indicating that Mary would have been noticeably pregnant. However, this was not unusual at the time as were illegitimate or 'base' births. There are then no further records of any nature relating to this family, which brings us to 1777 and the baptism of William Brandice, the illegitimate son of Mary.
If James Brandis and Mary had separated sometime between the birth of their daughter Mary in 1771 and the illegitimate birth of William Brandice in 1777, what had become of James Brandis? The only feasible burial record within the period 1770 to 1830 is that in Oddington, Gloucestershire on July 7, 1775. Therefore, if he had left Mary, he may have returned to his home parish where he died aged 33. However, this burial could alternatively have been that of his father who was also named 'James'.
Why, though, if Mary was the former Mary Day of Ampney Crucis parish, was her surname recorded as 'Brandice' in 1777 when William was born and as 'Brawnus or Bronas' in 1784 when John was born? The two entries in the parish register were recorded by distinctly different hands indicating that the earlier cleric may well have known her but the latter possibly did not.
The other possibility is to consider that Mary Brawnus or Bronas came to Ampney Crusis from another parish and, as well as bearing John in 1784, may or may not also be the mother of William Brandice. In this scenario, the most obvious candidate is Mary Brandis of Oddington, the sister of James Brandis who married Mary Day. The Oddington parish records have no mention of her being either married or buried there so she is likely to have moved away, perhaps to live with her brother in Ampney Crucis. If, when she left Oddington, Mary was pregnant – either with William or John - 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 either William or John.
The reality, however, is that the identity of John's mother is not proven in either of these 'Brandis' scenarios for the following reason. The likelihood that Mary Brawnus or Bronas was one of either Mary Day the wife of James Brandis or Mary Brandis from Oddington depends largely on her also being the mother of the illegitimate William Brandice. If so, this would suggest that we are looking for someone with that sort of surname. If she is not then we are left with no leads to her true identity.