Information for Researchers
Scope and Content
Collection Title: J. Ross (John Ross) Browne Papers,
Date (inclusive): [ca. 1840-1875]
Collection Number: BANC MSS 78/163 c
Browne, J. Ross, (John Ross), 1821-1875
Number of containers: 3 boxes, 5 cartons, 6 oversize folders
Berkeley, California 94720-6000
Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Abstract: Include letters written by him to his wife and family describing his voyage to California in 1849 and his work as official
reporter for the state constitutional convention, and some addressed to his publishers and business associates; letters to
him, some as government agent and as minister to China; journal of his 1842 whaling cruise; manuscripts and printed copies
of some of his writings, including those re his diplomatic career in China; miscellaneous papers re government appointments,
land holdings, royalties, etc.; papers re his service as minister to China, 1868-1869. Also included: papers of his wife,
Lucy, his son, Spencer, and his daughter-in-law, Lucy, including material on China; and papers of his grandson, Spencer C.
Browne, Jr., and his wife, Lina Fergusson Browne.
Information for Researchers
Collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts
must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft
Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which
must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], J. Ross (John Ross) Browne Papers, BANC MSS 78/163 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California,
Material Cataloged Separately
- Photographs and drawings, and maps, have been removed to the Pictorial and Map Collections respectively.
The J. Ross Browne papers came to The Bancroft Library in June 1978 from Nancy L. Browne and Mrs. Li Browne Caemmerer, in
part as their joint gift, and in part purchased as a gift of Clarence E. Heller and The Friends of The Bancroft Library.
J. Ross Browne - author, journalist, traveller, government servant - was born near Dublin, Ireland on February 11, 1821. His
father, Thomas Egerton Browne, a crusading Irish editor and publisher, emigrated to America with his family in 1833, after
his prison sentence for sedition had been commuted by the British Crown to banishment. The family settled eventually near
Louisville, Kentucky, where the elder Browne became editor and proprietor of the Louisville
Young Browne's travels began early and he never ceased travelling until his death. Starting as a flat boat deck hand on the
Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, he then studied medicine briefly, and eventually embarked on a career as a writer and journalist.
He became a police reporter and newspaper correspondent and tried his hand at creative writing with
Confessions of a Quack, or the Auto-Biography of a Modern Aesculapian, based on his medical school experiences, which was published in 1841.
The family moved in that year, also, to Washington, D.C., where Ross assisted his father in reporting the proceedings of the
Congress in the
Globe, the forerunner of the
Congressional Record. A year later he signed on as a seaman on a whaler, an experience which resulted in the publication, in 1846, of
Etchings of a Whaling Cruise, with Notes of a Sojourn on the Isle of Zanzibar, in which he exposed the abuses suffered by the crew members. After his return in 1844, he married Lucy Anna Mitchell, daughter
of a Washington, D.C. physician, and settled in the city, taking up a career in government service, where he became private
secretary to the Secretary of the Treasury. Accepting a minor revenue service assignment which would take him to California,
he sailed around the Horn on the
Pacific in 1849, and, while in California, became the official reporter for the convention which drew up the state's constitution
Returning to Washington, he published the
Report of the Debates in the Convention of California on the Formation of the State Constitution in September and October
and in 1851, set off on his travels again, to Europe with his family, as a correspondent for the
In the autumn of 1852 the Browne family returned home to Washington and he entered government service again, as a secret agent
investigating federal activities connected with the collection of revenue and disbursement of public monies, involving custom
houses, Indian agencies and U.S. land offices. In 1868 President Johnson named him minister to China, but he was recalled
from Peking in 1869 because of his disagreement with the prevailing government views on “opening” China.
Browne's literary career kept pace with his other activities, and the observations made in the course of his travels were
published either as books (
Crusoe's Island, 1864;
An American Family in Germany, 1866;
Adventures in the Apache Country, 1869), or as articles appearing in journals such as
Graham's Magazine and
Overland Monthly. His several published reports, written while in government service, include
Reports upon the Mineral Resources of the United States (1867),
Resources of the Pacific Slope (1869), and
Report of J. Ross Browne on the Mineral Resources of the States and Territories West of the Rocky Mountains (1868).
The Browne family finally settled in Oakland, California, and in 1870 he began construction of the home that became known
as "Pagoda Hill." The closing years of his life - many of them still spent away from his home - were occupied by his real
estate and mining ventures. He died on December 9, 1875.
Scope and Content
His Papers include letters written by him (addressed primarily to his wife); a small file of letters written to him; the journal
of his whaling cruise; MSS of some of his articles; reprints, tear sheets and photocopies of some of his published writings;
papers relating to his service as minister to China; and miscellaneous papers, including some accounts, land papers, etc.
With these came papers of other members of the Browne family: a few letters written by his wife, Lucy; a small group of papers
of his son, Spencer C. Browne and his daughter-in-law, Lucy; the unpublished biography written by his grandson, Spencer C. Browne, Jr., together with material relating to his research on Browne; and papers compiled by Lina Fergusson Browne (Mrs. Spencer C. Browne, Jr.) relating primarily to the editing of Browne's letters and manuscripts for publication in
Muleback to the Convention (1950) and
J. Ross Browne: His Letters, Journals and Writings (1969).
The papers, housed in 3 boxes, 5 cartons and 6 oversize folders, are described in greater detail in the Key to Arrangement
Photographs and drawings, and maps, have been removed to the Pictorial and Map Collections, respectively.