Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Guide to the J. Ross (John Ross) Browne Papers, [ca. 1840-1875]
BANC MSS 78/163 c  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (145.73 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Sketch
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: J. Ross (John Ross) Browne Papers,
    Date (inclusive): [ca. 1840-1875]
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 78/163 c
    Creator: Browne, J. Ross, (John Ross), 1821-1875
    Extent: Number of containers: 3 boxes, 5 cartons, 6 oversize folders
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    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.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    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.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], J. Ross (John Ross) Browne Papers, BANC MSS 78/163 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • Photographs and drawings, and maps, have been removed to the Pictorial and Map Collections respectively.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    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.

    Biographical Sketch

    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 Daily Reporter.
    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 in 1849.
    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 1849, and in 1851, set off on his travels again, to Europe with his family, as a correspondent for the National Intelligencer.
    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 ( Yusef, 1853; Crusoe's Island, 1864; An American Family in Germany, 1866; Adventures in the Apache Country, 1869), or as articles appearing in journals such as Harper's, 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 which follows.
    Photographs and drawings, and maps, have been removed to the Pictorial and Map Collections, respectively.