Captain Thomas Brown, 1785-1862

Editorial note by J. R. le B. Tomlin

Extracted from Journal of Conchology, Volume 22, p. 132

One has often heard regret expressed at the lack of an adequate biography of Captain Thomas Brown (1785–1862), whose work on the British Land and Fresh-water Mollusca, in the first half of last century, is so important.

Dr. Jackson has now given us, in the Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Lit. and Phil. Society, vol. 86, session 1943–5, a first-rate account of his life and of his very numerous writings. He was a versatile man, but wrote mainly on birds and on molluscs, recent and fossil.

His books on birds frequently met with the severest criticisms, and even with the charge of piracy. Those on mollusca are largely known and stand on a much higher plane – this being the subject presumably in which he was most thoroughly versed.

I take the following list of some of his works from Dr. Jackson’s admirable article

1816. The Elements of Conchology.
1818 (offprint 1817). “Account of the Irish Testacea” in Mem. Wern. Soc., pp. 501–536.
1823. Article on ”Conchology” in Encycl. Brit., ed. 6.
1827. Illustrations of the Conchology of Great Britain and Ireland.
May, 1833. The Conchologists’ Text-Book, [1st ed.]
June, 1843. The Elements of Fossil Conchology.
1844. Illustrations of the Recent Conchology of Great Britain and Ireland, [2nd ed.]
1845. Illustrations of the Land and Fresh Water Conchology of Great Britain and Ireland.
1849. Illustrations of the Fossil Conchology of Great Britain and Ireland. This had been appearing in parts since 1837.


Many important details are given by Jackson about the above.

Brown started life as an engraver, but when about 20 joined the Forfar and Kincardine Militia. Subsequently in 1838 he became curator of the Museum of the Manchester Nat. Hist. Soc., and was there till he died in 1862.




Concerning Captain Thomas Brown

By A. E. Ellis

Extracted from Conchologists᾿ Newsletter, 82: 35–36

To conchologists the name Thomas Brown is familiar as the author of books on shells: Elements of Conchology (1816); Illustrations of the Conchology of Great Britain and Ireland (1827; a dozen of the names first published in this book are still in use); Conchologist’s Text-book (1853); Illustrations of the Fossil Conchology of Great Britain and Ireland (1839); Elements of Fossil Conchology (1843); Illustrations of the Recent Conchology of Great Britain and Ireland (2nd. edition, 1844).

A recent discovery, or rather rediscovery, of a book by this author, “Popular Natural History and Characteristics of Animals” (James Blackwood, London, 1869), has renewed interest in his works. Where was it discovered? On one of my own bookshelves! How long I have had this book or where bought I have no recollection, but until now it has remained unread – a postponed treat. R. Crompton Day, Harlow, 1876, is inscribed on the flyleaf. This little book can be recommended as a bedside book, the only drawback being the smallness of the print. ‘Animals’ means mammals, of which only a small assortment is included. Of the 309 pages, 176 are devoted to the horse kind, the cat kind, and the dog kind. Other ‘kinds’ are the cow, sheep (which includes antelopes), hog, weasel, hare and squirrel, rat, etc., and bats. The rat chapter includes the mole, hedgehog (regarded as vegetarian), porcupine and armadillo, Strangely omitted are the elephant, hippo, rhino (though the Indian rhinoceros is illustrated), camel, giraffe and bears. There is a fund of shaggy dog stories, and indeed many other ‘shaggy’ stories.

It seems that an earlier edition in three volumes was published by Fullarton, London, 1848. My edition is posthumous, as Brown died in 1862, and is No. 23 of Blackwood’s Choice Reading series. It may be of interest to mention other non-conchological works by Thomas Brown: Biographical sketches and authentic anecdotes of dogs; The book of butterflies, sphinxes, and moths; Taxidermist’s manual; Zoologist’s text-book; Dictionary of the Scottish language; Habits and characteristics of animals and birds; Illustrations of the genera of birds; Illustrative anecdotes of birds, fishes, insects, etc..