034: Dr J. J. Brown of Hackney (1882-1953)

Dr Brown - a portrait photo that his son Leslie kept by his bed
Dr Brown – a portrait photo that his son Leslie kept by his bed
Brown and Amelia "Milly" Green, Skegness, 1906
Brown and Amelia “Milly” Green, Scarborough, 1906
The Africs, late 1920s. Brown (in cap) 3rd from left between Vivian Harris from St Lucia or Antigua and G R Marcano (to Brown's left) from Trinidad who practiced in East Ham.
The Africs, late 1920s. Brown (in cap) 3rd from left between Vivian Harris from St Lucia or Antigua and G R Marcano (to Brown’s left) from Trinidad who practiced in East Ham. Front left-right: Ivan Shirley, Roland Cumberbatch, and Ferdie Leekam – all doctors.

James Jackson Brown was born in the St Thomas district of Jamaica on 9 October 1882, to estate-owning parents who were able to afford the fees at Kingston private schools (York Castle and Jamaica College) and finance for his medical studies in Canada where, disliking the style of the tuition half way through his training, Brown returned to Jamaica – with snow blindness affecting his sight and necessitating spectacles. He then went to England where he enrolled at the London Hospital on 22 September 1905.

He rented accommodation at 115 King Edward Road in nearby South Hackney, from a long-established Jewish family named Green. He fell in love with Amelia Green: they married in late 1906. He had passed the first part of his examinations in April 1906, the college recognizing his Canadian qualifications (but not retaining any identification of which Canadian institution had trained him). He failed the second part twice in 1907 but passed in October 1907 – the year that their son Gerald was born. A second son, Leslie, was born in  January 1909.

Brown had worked as a dresser for Jonathan Hutchinson, a well-known surgeon, Oct-Dec 1909; and also at the London Hospital, as a clinical clerk for Dr later Lord Dawson, who became King George V’s physician. Dawson also rated Brown “good”. He took the third examination in 1911 and passed in 1914. A fellow Jamaican had returned to the island and informed the trustees of his parents’ estate that Brown was mixing in the wrong company and his generous £5 a week had been stopped. Brown also told his son Leslie that after the assassination of government snooper William Curzon Wyllie by Madan Lal Dhingra “every coloured person [in London] had a hell of a time” and only after complaining to the authorities did he pass – examinations were both written and oral.

Now as J. J. Brown, MRCS, LRCP, Dr Brown started his medical practice at 115 King Edward Road (Post Office London Directory, 1916) then to 96 Lauriston Road, moving to number 63 (Post Office London Directory, 1921). For over seventy years this was home to four black doctors – Brown, his son Gerald, Colin Franklin (born Barbados) and Franklin’s daughter. Brown was well known to other black folk, especially after he established an all-black cricket team, the Africs, by the 1920s. He knew lawyer Samuel Spencer Alfred Cambridge (born British Guiana) by 1913, and also Dr John Alcindor (born Trinidad, a practitioner in west London, and keen cricketer) at that time. His team lacked a playing field so all games were away – the students, lawyers and doctors were free one day a week and Saturdays.

Visitors – fed by Milly Brown – included Desmond Buckle and Archie Casely-Hayford of Ghana. The latter took Leslie Brown to Africa, as a motor mechanic, in 1934. Winters saw visitors playing bridge. Dr Brown had a wide and excellent reputation in the district, and charged over the normal rates. His wife died in 1936, and he married Miss Elsie May Carlow, probably a patient. But unwise action, in giving a local man a certificate that exempted him from military service saw Brown brought before the General Medical Council in early 1943. Refusing advice from a solicitor brother-in-law, Brown’s arrogance did not impress the authorities and he was struck off for issuing “an untrue certificate” (Hackney Gazette 19 Feb 1943) and was now unable to practise medicine. His son Gerald took over the practice until early 1946 when Brown was restored.

Brown died on 18 October 1953. The Hackney Gazette’s “Popular Hackney Doctor Dies” said he had been a “friendly, well-liked man with many interests, including Freemasonry, and was a member of the Zetland Lodge. During the second world war he rendered responsible service to the St John Ambulance Brigade”.

Refused a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the 1914-1918 war because he was black (as was Dr Alcindor but not the light-skinned Dr Risien Russell), Brown admired the French attitude to blacks after an early 1930s visit to Paris. He dreamed of visiting Jamaica, telling people he was “a Maroon man”, but he never went back. The Caribbean’s loss was Britain’s gain.


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