People and Places gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census People and Places

The Dockyard Worker

The Dockyard Worker  

Donald Adolphus Brown was born in 1874 at Sheerness in Kent, the son of William Brown, a naval Petty Officer from Guyana, and an English mother. He became a merchant seaman and married the suffragette Eliza Adelaide Knight in 1899. He subsequently became a foreman at the Woolwich Arsenal and was decorated for his bravery during an explosion there.

On the 1881 census, Brown is recorded as living at 7 Ebenezer Place on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent with his parents and sisters, Mandy and Anna. Two years later, his father killed his mother while in a state of epileptic automatism. Brown was sent to the Greenwich Royal Hospital School, which had been established to educate the orphans of seamen and marines. At the school, his character was described as excellent and he gained three badges of merit.

Donald A. Brown and his wife Eliza Adelaide Knight - link to an enlarged version


  Donald Brown's entry on the register of candidates for admission to Greenwich Naval Hospital School  -  link to an enlarged version

After leaving school in 1889, Brown became a merchant seaman; on his marriage certificate of 1899, he described himself as a quartermaster on a ship. It is interesting to note that, when he married, he appears to have adopted his wife's name of Knight - she was known to be an active suffragette - although this creates some confusion when searching for him in the records. Brown subsequently got a shore job and worked initially as a labourer in the Royal Ordnance Dockyard at Woolwich, travelling daily from Plaistow in east London where he lived to Woolwich, via the Woolwich free ferry, until his family moved to Abbey Wood in about 1909.

  In December 1901, his wife gave birth to a daughter Frances Adelaide who died the following year in a smallpox epidemic, together with two older brothers. While working as a foreman at Woolwich in January 1919, Brown single-handedly dragged a case of exploding rockets out of the depot, preventing a serious explosion. He was awarded both the Edward Medal and the Carnegie Hero Fund Medal by George V in 1921.

Donald Brown died at Eastchurch in Kent in 1949.

Follow this link for more on tracing merchant seamen.

Follow this link for more on naval dockyards.

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