watercolour painter, was convicted at Dublin in February 1810 and transported to New South Wales. Some of his earliest colonial drawings are the illustrations in a manuscript on the natural history of Australia prepared in 1813 for Lieutenant Thomas Skottowe , then commandant at the Newcastle secondary penal station where Browne served most of his sentence. The artist may have been related to the Irish natural historian Dr Patrick Browne (1720-1790), as the expert way in which the birds, reptiles, fish and butterflies are delineated in the Skottowe manuscript suggests some professional association with a natural history circle. Browne’s animal studies, perhaps because of the strangeness of New Holland mammalia , are less expert, while his early Aboriginal figure subjects are ill-formed and amateurish compared with the natural history subjects.
Richard Browne arrived at Sydney in July 1811 in the Providence . In October he was sent to Newcastle for committing a second offence and remained there until 1817. At some time during this period he married, or more likely formed a liaison with, a convict named Sarah Coates who had been transported in the Wanstead in 1814. Sarah Coates had been sent to Newcastle for a year in July, afterwards presumably remaining as Browne’s wife. At least two daughters were born in Newcastle: Mary P. (born c.1815) and Eliza (born c.1816). Two engravings of Newcastle scenes in Absalom West’s Views in New South Wales , acknowledged as after 'I.R. Brown’, are dated November 1812. The paintings in Skottowe’s Specimens from Nature use the initials 'T.R.’.
Other views of Newcastle which belong to this period are also ascribed to Richard Browne, although apparently signed 'I.R.’ and 'J.R.’ Brown or Browne. No Brown(e) of these initials is listed among the Newcastle convicts and the additional initial may have resulted from Browne using two strokes for the upright part of the initial R or have belonged to an additional baptismal name. Richard Browne remained in government labour at Newcastle until his sentence expired in February 1817. After this he ceased to use the extra initial.
The remainder of Richard Browne’s life was spent in Sydney, where he was designated 'free by servitude’. The one work known to have been painted in 1817 is simply signed 'Browne’ and all later signed work bears the single initial 'R.’, with the significant exception of an 1820 painting of Coola-Benn which is signed 'Richard Browne, no. 27 Phillip Street, Sydney N.S.W.’—a final proof that convict and artist were one and the same.
Richard Browne died at Sydney on 11 January 1824, as mentioned in the burial register of St Philip’s Church. Three more daughters had been born after they moved there: Ester (c.1819), Ann (c.1821) and Sarah (c.1823). There was also a posthumous son called William (b. 1824). In 1828 Mrs Browne and her children were living in Clarence Street, and she was apparently still at Sydney in 1837. No work is signed by Browne after 1821 but some of the unsigned work may have been done then. Authorship is not certain as William seems to have later made copies of his father’s drawings, or at least had copies in his possession. Drawings scarcely distinguishable from Richard Browne’s in the Petherick Collection (NLA) are ascribed to William.
Richard Browne’s most characteristic work belongs to the years 1817-1821, coinciding with the emancipist part of his life. Sydney addresses found on several signed works inform us that he lived at 9 Macquarie Street in 1818, at 27 Phillip Street in 1820 and at 41 Phillip Street in 1821. Along the edge of one watercolour is an unsigned note (in a hand not unlike that of Rev. William Walker, Wesleyan missionary to the Aborigines) stating that 'Mr Leigh knew them [the Aborigines] and had them taken from life by a convict’. Seven watercolours by Browne painted on letters written in November 1821 by Samuel Leigh (another Methodist missionary) are now on long-term loan to the Australian National Gallery from the Methodist Church in London (Overseas Division). Five depict Browne’s stock Aboriginal subjects: Wambella, Burgon, Cobbawn Wogi, Hump’d Back Maria and a family group returning from fishing. One is a drawing of Aboriginal weapons and implements, and the last is a drawing of a Maori, a subject believed unique in Browne’s oeuvre . (Maoris were living in Sydney at this time and it is not suggested that Browne visited New Zealand.)
The evolution of Browne’s figure work is revealing. He obviously became increasingly fascinated by the local Aboriginal people. An 1817 study of Broken Bay Jemmy, although still surrounded by the black and yellow frame with which he encased his natural history illustrations, already shows a growing maturity in figure drawing from the earliest work (1812-1813) which bears a very close resemblance to the 'historical scenes’ depicted by the Port Jackson Painter . Yet, while an anthropologist might safely depend on the Port Jackson Painter’s eye for detail in his portraits of Aboriginal people, particularly in regard to tribal markings and corroboree dress, Browne employs a more exaggerated caricature style. W.H. Fernyhough and Charles Rodius later followed this way of drawing notable Aborigines 'from life’. The style owes much to the silhouette portrait tradition, and recent research suggests that Browne’s simplified repetitive figures may have resulted from his use of stencils, a technique that would account for his son’s apparent replicas. Apart from the studies of Bungaree and his wife Gooseberry by Rodius, Browne’s Hump Back’d Maria , alias Pussey Cat, alias Ginatoo, is probably the best known of these local images.