Brown, Andrew Benjamin
Brown, Andrew Benjamin
May 12, 1857
January 9, 1939
"It was not possible to know him and not to love him; those who loved him were many—of all races and in all walks of life," said Justice Sir Donald Jackson (as quoted in Campbell-Brown, foreword) of the Honorable Andrew Benjamin Brown, barrister-at-law and member of British Guiana Court of Policy and Combined Court. Brown was born in Den Amstel Village, West Coast Demerara, of an African-Guianese mother and a Barbadian father. He became a schoolmaster, member of the bar and Combined Court, and a businessman. After an early education under the tutelage of missionaries of the London Missionary Society in West Coast Demerara, he became a pupil teacher, entered Bishops' College, Georgetown, and trained as a schoolmaster. He was the headmaster of St. Mark's Scots School, LaRetraite, West Bank Demerara, in 1887 when a dispute over his pay ended in court. Brown's victory prompted him to proceed to England to enter the Middle Temple, University of London, as a law student.
After being called to the bar of the Middle Temple in July 1890, Brown returned home that year and opened a law firm. He was the first Guianese to qualify as a barrister. On August 30, 1904, he married Edith M. Campbell. He was actively involved in the Salem Congregational Church and School in Lodge, Greater Georgetown, becoming the school's manager. For many years Brown was the legal adviser of the British Guiana Congregational Union, and in 1921 he was elected its chairman. He gained prominence by successfully representing clients of all races, especially in rural courts in accident cases against the Demerara Railway Company. He also played a leading role in the aftermath of the colony's 1905 civil unrest and the indictment of the chief inspector of police, Colonel Lushington, for the shooting of a citizen.
Brown was also an entrepreneur and an early investor in the fledgling gold-mining industry from the 1890s to the 1920s. He financed many prospecting crews to the Mazaruni and Cuyuni hinterland mining regions as an absentee proprietor. In 1895 he became a part owner of Plantation Middlesex, No.2 Canal Polder, West Coast Demerara, where coffee and cocoa were planted. By 1910 he was also investing in the coconut and sugar industries.
When Brown returned to the colony in 1890 from the United Kingdom, the People's Reform Party, formed by African Guianese to challenge the dominance of white planters in the legislature, had already been founded. Brown joined the People's Reform Party and was selected as the party's candidate in the 1896 general elections. He won the West Coast Demerara seat and became the first "pure" African Guianese to gain a seat in the Court of Policy, the premier chamber of the legislature. He won the second election and returned unopposed on three successive occasions, serving for twenty-five years altogether. He earned the title "Father of the Court."
Among Brown's contributions were the opening of the Colonial Civil Service to all races and classes by means of an examination. Previously, civil service jobs had been filled primarily by Europeans regardless of suitable qualifications. He also ensured that the 1876 law on Compulsory Education in Primary Schools was enforced. He spearheaded the bill for the appointment of district education officers, resulting in a marked improvement in school attendance. He was also at the helm of the bill passed to prevent the employment of mostly East Indian children below twelve years of age on sugar estates. Brown was an advocate for changes in the conditions under which police and postal workers were employed, and he was able to gain improved transportation and living arrangements and increased allowances for them.
After the British Guiana Teachers Association (BGTA), formed in 1852, was resuscitated in the 1890s, an honorary life membership was conferred on him because of his consistent legislative struggles and gains for education. He had helped frame the association's constitution and rules, and he presented the BGTA's petitions to the Court of Policy. He also advocated that village councils, elected by the villagers themselves, should run the affairs of their communities. Thus, he introduced legislation to organize councils and to fix the boundaries of villages, giving birth to the Village Council Ordinance and the Annual Village Chairman's Conference. In 1912 he also served as a member of the Georgetown Town Council. Additionally, the issue of importing labor migrants, mostly Africans and East Indians, was ongoing in Guiana, and in 1919 he was part of an unsuccessful colonization deputation in England seeking to continue the labor migrant policy.
Monday, April 10, 1922, was a momentous day in Den Amstel Village, West Coast Demerara. Electors of the Western Division of Electoral District No.1 Demerara presented Brown with an address and a souvenir to express their appreciation for his public service as a member of the Court of Policy for twenty-five years from 1896 to 1921. The address was subsequently hung on the wall of the Negro Progress Convention Hall (NPC), an African-Guianese organization, similar to the League of Coloured Peoples. The souvenir, a silver salver, is in the Guyana Museum. The souvenir is inscribed: "Presented to A.B. Brown, MCP, 1896–1921. By the Electors of Western Division, Demerara and Friends. April 10, 1922."
The Den Amstel branch of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) also used the occasion to express its pleasure for the part Brown had played in its formation thirty-five years previously and his active support ever since. In addition, the Lodge Young People's Improvement Association thanked him for being its patron from its inception in 1916 and for his interest in its welfare, and it tendered "sincere congratulations to A. B. Brown for such an illustrious public career." In 1922 King George V of England agreed to allow Brown to retain the title "Honourable" for life.
See also Politics
Campbell-Brown, Edith M. The Life Story of Andrew Benjamin Brown. Georgetown: British Guiana Lithographic Company, n.d.
The Chronicle (Georgetown, British Guiana), January 10, 1939.
The Daily Argosy (Georgetown, British Guiana), January 10, 1939.
Drakes, Francis M./Kimani Neheusi. "The People's Association, 1903–1921." History Gazette, no. 26 (September 1991).
Institute of Mines and Forests, British Guiana. Annual Reports, 1892–1920s. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress.
Rodney, Walter. A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881–1905. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.
Shahabudeen, Mohammed. Constitutional Development in Guyana, 1621–1978. Georgetown: Guyana Printers Ltd., 1979.
barbara p. josiah (2005)