Donald Adolphus Brown EM

b. 18/06/1873 Sheerness, Kent. d. 3rd Quarter 1949 Sheppey, Kent.

DATE OF EM ACTION: 07/01/1919 Woolwich, London.

Donald A Brown EM

Donald was born 18th June 1873 in Sheerness, Kent. His father William Brown was a Guyanese Petty Officer in the Royal Navy.  Donald had two sisters, Mandy and Anna, who were also born in Kent. In 1871, William Brown married a widow, Elizabeth Rump (nee Burrows) and retired from the Navy in 1881, settling in Kent. In January 1883 William Brown was charged at Lewes Crown Court with the murder of his wife Elizabeth. He and his wife, a stepson and their three children lived in Munster on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames estuary. Brown suffered from epileptic fits. He killed his wife in a fire and stabbed his stepson Alfred Rump: the press called this the Sheerness Murder. Brown had cut his own throat and was unable to talk. Found not guilty of murder through insanity, Brown was sent to Broadmoor for the rest of his life. Brown died in Broadmoor in 1885.

The three children (Donald, Anna and Amanda) were sent to the Sheppey workhouse and from there the son Donald went to Greenwich Royal Hospital School for the orphans of sailors. Anna kept in touch via letter with their father in Broadmoor, and Amanda became a servant girl. After leaving school in 1889, Brown became a merchant seaman. In 1894, he met and later married Eliza Adelaide Knight, who was disabled from childhood, but later became a leading suffragette. On their marriage certificate of 1899, he even took on her maiden name, calling himself Donald Adolphus Knight.

Donald’s wife Eliza showed an interest in the Suffrage movement and when, in 1905, a Woman’s Social and Political Union was formed, Eliza became a member. On the 4th July 1906, she was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment in Holloway Prison. Donald’s devotion to Eliza made it easy for him to keep everything at home running smoothly, awaiting her return. 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. They also as a mixed race marriage, suffered from racism throughout that period of time. 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 Adolphus died in 1949. His wife Eliza died the following year. Their only surviving child, daughter Winifred Langton wrote the book, Courage – An account of the lives of Eliza Adelaide Knight and Donald Adolphus Brown.



On January 7th, 1919, while a number of rockets and lights were being re-packed at the Royal Naval Ordnance Depot at Woolwich, one of the rockets ignited and exploded, thus causing, other rockets in the same case to explode. Brown, a foreman in the Ordnance Depot, immediately threw water upon the flaming case, opened the doors of the storehouse and dragged the case into the open. This he did single-handed, but as a result of his example, other employees came to his assistance, and the fire was eventually extinguished by the use of fire buckets and a portable pump. The storehouse was full of fireworks and flares of every description, and there was a large store of detonators immediately adjoining ; several hundred men and women were at work in the immediate vicinity, and had it not been for the promptitude and determination shown by Brown, there is no doubt that a very serious explosion would have occurred. Brown was fully aware of the fact that the store was full of explosives, and of the danger which he was running, and by his courageous act h certainly slaved many lives.