Sunday, July 5, 2009

David Brown(1778- 1825)- Pioneer Nutmeg Planter in Penang

Location Map of Longformacus, Berwickshine, Scotland

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( The memorial of David Brown)

David Brown, a Scotsman from Longformacus, a small village in Berwickshire, Scotland. Born in 1778. He studied law in Edinburgh, but went into business with his fellow Scotsman, James Scott, who come from the same village. James Scott is the trading partner of Capt Francis Light, who took over Light 's estate after he passed away in 1794. After James Scott died in 1808, David Brown took over his estate, and become the largest land owner in Penang. He married a local wife, Nonia Ennui, and second wife called Inghoo. He died on 12-9-1825 while on board the vessel with the name H.C.S. Windsor Castle, on his passage to Malacca.

1800- 22 years old David Brown arrived in Penang, helping fellow Scotman James Scott(1746-1808) in his business, Scott & Co. James Scott was the trading partner of Francis Light(1740-1794), who was the founder of Penang in 1786, also the Superintendant of East Indian Company(EIC) from 1786-1794. When David Brown arrived in Penang, Francis Light has passed away in 1794. James Scott was the largest land owner in Penang.

The first Penang Gardens were founded soon after the establishment of a trading station by the East India Company in 1786. The attention was given to the growing of nutmegs, cloves, and other crops of commercial value. In 1794, the Company appointed Christopher Smith as Botanist to Penang to establish the spice gardens on Penang Island. Smith, who had originally trained at Kew Garden, planted a small garden of "20 orlongs" [10.5 ha] in 1794 in the middle Ayer Itam valley and a larger garden, of "300 orlongs" [158 ha], at Sungai Keluang. The exact location of both gardens is unclear.

By 1800 there were some 1,300 nutmeg plants in the two Penang gardens(Ayer Itam in 1794, & Sungai Keluang), with Sungai Keluang now predominantly growing pepper plants. That year, a delivery of a further 15,000 clove and 1,500 nutmeg trees together with Canary Nuts and Sugar Palms arrived from Ambon Island. The size of this delivery led to the enlargement of the Ayer Itam gardens and Residency grounds; as a result, Smith was instructed by Lieutenant Governor Leith to return to supervise this enterprise and cease collecting further specimens in the region.(ref: Penang Botanic Garden,

Note: Sir George Leith (1766-1842) was the Lieutenant Governor of Penang

1805- Colonel Robert T. Farquhar (1776-1866), who succeded Sir George Leith, sold the Garden's contents at 12 days' notice for $9,656. Most of the specimens were removed and replanted elsewhere by various purchasers. James Scott was one of the two biggest buyers.

1806- David Brown, a partner in Scott and Company, established spice gardens in the area of Sungei Gelugor, in the area of MTC and USM today. David Brown used capital borrowed from Scott and other friends to clear a part of the hillside at Gelugor , about 8 km from Georgetown, for pepper and nutmeg planting. Along side this he experimented with new commercial crops

1808- James Scott involved heavily in James Town project(now Bayan Lepas)at Sungei Kluang , opposite Pulau Jerejak, believed that the place will be earmarked for naval base by British government. But it was not materialized. James Scott lost in his investment, and declared a bankrupt. David Brown took over Scott & Co. James Scott passed away in 1808. David Brown took over the business of the Scott , Brown & Co(where he was the partner) , the company become Brown & Co. David Brown become the largest land owner in Penang.

Some of James descendants married into the Brown family from Penang and Longformacus ,this revealed the closeness of the 2 families, the relationship of James Scott and David Brown by marriage.

1810- He was the first private planter who cultivate nutmeg extensively in his estate in Penang. James Low in his book, A Dissertation on the Soil & Agriculture of the British Settlement of Penang, published by Singapore free press office in 1836, pg 19. stated that “ He stood alone in 1810 as a spice planter on extensive scale”.He continued in Pg 20, “George Brown managed the estate with spirit and judgement, which finally overcome every difficulty, and displayed for the first time , after 30 years of precious trials,the full value of pursuit.”. George Brown was the eldest son of David Brown, who contrinuted much to the cultivation of nutmeg.

1812 - By 1812, the David Brown family was beginning to make nutmeg a major crop of Penang.

The Gelugor House, the large square mansion in the Gelugor Estate was built by David Brown in 1812.

There was a book ,with the title "Nature and Nation" pg 35; writing about the time Glugor House was built;

David Brown ‘s Glugor House, nestled salubriously among spice gardens, mainly pepper. ….. the landscaped gardens surrounding the well -styled stately homes of Penang emulated the country house of the English gentry. The residence of Scott, set within the cool hills,with the commanding views and conveying reminiscences of home was dubbed “ The Highlands of Scotland”.These visible changes in the landscape markled the steady transition from a pioneer phase of speculation, hardship and instability , to an era of greater prosperity, permanence, comfort and elegance.

View of Glugor House, painitng by Daniell Smith

1814 - After this a concession was given to a Chinese to work the Penang tin, but nothing much appears to have come of the enterprise. In 1814 the question of tin-mining again came up on a proposal made to the Government by David Brown, well known as one of the pioneers of the planting industry, that he should be allowed to clear the jungle and work the tin deposits. The authorities favored the project to the extent of making him a free grant of uncleared land and promising that all(After this a concession was given to a Chinaman to work the Penang tin, but nothing much appears to have come of the enterprise. In 1814 the question of tin-mining again came up on a proposal made to the Government by Mr. David Brown, well known as one of the ...from The Malay Peninsula )

Note:William Petrie (1748-1816) was the Governor of Penang from1811-1816

1817- He was in the committee that found the Prince of Wales Island Library(now Penang Public Library) in 1817. He was treasurer, and R. Ibbetson was the librarian. The library however at that time it is restricted to British residents only.

1818 - The bearing nutmeg tree in the island was estimated to be 6,900 trees,since the period nutmeg has been extensive cultivated. The eldest son, George Brown was the one who planted netmeg in larger scale, the first estate in Malaya.....
1821 - Raffles urged David Brown to assist the visiting botanist, James Pott to collect samples of the island’s edible plants and fruits to improve the understanding of its botanical wealth . He was a gardener from London Horticultural Society.(ref: Letter from Raffles to Brown dated 20-6-1821)

1824 - In 1824, MrBrown attend the first service of Mission Chapel, together with Scott,(not James Scott, must be 2nd generation Scott), Mr & Mrs Clubley. Mrs Andeson. ( note: William Clubley was the Resident Councilor of Penang from1825-1826).

David Brown passed away while on his voyage to Malacca.

He was a philanthropist, who donated 12 acre of land at Dato Kramat Road to the local municipality. The place is know as Padang Brown(Padang Datuk Kramat), it is bordered by Johore Road, Datuk Kramat Road, Perak Road and Anson Road. It was once popular for football matches, but now popular as hawker centre. The Johore Road is now popular hawker centre. At the corner of Anson Road and Perak Road, there is a memorial in memory of him. It was previously at the centre of Padang Brown, but now at the corner , at the centre of the hawker complex.

It reads: "This monument was erected by public subscription by the European and native inhabitants of Penang: To the memory of the late David Brown Esquire in testimony of their esteem and approbation of his character and for his unwearied zeal and usefulness as a member of the community during the long period of 25 years which he was a resident on the island. His death took place on the 12th September 1825 in the 49th year of his age on board the H.C.S. Windsor Castle on her passage to Malacca."

Other historical sites or road which are related to him or with the name related to him, are:

Brown estate

Gelugor estate, part of it is now USM, Kampong Buah Pala.

Brown garden(Gelugor)

Brown Road

Snake Temple

Strawberry Hill at Penang Hill

The Brown family only enjoyed the benefit of nutmeg cultivation in 1836, when the nutmeg trees started bearing, and the price of the spices were good. The senior David Brown had passed away in 1825, David Wardlow Brown(David 2nd Son) enjoyed the benefit, reported in possession of Stering pound 10,000 a year, a huge sum in those days( ref: NST 15-11-1993)

Some of David Brown's descendants are(not completed list), the Brown family used the name of David Brown in their days, thus difficult to identify the person :


1) 1st son: George Wilson Brown(1805-1846), who was the one that help the father in the spices cultivation. He expand the cultivation.

2) 2nd son: David Wardlaw Brown(born in 1812, died on 26-9-1864), married Magaret Turnbull Tait

3) 3rd son: Forbes Scott Brown1818-1874),Forbes Scott Brown, Esq. of Longformacus, Berwickshire, Scotland. Classmate of James Richardson Logan. He is also the Godfather of the famous Chinese scholar, Gu Hong Ming(辜鴻銘).He was appointed as Members of the Legislative Council of the Strait Settlements on 17-3-1868 by the Queen of Britain and India. Died on 28-5-1874 at the age of 56 , buried at Protestant Cemetery, Penang.

4) 4th son: Alexander Stuart Brown(10-12-1818 to 12-2-1857), buried at Protestant Cemetery, Penang.
5) 5th son:
John James Erskine Brown( Born in 1820, Died in 1895), merchant in Penang


Children of Forbes Scott Brown(13 children):-

1) David Alexander Murray Brown or D.A.M Brown(1871-1938?), active in local community, was the Penang Juror in 1904(as General Manager of Pinang Gazatte Press, Penang), secretary of Penang Club and later President in 1913, 1915,1917,1921 and 1931. A golf player, who has won first Strait Championship in 1894, and continue to win the four straight win from 1894-1897, and 1908. He was also a partner of an accounting firm. He was a fellow of Royal Colonial Institute.

2) Laurie Brown(died in 1930) –youngest son

3) 4th daughter- Sarah Holdway Brown(died in 1931), South Australia

The forth daughter of the late Forbes Scott Brown, Esq of Longformacus, Berwickshire, Scotland and of Glugor, Penang. She married to Sir John Alexander Cockburn, MD, KCMG(23-8-1850 to 26-11-1929), who was the Premier of South Australia from 27-6-1889 to 18-8-1890. They married on 13-5-1875. Sir John Alexander Cockburn was the first doctor to be the premier of South Australia. She was the founders and first President of National Council of Woman of South Australia, the inaugural meeting was held on 1902, Sept.(ref:Ever yours, CH Spence; by Catherine Helen Spence, Susan Magarey, Barbara Wall, Maryan Beams, Mary Lyons, Pg 198).

Great Grandchildren:
4) H.M.Brown or Helen Margaret Brown (died in Dec 1964), last owner of Brown & Co, who sold the Gelugor estate to Arumugam Pillai.

Alexander Murray Brown(D.A.M. Brown) only daughter, Helen Margaret Brown, the one who give the land at Kampong Buah Pala to a housing trust under her name for the Tamil workers of the company. Currently the land deal of the location has become a top issue in the state of Penang, where the land has been sold by the state. She was also involved in the legal dispute with other family members of the Brown on 31-1-1924(ref : NST). Note: She inherited the land of Kg Buah Pala in 1938, the date of trasfer in the land title.

Others(relationship with David Brown not certain):

9)John Robertson Brown,who was the Penang jurors in 1904, an assistant in David Brown & Co, Glugor.

10)Lawrence Coombe Brown,legal battle with Helen Brown

11) Edmund Brown, it was mentioned in the book


  1. Did Brown and his local wife nonia ennui manage to have kids? What I have heard he has one son.

  2. Brown has more than one local wifes, Nonia ennui had 2 children. One girl one son. The son is the eldest son of Brown, George Brown who contributed much to the father's nutmeg plantation.

    But George Brown life was not known.

    Do you know anything about him?

  3. Dear Raymond,

    Brown son from local wife nonia ennui decend to mixed malay and nowadays staying in perak and kuala lumpur. that's what i have been told by my friend who claim to be mr brown descendant as informed by his late father .
    Now they have several families considered as totally malays .

  4. According to my research, Brown family was a pioneer in Penang Presbyterian Church. But he had 4 local wives.

    The most famous personality of Brown family are David Brown, David Wardlaw Brown(2nd son), 3rd son Forbes Scott Brown(1818-1874),4th son David Wardlaw Brown. His eldest son George Wilson Brown(1805-1846) who died of fever in Penang Harbour. I think he died young due to his hard work in nutmeg plantation. There was little history about him(he is the one pioneering the nutmeg industry with his father.

    Ironically, all 4 sons were borne from 4 different local wives. They may be Eurasian, Malay, Java Peranakan, one may be Chinese.

    It is interesting to know the descendants, and the family you mentioned if it is from Nonia Ennui, must be the descendant of eldest son, George Wilson Brown(1805-1846). She has another daughter , Sophia Brown( born in 1806, second child). She went back to UK after marriage.

    Any famous personality from this line?

  5. Nice to sweet history and memories,My grand father was part of David Brown History, he work as clerk (related to Land matters)he died at early age.One thing I learn from my mother my grand father call by the name of Daim is very honest person. he tell about Mr Brown and he love working with him.

    I am very to learn no matter who you are and what you are important is sincerity and kindness is always will be remembered.

    next time if ever take trips to England I do want to take the courtesy to visit Brown Family to return his Kindness.

    my email via skype msa.haroon via hand phone 0060193347878

    Thank you

    Best Regards

    Haroon bin Ariffin

    I wish this comment can be delivered Late Brown Family.

  6. Wonder if this is the same Brown who had owned Batu Kawan estate ( Was Owned by Vermont, Scott & Brown ).

  7. Serge Negus, also known as Serge Cockburn, is a descendant of David Brown. He played Crocodile Dundee's son in the third Crocodile Dundee movie.
    He is descended from David Brown via his mother, who is the great granddaughter of Sir John Alexander Cockburn and Sarah Holdway Brown.

    1. Forbes Scott Brown was my Great Great Grandfather so David Brown was my Great Great Great Grandfather. I live in Victoria in Australia.
      His daughter Lucy was my Great Grandmother and lived in Folkestone in the UK at one time.
      My Grandparents were rubber planters in Butterworth before the Japanese invasion in the last war.