Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Postman's Park (5): Alexander Stewart Brown


Most of the events commemorated in the Watts Memorial involve working-class people living in poorer areas. Their deaths are often a result of dangerous work or impoverished living conditions: house fires, suffocation by sewer gas, drowning in London's rivers. However, Dr Alexander Stewart Brown FRCS was moving in a very different milieu when he proved his bravery.

The doctor was well-known locally, not least as the chairman of the Brockley Conservative Association. He was also a Freemason. He lived comfortably in Brockley, keeping a pony and trap (and probably other vehicles as well). In the autumn of 1900, he took a holiday to Boulogne.

Today we know Boulogne primarily as a cross-Channel ferry port, but for the Victorians it was a fashionable bathing resort offering those two essentials, hydrotherapy and a casino. When Dr Stewart Brown chose to visit, then, he was joining other middle-class people at play. The hydrotherapy facilities may have had a particular appeal for him as he was convalescing from a carriage accident several weeks earlier in which his spine had been injured. He probably travelled by South Eastern Railways' service: first the train from London to Folkestone, then the ferry to Boulogne.

Unfortunately, the doctor's holiday would end in tragedy. He was walking on the pier when he realised that a man had fallen into the sea. Without even pausing to remove clothing, Dr Stewart Brown jumped in to rescue him. He then spent a further two hours reviving him. The epic effort was successful, and the man survived. The doctor would not be so lucky: thanks to all that time in wet clothes, he caught a severe cold which turned into pneumonia. Back at his home, Holly Lodge in Brockley Road, he passed quietly away aged 45.

The funeral was well-attended by 'a large and sympathetic gathering'. His body was carried in a Washington car (a glass hearse) pulled by four horses; behind followed his favourite horse and trap. At the end of the ceremony, the Freemasons present threw acacia sprigs into the grave (in freemasonry, these represent immortality of the soul). An apt text was chosen for the sermon: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.' Against such a backdrop, the wording of his plaque on the Watts Memorial appears restrained:

ALEXr STEWART BROWN OF BROCKLEY, FELLOW OF THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF SURGEONS, THOUGH SUFFERING FROM SEVERE SPINAL INJURY THE RESULT OF A RECENT ACCIDENT DIED FROM HIS BRAVE EFFORTS TO RESCUE A DROWNING MAN AND TO RESTORE HIS LIFE, OCTOBER 9 1900.

For all Postman's Park posts, click here.

No comments:

nRelate Posts and Homepage