Subject Name: Ellen Brown (b1837 – d1909) 

Researchers:  Barbara Hester, Mike Brock, Carol Thompson

Ellen Brown was born on 20 December 1837 in Ripley, a village situated midway between Woking and Guildford.  She was the seventh child of eight for George and Dinah Brown and was baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church, Send, as Dinah Eleanor Brown on 13 February 1838.  Sadly for Ellen, it became apparent that she had been born mentally impaired and would need to be cared for throughout her life.

Ellen’s father George was the licensed victualler of the Jovial Sailor Inn on the Portsmouth Road in Ripley.  His father, also named George, had been the previous tenant since 1799.  As well as being a licensed victualler, George senior was a farmer, with property and land on Homewood Farm just over a mile away from the Jovial Sailor.  When he died in 1826, he left everything to his son.

The 1841 Census showed the family, now increased to ten with the birth of George and Dinah’s eighth child Jane earlier that year, were still at the Jovial Sailor with George in charge.  No mention is made of Ellen’s mental condition as this type of information about individuals was not recorded on the Census until 1871.


The family’s time at the Jovial Sailor came to an end sometime after the death of George, age 52, on 6 May 1849.  Despite the inn having been run by the family for half a century, there was no one either in a position or willing to continue with its management, so the family moved out.

After George’s death, a number of the family moved to London, with the 1851 Census showing George’s widow Dinah, age 53, and three of her children – Mary (23), Ellen (13) and Jane (10) – living at 11 Paterson Street, Mile End, in east London.  This road no longer exists, but was situated just north of Commercial Road, about 1.5 miles north-west of London’s main dock area, Canary Wharf.

Ellen’s oldest brother, 22-year-old George and his wife Ann were living nearby, at 4 Jamaica Street, a road that had a junction with Paterson Street.  George had become a member of the Metropolitan Police force in July 1850.  His record shows that he was recommended for the position by the Earl of Lovelace whose family owned the land on which the Browns’ old Homewood Farm and the Jovial Sailor were situated.

Unfortunately, Ellen’s mother Dinah was seriously ill.  She passed away age 52 on 27 July 1852, having suffered from breast cancer for fifteen years, and dropsy, now known as oedema or water retention, for three months.

The next known reference to Ellen is in the 1861 publication of England and Wales’ long-term workhouse inmates which showed that she had been in the Guildford Union Workhouse from about 1856.  It also noted that she had a “weak mind”, which clearly meant she was not able to look after herself.

What happened to Ellen in the three to four years between her mother’s death in 1852 and entering the workhouse in 1856 is unclear.  She had been living with her sisters Mary and Jane in 1851, but Mary was now in a relationship with Edward Allen, and had moved a few miles across the River Thames, giving birth to Maud in Newington in 1853 and Martha in Southwark in 1855 with other children soon following on.  Mary and Edward eventually married in 1882.  Jane, who was only 11 in 1852, appears to have stayed either with or near Mary.  The sad proof of this was that Mary was noted as being present at Jane’s death in 1860, age just 18, in Guy’s Hospital.

It’s possible that Ellen had remained with her sisters for a while, but this is only one of a number of scenarios that could have occurred.  What is sure is that at some time around 1856, arrangements were made for Ellen to be moved to the workhouse that served Ripley, the village of her birth – the Guildford Union Workhouse.  Unfortunately, there are few records for the workhouse at that time, but the Guildford Poor Law accounts book for 1864-71 showed that Ellen was receiving “indoor” relief care, meaning she had remained in the Workhouse.

The 1871 Census indicated that Ellen, now 34, was still living in the Guildford Union Workhouse and stated bluntly that she was “an imbecile from birth”, with no occupation.  The next Census ten years later showed that her situation hadn’t changed, but five years after that, the Workhouse Minute Book revealed on 27 March 1886 that there was an application to spend £8 10 shillings (£8.50) to send Ellen Brown to Canada to “join her brother there who is willing to take charge of her and maintain her”.

This was her brother George, the former police constable, who had emigrated to Canada in July 1871 with his wife Ann, children Charles Frederick and Lily Elizabeth, along with Martha Millidge, a widowed sister of George and Ellen.  When the application was made in 1886, George and Ann were living in Kingston City, Quebec, 175 miles south-west of Montreal.  Their daughter Lily had by then moved to the United States, while son Charles was due to be married a few months later.  So it appears that George and Ann would now have the room to be able to look after Ellen. Martha had remarried in 1872 and settled in Lindsay, some 150 miles west of Kingston City, with a family of her own.

Ellen of course would’ve been unable to travel to Canada alone, so George almost certainly made the trip to England to bring her to Canada.  Details shown on passenger records at that time are very sketchy, but a Mr G. Brown accompanied by a Miss E. Brown arrived in Montreal on the steamship “Sarnia” of the Dominion Line on 10 September 1889.  Ellen would have been age 51 with George 60.

The first record of Ellen in Canada is the 1891 Census living at the Saint-Jean-de-Dieu Longue Pointe Asylum in Montreal, where she is listed as Helen Dinah Brown.  Although there is no evidence to confirm that George took Ellen back to Kingston City, it would seem more than likely that she would have gone there with him first.  Once she had moved to the Asylum, George would have been able to visit Ellen fairly easily as Kingston City is on the main railway line between Montreal and Toronto.

Longue Pointe was the largest asylum in the Quebec province, housing up to 5000 patients. It had  been rebuilt following a devastating fire in May 1890 in which 86 of the 1297 inmates lost their lives.  It is not known if Ellen was there or living with her brother at the time of the tragedy.   

There are no other records that have been made public to give more information about her time in the Asylum, except the 1901 Census which confirmed that she was still there.  It did note her profession as “servant”, something that had not been recorded about her anywhere before.  It may well be that she performed some duties in the Asylum, or perhaps it was just something her brother George had said about her when she was admitted.

The final record for Ellen is her burial dated 5 April 1909 in the Basilique Notre-Dame Cemetery, Montreal.  The record indicates that she died on 3 March 1909 age 68 in the Saint-Jean-de-Dieu Asylum, and also appears to confirm that she had been a servant.  The reason for the month’s gap between her death and internment may have been that her body was taken to one of the university medical schools in Montreal.  Her burial record was written and signed by Tancrede Lamoreux, the Joint Inspector of Anatomy for the District of Montreal, also witnessed by a priest.  These schools were permitted to take unclaimed bodies from institutions subsidised by the government, such as the Saint-Jean-de-Dieu Asylum, for teaching purposes.  It may be that Ellen came into this category, as her brother George had passed away some four years earlier (35), and his wife Ann had moved to New York to live with her daughter.

Ellen seems to have been part of a close-knit and caring family, growing up with her seven siblings in Ripley.  All of them reached at least 18 years of age, a rare achievement in the mid 19th century.  Although the family spread far and wide – another sister Susannah emigrated to Australia in the 1850s – it looks like her family and especially George did the best they could for her.  Despite this, she ended up spending some fifty years of her life in institutions both sides of the Atlantic.


February 2021





                 Barons Pubs Jovial Sailor             Baronspubs.com/JovialSailor
                 Government Registry Office       GRO.gov.uk
                 Internet Archive Digital Library  Archive.org
                 RN Wilkins (Montreal Gazette)    RNWilkins.wordpress.com
                 Send and Ripley Museum            SendandRipleyhistorysociety.co.uk
                 Surrey History Centre                   Surreycc.gov.uk/culture-and-leisure/history-centre
                 The National Archives                   NationalArchives.gov.uk
                 Wikipedia                                        En.Wikipedia.org

                 For a full list of references click here