Reginald Spencer Browne was born at Oaklands, Appin, New South Wales on 13 July 1856, the son of a pastoralist. His father, also native born, was a superintending officer of yeomanry. Browne was educated at Appin and in England. He became journalist, working for the Deniliquin Pastoral Times and the Albury Banner, becoming sub editor of the Townsville Herald in 1877, editor of the Cooktown Herald in 1878 and editor of the Brisbane Observer in 1881. In 1882 he joined the Brisbane Courier.
Browne was commissioned a lieutenant in the Queensland Mounted Infantry in 1887. Although sympathetic to unions, he commanded a flying column during the shearers' strike of 1891. Browne was promoted to captain in 1891 and major in 1896.
Browne volunteered for service in South Africa, and sailed in November 1899 with the 1st Queensland Contingent. For his services, he was awarded a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and mentioned in dispatches. He was invalided back to Australia in November 1900.
In 1903 Browne became commanding officer of the 13th Light Horse Regiment with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Then in 1906 he became commander of the 5th Light Horse Brigade and a full colonel. He was transferred to the Reserve of Officers in 1911.
Browne joined the AIF on 16 March 1915 as commander of the 4th Light Horse Brigade. This brigade was sent to Egypt dismounted and there broken up on 26 August 1915. The 13th Light Horse Regiment was assigned to the newly formed 2nd Division, with which it served at Anzac; the 11th and 12th Light Horse Regiments were sent to Anzac where they were broken up into squadrons, with one squadron being attached to each of the six other light horse regiments from New South Wales and Queensland.
On 28 August 1915, Browne was appointed officer commanding Australian Details Egypt, responsible for training reinforcements. Then in September Major General J. G. Legge sent for him to replace Colonel R. Linton, the commander of the 6th Infantry Brigade who had drowned following the torpedoing of the Southland. Browne took over the brigade on 8 September 1915 and served at Lone Pine and Quinn's Post but at 59 was simply too old for the rigours of the campaign. Nonetheless he stayed until he was evacuated on 10 December 1915.
Back in Egypt, Browne was transferred to the Training and General Base Depot at Tel el Kebir, Egypt. He was promoted to temporary brigadier general on 16 March 1916 and appointed to command the Depot on 20 March 1916. When the Base moved to England, Browne went with it, taking command of the Training Depots in England on 14 June 1916. In both posts, Browne was responsible for a large and important training organisation. On 25 July 1916, his command was abolished and merged with the convalescent depots as AIF depots in the United Kingdom under Major General Sir N. J. Moore. Browne took charge of the 2nd Command Depot at Weymouth, England. This unit was responsible for receiving men unfit for service within six months and therefore to be returned to Australia.
On 12 October 1917, Browne was declared medically unfit and listed for return to Australia. He paid a visit to France, and then embarked for Australia on 24 November 1917. On 10 February 1918, Browne was appointed to command the new Molonglo Concentration Camp near Canberra, where German internees were held. He was discharged from the army on 17 December 1918.
From 1925 to 1927, Browne contributed weekly articles to the Courier on his memories of people and events in 19th century Queensland. These were collected and published as A Journalist's Memories in 1927. The book is considered a source of much information on the history and legends of Queensland.
Browne died on 9 November 1943 and was cremated.
Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 7, 1899-1939, Vol 7, pp. 448-449; Bean, C. E. W., The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume III: The AIF In France 1916, p. 170-1; AWM 183/9
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Last update 15 June 2003