Civil engineer and naval commander. Brown was born in London, the eldest son of Scottish parents. He joined the navy in 1795 and gained a commission in 1800. Serving as a lieutenant on HMS Phoenix, Brown was involved in an action which brought about the capture of the French frigate Didon off Cape Finisterre in 1805. He was promoted to commander in 1811, a rank he held until his retirement in 1842. Following the end of hostilities with the French, Brown was able to concentrate on his engineering interests. He was a pioneer in the design of iron chains and cables, manufacturing and testing these at Pontypridd (Wales), and ensuring their adoption by the Navy. His cables were also used for Brunel's steamship Great Eastern. He patented iron-bar links in 1817 and went on to use these in bridge designs. His first was the Union Suspension Bridge (1820), crossing the River Tweed between Scotland and England. This remains the earliest surviving carriage suspension bridge in the UK still in vehicular use. Thomas Telford (1757 - 1834) was sufficiently impressed that he modified his designs for the Menai Bridge to use Brown's innovation. Brown went on to build the South Esk Suspension Bridge at Montrose (1829, replaced 1931), the Wellington Suspension Bridge in Aberdeen (1831) and the Kalemouth Suspension Bridge (c.1835) over the River Teviot. He was also involved in building a pier at Newhaven (Edinburgh), the supply of ironwork for Hammersmith Bridge in London and the chain pier at Brighton (built 1823, but destroyed in a storm in 1896).
Brown married Mary Horne, the daughter of an Edinburgh solicitor, in 1822 and was knighted in 1835. He died at Blackheath in Kent.