Black History Month: Greenwich Stories: Week 3

by Rob Allen

Donald was born 18th June 1873 in Sheerness, Kent. His father was a Guyanese Petty Officer in the Royal Navy.  Donald had two sisters, Mandy and Anna, who were also born in Kent. Donald was sent to Greenwich Royal Hospital School after a fire that saw his Mother die and his father sent to Broadmoor Hospital.

In 1894, Donald married Eliza Adelaide Knight who was from the East End of London. Donald helped with most of the domestic household chores. In part due to Eliza’s mobility impairment and his desire to help her. Liberally minded for the time, he even took on her maiden name, calling himself Donald Adolphus Knight.

Donald’s wife Eliza showed an interest in the Suffrage movement and when, in 1905, a Woman’s Social and Political Union was formed, Eliza became a member. On the 4th July 1906, she was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment in Holloway Prison. Donald’s devotion to Eliza made it easy for him to keep everything at home running smoothly, awaiting her return.

Donald Adolphus Brown is perhaps best known for his bravery. On the 7th January 1919 , while working on the Arsenal in Woolwich, a rocket ignited and exploded,. While other workers fled in terror for their lives, Donald, demonstrating shear strength, moved a heavy case containing highly inflammable rockets and flares to a place where the flames could be put out safely. The courage he showed was rewarded in 1921 when Donald Adolphus Brown was awarded the Edward Medal by King George V.

Donald Adolphus died in 1949. His wife Eliza died the following year. Their daughter Winifred Langton wrote the book, Courage – An account of the lives of Eliza Adelaide Knight and Donald Adolphus Brown. A copy can be seen in the Heritage Centre’s Search Room along with correspondence, in the form of letters, between Donald and Eliza, pictures and newspaper cuttings about them as well as events of the time.

Do you have a story to share? Leave it in the comments below, or call Greenwich Heritage Centre on 020 8854 2452.

Tags: woolwich, black history month, greenwich heritage centre, ghc, greenwich, rght, bhm