Deceased Brethren

Joseph Miller Brown (1867-1942) was Worshipful Master of Ashlar Lodge, No.3 in 1895 and Lodge Secretary from 1902 to 1917. His father, James Miller Brown (1830-1926) was Worshipful Master of Ashlar Lodge No. 3 in 1874 and 1875.

Here is some basic information about Joseph Miller Brown from Ashlar Lodge, No.3 records:

  • Born 31 March 1867 in Northfield, B.C. [Now the area of Nanaimo around Northfield Road]
  • Occupation: Watchmaker
  • Initiated 9 April 1890
  • Passed 23 April 1890
  • Raised 7 May 1890
  • Worshipful Master of Ashlar Lodge, No.3 in 1895
  • Lodge Secretary 1902-1917
  • Designed and made Past Master’s Jewels; each jewel was unique. Unfortunately, the Lodge records do not specify which Past Master’s jewels he made.
  • Died 23 December 1942
W.B. Joseph Miller Brown, circa 1895
W.B. Joseph Miller Brown, circa 1895 (Photo copyright Ashlar Lodge, No.3)

Here is an article written about Joseph Miller Brown by T.W. Paterson, which was published in the Nanaimo Star on 10 March 2004:

“Joseph Brown – master clocksmith 

Last week, through the graciousness of historian emeritus John Cass, we met James Brown, Men’s Tailor. Today, it’s the turn of the second of his twelve sons, Joseph Miller Brown, who achieved international acclaim as a talented repairer and maker of clocks and watches.

Born on Ashlar Farm, the family’s spread in the Mountain District, Joseph showed an interest in timepieces at an early age. Legend has it that he was (although only four years old) in the act of taking apart a schoolmate’s pocket watch when his father rushed home, the day after a mysterious attempt had been made to burn down their barn, to tell the family that two suspected murderers were on the loose and they had to gather whatever they could and head to town. Despite the urgency, young Joseph reputedly scooped up all the watch parts, carried them with him and reassembled them in working order.

His father [note: James Miller Brown], realizing that he was naturally talented, ordered books on watch and clock repairs from England and, at the age of twelve, Joseph was apprenticed to a watchmaker. In 1883 he rented space in the Bank of British Columbia building, opened his own shop and soon advertised himself as agent for Kimble Champion fire and burglar proof safes, the “best and cheapest made.”

He was sixteen years old.  At the age of twenty-two he became the city’s youngest elected councillor.  After several years in that location he moved his shop to 315 Wesley Street where he would excel at his craft until his retirement. He built a pipe organ and a sundial and designed his own watches.

When parts imported from Switzerland became too expensive, he made his own.  This willingness and ability to innovate enabled him to manufacture parts for timepieces whose owners had despaired of their ever running again. Joseph’s reputation for being able to repair and restore antique clocks and watches spread as far as the Old Country.

Upon hearing of this remarkable clocksmith and fellow collector on the other side of the world, A.C. Jackson, a London collector of extremely rare and valuable timepieces, tested him with a Quarter Repeater by the great Thomas Tominion [note: should read Thomas Tompion], then two by Daniel Quare, followed by pieces fashioned by Edward East, personal watchmaker to His Royal Highness Charles I, and a Thomas Earnshaw chronometer. All of which would suggest that Joseph Miller Brown proved himself worthy of Jackson’s having entrusted him with these priceless antiques.

(King Charles watch, incidentally, had just one hand and was a so called half spring model that required rewinding every fifteen hours as it utilized cat-gut as its driving mechanism.)

Miller wrote articles on antique timepieces for trade journals and magazines that were published as far afield as London, New York and Philadelphia.  The awards had begun coming in as early as 1902, when he won four firsts at exhibitions in Nanaimo, Victoria and New Westminster. The following year, he made a small steam-winding and jeweled lever watch from two Canadian 50-cent pieces. Its movement was coined (literally) from two English half-crowns bearing the head of King Edward VII on the face and the royal standard on the reverse. This magnificent endeavour earned him a gold medal in England.

he was by no means done. In 1905 he received a Dominion Gold Medal for his “rolling clock” which ran continuously for more than thirty-five years without rewinding. A hand-held marine chronometer earned him notice in 1909, followed in the 1920s by what his daughter Audrey Alexandra Brown termed in 1969 his “last and crowning achievement,” his pocket chronometer being considered the “acid test” of watchmakers, as it is the most accurate and intricate of timepieces.

Three years later, working with his son Albert as Joseph M. Brown & Son, Chronometer and Watchmakers, was awarded a contract to install a four faced clock in the new 45 foot tall Post Office tower.

It first ticked on the stroke of midnight, Jan. 1, 1913. Hardly had it entered service than the explosives carrying S.S. Oscar blew up off Protection Island, the force of the blast causing considerable damage throughout the city – and stopping Joseph’s clock. he and Albert soon had it functioning again and Joseph serviced it until his retirement, the city landmark giving reliable service until it was removed before the tower’s demolition. In 1915 the senior Brown installed a clock in the tower of the Port Alberni post office. This time he had to do it without the assistance of son Albert, who’d enlisted and been killed in action. [note: Albert Harris Brown died of wounds received in the Battle of Ypres on 23 May 1915, aged 21, He is buried in Niederzwehren Cemetery, Kassel, Germany]

In honour of King George V’s Jubilee, 1935, Joseph built a two day clock that showed Nanaimo time, London time and several other times zones throughout the British Empire. He later achieved another landmark in his career, on Mar. 31, 1942, when he was awarded the city’s longest continuous trade license – 59 years.

Through six decades, his daughter noted, the legendary craftsman who had been termed the finest horologist in North America “never took holidays and never retired. On the night before he died (in December 1942), he was wandering in his mind; propped up in his hospital bed, he thought he was examining and repairing a watch. It was incredible to see the exactness of his fingers. You would have sworn they held a watch as they had been doing all his life.”

(Source: Nanaimo Star, 10 March 2004. In Nanaimo Community Archives collections) 

Joseph Miller Brown lived with his family at 418 Kennedy Street, Nanaimo. The house is still standing.

We have put up a separate page about Joseph Miller Brown’s house at 418 Kennedy Street, Nanaimo, B.C. as part of our series on Buildings Associated With Ashlar Lodge No. 3 Members

418 Kennedy Street, Nanaimo, B.C. This house was the family residence of Joseph Miller Brown (1867-1944) until his death.
418 Kennedy Street, Nanaimo, B.C. This house was the family residence of Joseph Miller Brown (1867-1944) until his death.

The T.W. Paterson article above mentions Daniel Quare watches. Here is a YouTube video showing a Daniel Quare watch, made circa 1690:

The T.W. Paterson article above refers to a Thomas Tompion Quarter Repeater. Here is a YouTube video of re-assembly of the inner mechanism on a Thomas Tompion Half Quarter Repeater, made circa 1709.

Here is Nanaimo Free Press report, published in 1942, about Joseph Miller Brown’s watchmaking business:

” J.M. Brown, at 75, Holds Oldest Trades License Issued Here

Mr. Joseph M. Brown, nanaimpo native son and pioneer watchmaker, spent part of his birthday today describing to The Free Press some of the samples of his work which have brought him international recognition in his craft. mr. Brown, who was born only two miles from Nanaimo, is 75 years of age. He is the son of the late J. Miller Brown.

Perhaps the best known of Mr. Brown’s time-pieces is the little rolling clock which has mystified the people of Nanaimo since it was made in 1905. In that time it has never been wound – just placed at the top of the incline in Mr. Brown’s shop and allowed to roll slowly to the bottom.

Built especially to be exhibited at the Dominion Exhibition held that year in New Westminster, it won its maker first prize as a “specimen of workmanship by a skilled mechanic.”

He also won medals for a watch made of two Canadian half-dollars and two British half-crown, and for a marine chronometer movement shown in Victoria.

Mr. Brown learned his trade in Nanaimo, and started his own business as a young man. His trade license [note: City of Nanaimo business license] is the oldest in Nanaimo still owned by the originator of the business.

Aside from his regular work, Mr. Brown has charge of the Post Office clock, having installed it in 1912. It has been in his care ever since.”

(Source: Nanaimo Free Press, 31 March 1942)

Here is Nanaimo Free Press report of Joseph Miller Brown’s death and funeral:


Mr. J.M. Brown Attained Wide Reputation for Remarkable Craftsmanship


The death took place this afternoon of Mr. Joseph Miller Brown, pioneer business man of this city, and the senior in continuous operation of a Nanaimo craft, his record going back to 1886, when he established his own business as a watchmaker on Front Street.

Since 1911 Mr. Brown has carried on business in premises he built for himself and his son on Wesley Street, known to every visitor for the “rolling clock” which has been continuously operating since 1905.

Mr. Brown was born March 31, 1867, son of the pioneer merchant, James Miller Brown, who was one of the earliest business men in Nanaimo, and whose residence on Nob Hill is still a landmark. While attending school young Brown showed a mechanical bent, and his life work developed from a kindly act for a fellow schoolboy. He mended his companion’s watch – and in doing so found a career, which in subsequent years was to win a reputation across the continent.

Impatient of the restrictions of scholastic education the young experimenter began to send abroad while still at school for books on horology and the various details of the watchmaker’s craft, so that by the time he reached his teens he was already an expert, and at 19 years of age established his own business.

Notable Craftsman

It was not long before his exceptional knowledge as a craftsman had won a reputation far beyond the locality, and he began experimental work which led to several inventions [which] demonstrated his exceptional knowledge as a horologist. Incidentally the pocket chronometer which he made he carried to the end as a prized possession.

He invented an improved mechanical slide rest, and won a gold medal from the exhibition where it was exhibited.

His famous rolling clock which continued to amuse generations of children, dates from 1905, and while others claimed the honor of invention there is little doubt he pioneered in this field.

He gathered in the course of years a collection of watches of various dates since the sixteenth century, and when parts went missing, he replaced them, so that every one was in working order. He had repaired watches for collectors where other watchmakers had failed, and some interesting stories of this nature are described by friends.

Post Office Clock

Nearly 30 years ago this month the parts arrived for Great Frank, the city’s most famous clock, and from the days when he installed it ready to start on Jan. 1, 1913, he watched over the clock with affectionate care, the long climb to the clock in the Post Office tower failing to deter him throughout the third of a century. An incident is told that when a change was made to daylight saving he stayed up for an hour in the clock tower one night to see if the correct hour should be struck when the change of schedule became effective.

As a writer on horological subjects most of his work was done for “The Keystone” publication of the trade, and he contributed some valuable data to this craft journal.

Stories of Old Nanaimo

Next to his interest in watchmaking was his love of this city, and it will be recalled that under the initials “J.N.” he wrote the notable series of articles on old-time Nanaimo which appeared week by week in The Herald a number of years ago.

Outside his professional life his great interest was in craft masonry. He was for more than 20 years secretary of Ashlar Lodge No. 3 A.F. & A.M. and was a past master of the lodge. The association was [not] unusual of his family with Ashlar, as his father was a founder of this lodge, one of the oldest in the province.

The Family

Mr. Brown married Miss Rosa Elizabeth Rumming, also member of a pioneer Nanaimo family, and the family are, in addition to Mrs. Brown who is in Victoria with her daughter, Wilma Eunice Brown. Miss Audrey Alexandra Brown, the noted poetess and author, came here for her father’s illness and was with him to the end. While he had been ailing, and in hospital at intervals this year, his final attack only dated back to Wednesday morning.

The sons who reached manhood were Albert Harris Brown, who succumbed to wounds received in the second battle of Ypres and who was “the son” of J.M. Brown and son, two sons overseas, Cuthbert Milller Brown and Herbert Philip Brown, and also Edwin Bevan Beaumont Brown here.

[Note: Albert Harris Brown died of wounds received in the Battle of Ypres on 23 May 1915, aged 21, He is buried in Niederzwehren Cemetery, Kassel, Germany]

The late Mr. Brown’s surviving brothers are James William, and George Stanley Brown, both of Northfield, and Benjamin D., of Port Alberni.

One sister survives, Mrs. Leah Mace, of Nanaimo.

The half brothers are Henry, Ivan, Arnold, Godfrey, Victor, Horace and Clarence, and the two half sisters living [are] Mrs. Arthur Burton of Vernon and Mrs. W.A.D. Wilson of Nanaimo.

Funeral services will be held on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. at St. Paul’s church, under Masonic auspices, Ashlar Lodge having charge of arrangements. Westwood Hirst Funeral Home has charge of arrangements.”

(Source: Nanaimo Free Press, 24 December 1944)


Funeral services for the late Joseph Miller Brown, well known citizen,  who passed away at Nanaimo General Hospital Thursday, were held Saturday afternoon at three o’clock, from St. Paul’s Anglican Church, under the auspices of Ashlar Lodge, A.F. & A.M., with Westwood Hirst Funeral Home in charge of arrangements.

Two hymns were sung, “Pleasant are Thy Courts Above” and “How Sweet The Hour of Closing Day.” Mr. H.E. Palmer presided at the console of the organ.

Pallbearers, all Masons, were Robert Malone, Nicholas Wright, Jack Cottle, Mike Wardell, Jack Stevens and Doug Gray.

Rev. Dr. W.C. Western officiated and interment took place in the family plot of Nanaimo cemetery.

Noticeable among the lovely flowers was a beautiful casket spray from the family, and daughter Audrey. The remainder, which are gratefully acknowledged are; Mr. and Mrs R. Norris; Olive and Billy, Annie and Ivan and Victor; Sister Leah; Oswald and Ina; Brother George and family; Jim, Agnes, Godfrey, Minnie and Horace; Arnold, Beulah and family; Mr. and Mrs. Alan Burdock.

Many early anecdotes and incidents in the life of Mr. J.M. Brown have come to light since his biographical story was published on Thursday, the day of his passing.

Mr. Brown, it appears, was one of the earliest employees of founder of The Free Press, Mr. George Norris, spending two years at the case in the original building housing the newspaper. He left printing for watchmaking quite early in life.

He was engineer of the old waterworks when in company control, when the water was piped in from the Ravine, before a water system from Chase River was brought in the late eighties [note: 1880’s].

(Source: Nanaimo Free Press, December 1944)

We will add more information about W.B. Joseph Miller Brown as we discover it through additional research.

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