General Sir Samuel James Browne VC GCB KCSI (3 October 1824 – 14 March 1901) was a British Indian Army cavalry officer in India and Afghanistan, known best as the namesake of the Sam Browne belt. He was a British recipient of the Victoria Cross, the most prestigious award for gallantry in combat that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
He was born in Barrackpore, India, the son of Dr. John Browne, a surgeon of the Bengal Medical Service and his wife Charlotte (née Swinton). Browne joined the 46th Bengal Native Infantry as a subaltern, participating with action at Ramnuggar, Sadoolapore, Chillianwalla and Gujarat. During 1849 he was made a lieutenant and tasked with raising a cavalry force, to be designated the 2nd Punjab Irregular Cavalry and later incorporated into the regular force. He would command this unit for the next five years. Later (1904) the unit would be re-designated as the 22nd Sam Browne’s Cavalry (Frontier Force) in his honour.
Browne commanded the 2nd Punjab in several engagements, and was decorated for action during the Bozdar Expedition of 1857, being promoted to captain.
Browne was awarded the Victoria Cross for actions on 31 August 1858 at Seerporah, Rohilkhand, Uttar Pradesh, India. His citation reads:
“ For having at Seerporah, in an engagement with the Rebel Forces under Khan Allie Khan, on the 31st of August, 1858, whilst advancing upon the Enemy’s position, at day break, pushed on with one orderly Sowar upon a nine-pounder gun that was commanding one of the approaches to the enemy’s position, and attacked the gunners, thereby preventing them from re-loading, and firing upon the Infantry, who were advancing to the attack. In doing this, a personal conflict ensued, in which Captain, now Lieutenant -Colonel, Samuel James Browne, Commandant of the 2nd Punjab Cavalry, received a severe sword-cut wound on the left knee, and shortly afterwards another sword-cut wound, which severed the left arm at the shoulder, not, however, before Lieutenant-Colonel Browne had succeeded in cutting down one of his assailants. The gun was prevented from being re-loaded, and was eventually captured by the Infantry, and the gunner slain. ”
Sometime after this incident he began to wear the accoutrement which bears his name, as compensation for the difficulty his disability caused with wearing his officer’s sword. A Sam Browne belt is a wide belt, usually leather, supported by a narrower strap passing diagonally over the right shoulder; the diagonal strap stabilizes the scabbard of a sword if worn. Later such a belt would be adopted by other officers who knew Browne in India, but it was not to become used commonly by the British Army until after his retirement. Browne’s original “Sam Browne” belt is possessed presently by the National Army Museum in Chelsea.
Browne retired from the army during 1898, relocated to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, England, and died there at the age of 76. His remains were cremated but there is a memorial marker dedicated to Browne in the Ryde New Cemetery, as well as plaques at St Paul’s Cathedral in London and Lahore Cathedral in India. His grave was restored during 2010.