Pioneer’s bizarre forgotten death

In 1936, Ipswich’s Edward Elmslie Ernest Willoughby Brown set a world record for flying between England and Australia and his life ended in bizarre circumstances, but today he’s largely unknown. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

This was just six months after the world mourned the death of that famous aviation pioneer Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. He set the record for flying from England to Australia, but in November 1935 he disappeared after taking off from India.

In the wake of that tragedy, Ipswich’s Teddy Brown set off from Archerfield, Queensland, on the 1st of April 1936. His world record-setting trip was tracked by the media with photographs along the way.

When Teddy landed in Darwin, it was reported that his flying suit curiously included a blue silk singlet because of the heat.

Teddy’s father was one of Ipswich’s most respected doctors and businessmen.

Doctor Brown (middle of the front row) with the 14th Australian General Hospital in the First World War

The father was Doctor Edward Elmslie Brown who served in the Australian Army in the First World War and was in charge of hospitals in Palestine and France. Doctor Brown founded the Oakdale Private Hospital on Milford Street in Ipswich. He was also chairman of directors and one of the founders of the Ipswich Woollen Company which was one of the city’s biggest employers.

Teddy lived in the family home at 5 Brisbane Street in Ipswich before going on his record-setting trip to England.

Brown home at 5 Brisbane Street

Once he got to England, Teddy continued flying to Scotland and around Europe. When he was coming back to Australia, he stopped at Karachi in Pakistan where he had a big feed of bananas.

But just like Kingsford Smith’s final flight that ended in tragedy after leaving India on the sub-continent, Teddy was similarly fated after departing Pakistan. He wasn’t his usual healthy, happy self when he landed back home at Archerfield.

That’s because the bananas in Karachi severely upset Teddy’s stomach, and he was rushed back to Australia. He had constant medical attention throughout the flight, and specialists from Brisbane travelled to Ipswich in a desperate attempt to save his life.

Teddy Brown passed away from banana poisoning on the 12th of June 1936 at his home in Ipswich. He was and remains the city’s only early aviation pioneering hero.

Today his home is a Queensland Country Women’s Association hostel and is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register. But its link to Australia’s aviation history is long forgotten.

Teddy Brown wasn’t yet two-years-old when he died. You see, Teddy was just twenty-months-old when his Qantas Empire Airways plane took off from Archerfield in 1936.

Teddy Brown (left) with his mother aboard the Qantas Empire Airways aeroplane

When he arrived in London with his mother and father, Teddy was declared the youngest person in the world to have ever completed the trip.

And when Teddy got home to Ipswich, the journey of 27,000-miles was declared the furthest ever travelled by anyone under the age of two. In other words, the two world records were his – and yet he remains absent from the history books.

Perhaps one reason for Teddy’s omission is because his father Doctor Brown was followed by a series of tragedies best forgotten.

Doctor Brown’s only son Teddy died from banana poisoning. His only other child was a daughter Elfrieda from an earlier marriage, and she died when just five-years-old. Doctor Brown was then deserted by his first wife when she refused to live Ipswich, instead preferring Sandgate.

He married for second time but that wife died just three years after Teddy’s banana incident.

Doctor Brown then married for a third time. The Doctor himself passed away the very next year just five months after signing his will, and his third wife got the lot which amounted to almost ten million dollars in today’s money.

Even in recent times, part of the doctor’s former Oakdale Private Hospital in 1990 was destroyed by a fire that killed five men.

Ignoring his father’s affinity with tragedy, there’s no reason why Edward Elmslie Ernest Willoughby Brown should not be remembered amongst Australia’s and the world’s great early aviators.


Photo credits:
Archerfield aviation pioneers 1930s – Judith Finley family collection, collage my own
Group portrait 14 Australian General Hospital middle front Major Edward Elmslie Brown, Cairo Egypt 1914-1918 – AWM A01350
Queensland Country Women’s Association Hostel, 5 Brisbane Street Ipswich, built 1885-1911 – Google Maps 2021
Mrs E.E. Brown with Edward 20 months in the QEA airliner before leaving for England -Telegraph Brisbane 1st April 1936, page 17

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