- Born 21 June 1868, Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), Co Dublin
- Died 26 April 1916, Beggar's Bush Barracks, Dublin
- Educated Marlborough College, Wiltshire, Dublin University
- Occupation Barrister, Examiner of Titles, Land Registry of Ireland
- Debut 8 August 1888 v Scotland at Rathmines
- Cap Number 195
- Style Right-hand bat, wicket keeper
- Teams Dublin University, Civil Service, Phoenix, Dundrum
Frank Browning came from an old Anglo-Irish family of Co Limerick, descendants of a Cromwellian officer. Several of them were distinguished sportsmen, though Frank's brother, a former regular army major, became Bridge Correspondent of "The Tatler." He was also related to the Hone family and a distant cousin of TB Reeves who made his Irish debut in the year Frank was born. Browning was a short and stockily built man with powerful forearms. According to Wisden he was "An excellent wicket keeper and an effective bat with a pretty style."
At Marlborough he was two years in the XI, but his performances were not always well received. In 1885 "The Malburian " commented, "often sacrifices his wicket in an attempt to hit to square leg." In 1886 he was "not a strong bat", while his wicket keeping in the annual match against Rugby was seen as such that, following two drops, "under such circumstances no one could help scoring." If these strictures were justified, they were taken to heart.
Entering Dublin University in 1886, he was a regular in the XI from 1888 to 1893, being an almost exact contemporary with Jack Meldon (1887-93) and also overlapping with Lucius and Arthur Gwynn. Small wonder that the side's batting was so strong. He scored 5 hundreds for the XI and a further two for the Long Vacation XI, though one of these was made when his student days were long over. His highest was 150* v Leinster at Rathmines, out of 336-8 declared in June 1891.
His best season for the University was 1889 when he hit 869 runs including two "tons": 131 v Dublin Garrison and 136 v Cynics. "Burke's Irish Family Records"(1977), credits him with 2000 runs in all matches that season. This has proved unverifiable and as "Burke" wrongly gives him an Irish rugby cap, it may not be accurate. First class opposition often brought out his best: in June 1890 against WG Grace's United South of England XI, Browning (50) and Meldon (45) were the only batsmen to reach double figures in the first innings, they added 84 for the 5th wicket. He followed this with another half-century v Cambridge.
On the 1893 tour, under the captaincy of CL Johnson, oddly Frank was never official captain, he and Arthur Gwynn were the only two to be unworried by the pace of Charles Kortwright against Essex, Browning getting 32 and 73. He also made 84 against Warwickshire to help the XI to a fine victory. His finest hour for the University however, was for the Past and Present XI v The 1905 Australians. This was far from the best Australian side of history, but they were far too much for their hosts winning by 241 runs, despite not passing 300 in either innings. Browning (52 and 54) was the only batsman to face the attack with any confidence, his runs were made against the fearsome pace of "Tibby" Cotter whose action seems to have been a cross between Jeff Thomson and "Slinger" Malinga, and the artful leg spin of Monty Noble and Warwick Armstrong. Only Tom Harvey also reached double figures twice.
His club cricket was, otherwise, mostly for Phoenix but he played some notable innings for Civil Service, whose secretary JL Hurford doubled as Phoenix secretary. In 1896, for example, Frank made 112 in 80 minutes with 22 fours v Phoenix, before being "bowled by a thunderous shooter." The following season he hit 131 for Service v Dundrum. He never scored a century for Ireland, his highest score being 94 against the Combined Services on tour in 1893. This was the start of a run of good scores including 41against Surrey at The Oval on the same tour and 54 against I Zingari at Phoenix, the following summer. Continuing his penchant for doing well against quality opposition, he was consistent on the inaugural Irish first class tour of 1902, scoring 213 runs at 30.43 with a highest of 56 v Oxford only failing in the MCC match, when the famous Australian Albert Trott was too much for most of the visitors.
Other good scores against strong opposition included 60 v London County in a draw at The Mardyke in 1903, the last match WG played in Ireland, and at the same venue, 40 and 31 helping Ireland to an epic victory over the 1904 South Africans. His final notable innings was 50 in the drawn match v Philadelphia in College Park in 1908. He put on a 6th wicket 149 with Bob Lambert (116*) to arrest a collapse. He seemed an obvious choice to captain Ireland on the 1909 tour of USA. This proved to be a "tour too far." The Irish side was weak, the Philadelphians, though in decline, too strong. Though Frank made 30 in the win v All New York, he managed only 7 runs in 4 innings in the Philadelphia matches. He was past his prime, being exposed by Bart King and "Ranji" Hordern, though his keeping remained good.
In all he captained Ireland on 13 occasions but was successful only once: these statistics and his career figures on this site do not include the 12 a side v I Zingari in 1906. In this match he scored 18 and 33, besides making 1 catch and 1 stumping, leading Ireland to a 253 run victory on a dangerous wicket in the last match played on the ground and the last v IZ. The visitors rather confusingly also included a wicket keeper batsman called FH Browning, whose appearance for MCC V Philadelphia in 1908 has misled some statisticians.
Browning had been President of the short lived ICU in the 1890s and in 1912, having been a distinguished half back for Dublin University and Wanderers, narrowly missing out on becoming a double international, he was chosen President of the IRFU. A Lieutenant-Colonel in the Veteran Corps of the General Reserve, he wrote to all the Dublin clubs on the the outbreak of war in 1914 urging them to encourage enlistment.
The response was so encouraging that he decided to form the IRFU Volunteer Corps a "Pals' Battalion." Those young and fit enough were prepared for active service, many of them were destined to die at Gallipoli. The older and unfit members formed a "Dad's Army" under Browning's command. They became part of the Irish Association of Volunteer Training Corps (IAVTC), forming a separate unit within it under Browning's command. He was also second in command of the whole IAVTC " an organisation for gentlemen of above military age", many of whom - like Browning - were lawyers. Dublin humour dubbed them the Gorgeous Wrecks because of the letters GR (Georgius Rex) on their dummy - or unloaded - rifles.
On Easter Monday 1916 they were on an exercise in the Dublin mountains when they heard news of the Rising. Approaching the Grand Canal on their return to the City, they were warned of rebel activity in the area. The force divided with Browning leading his men towards Lansdowne Road while the others made for Beggars Bush Barracks. Browning's route led him to the narrow Mount Street Bridge on the Grand Canal, where, having been mistaken for real soldiers they came under fire from Irish Volunteer positions. By the time the mistake was realised seven had been wounded, four - including Browning - fatally. An eye witness later described the scene saying that "The poor old dears" did not know what to do. The attack on led its leader Padraig Pearse to order that unarmed men, whether in uniform or not not - were not be fired upon. Unfortunately in the days that followed neither the rebels nor the Crown forces followed this dictum. Browning was taken to Beggars Bush Barracks and then to Baggot Street Hospital where he died two days later.
It has been suggested that he bore some responsibility for the tragedy as, having been warned of rebel activity in the area, he should have realised the likelihood of a canal crossing being defended. Be that as it may, however, few would argue with the inscription on his gravestone - raised by the IRFU in Dublin's Dean's Grange Cemetery - which includes the words "He will live in the memory of all of us as an honourable comrade and distinguished sportsman."
For details of Browning's military activities and death, I am indebted to the following works:
- Gerard Siggins and Malachy Clerkin: Lansdowne Road
- Charles Townsend:Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion
- Fearghal McGarry: The Rising Ireland Easter 1916
Browning's obituary is in Wisden 1917 and he is, deservedly, profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats.
Edward Liddle, May 2007, updated February 2011, April 2016