Sir William Brown, Bart. (1784-1864), British merchant and banker, founder of the banking-house of Brown, Shipley & Co., was born at Ballymena, Ireland, on the 30th of May 1784, the son of an Irish linen-merchant. At the age of sixteen he accompanied his father and brothers to Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A., whither it had been decided to transfer the family business, but in 1809 left America for Liverpool. Here he established a branch of the firm, which had now begun to deal largely in raw cotton as well as linen and soon afterwards developed into one of general merchants and finally bankers. Brown became one of the leaders in Liverpool commerce, and in 1832 took a principal share in the reform of the system of dock-management then in vogue at that port. The great financial crisis of 1837 seriously threatened the ruin of the firm, but on Brown's urgent representations as to the multiplicity of interests involved the Bank of England agreed to advance him £2,000,000 to tide matters over. Actually Brown only found it necessary to apply for £1,000,000, which he repaid within six months.
His business, both mercantile and banking, continued to increase, and in 1844 he was in possession of a sixth of the trade between Great Britain and the United States. "There is hardly," declared Richard Cobden at this period, "a wind that blows, or a tide that flows in the Mersey, that does not bring a ship freighted with cotton or some other costly commodity for Mr Brown's house." In 1856 the friction between the British and American governments due to the enlistment by British consuls of recruits for the Crimean War was largely allayed by the action of Brown, who in an interview with Lord Palmerston, then prime-minister, explained the objections taken in America. From 1846 to 1859 he was Liberal M.P. for South Lancashire. In 1860 he presented Liverpool with a public library and museum, and in 1863 was made a baronet. He died at Liverpool in 1864.