General Sir Samuel James Brown was born in 1824 in Barrackpore, India, the son of Dr John Browne and his wife Charlotte, née Swinton. He joined the 46th Bengal Native Cavalry as a subaltern in 1840, seeing action at Rumnuggar, Sadoolapore, Chillianwallah and Gujerat during the Second Sikh War of 1848-1849. After the war, Browne was tasked with forming a cavalry force and five regiments of Sikh cavalry were raised in Lahore, to be designated the 2nd Punjab Irregular Cavalry. He was decorated for action during the Bodzar Expedition in 1857 and promoted to the rank of captain.
It was during the Indian Mutiny 1857-1858 that Browne was awarded the Victoria Cross for actions at Seerporah on 31 August 1858. The citation reads: 'For having at Seerporah, in an engagement with the Rebel Forces under Khan Allie Khan, on the 31st 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' (London Gazette, no. 22485. p. 1007, 1 March 1861). At the conclusion of the Mutiny, Browne received a number of Mentions in Dispatches and the official thanks of both the Commander-in-Chief and Government. To this was added an appointment as Commander of the Order of the Bath.
Promoted to Major-General in 1870 and joining the Bengal Staff Corps he was selected to represent the Anglo-Indian Army during the 1875-1876 tour of India by the Prince of Wales. At the end of the tour and on the instructions of Queen Victoria, Browne was knighted by the Prince at Government House in Allahabad on the 7th March 1876.
On March 10th the Prince embarked on 'The Serapis' to return to England. In his journal Browne writes, 'On Leaving and paying my fare-well respects H.R.H. gave me a gold snuffbox with his likeness set in Brilliants, a Gold Pencil Case, an Aluminium Binocular Glass in Case, a Cigar Case, with his monogram - all of which I hope may be reserved as Heirlooms in the family. H.R.H. paid me the great and high compliment of directing the Guard of Honor of Marines to give me a salute on leaving the ship.' Journal of the late General Sir Sam Browne (op. cit.)
In 1878, as Commander of the Peshawar Field Force during the second Afghan War, Browne captured Jalalabad. For this action he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. Browne was promoted to General in 1878, and was awarded the Order of the Bath's Grand Cross in 1891. He retired from the army in 1898 and moved to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. He died there in 1901 at the age of 76.
Browne is perhaps most well known as the designer of the Sam Browne belt, a wide leather belt which is supported by a strap worn diagonally over the right shoulder and which also holds in place a scabbard for a sword. It can also securely carry a pistol in a flap-holster and includes a binocular-case with a neck-strap. In the 19th century British army officers always carried a sword into battle which hung from a metal clip on the waist-belt, meaning that it had to be steadied with the left hand before being drawn. In 1852, at the end of his tenure as Prime Minister, the 14th Earl of Derby was on a tour of the North-West Frontier escorted by Sam Browne. Derby remarked on the number of weapons Browne was carrying and he replied that 'he was designing a new belt for his regiment and was finding out by practical experience the best way of carrying his arms', R. J. Dennis, General Sir Samuel James Browne, V.C., G.C.B., K.C.S.I.: A Short Biography, online 2009. This was perhaps the prototype of the belt that was to bear his name and eventually be adopted by armies throughout the world. It was the loss of his left arm, the arm used to carry a sword whilst walking and to steady the scabbard prior to drawing the sword, that has led to the story that he invented the belt to compensate for this loss. It would seem that he had already designed a new belt in 1852, some six years prior to his injury.