John Ross Browne was born in Dublin on February 21, 1821. In 1833 the family emigrated to the United States as a condition of his fathers release from prison, where he was serving time for his political activities.
Browne briefly attended medical school, worked on a riverboat and signed on to a whaling ship out of New Bedford. In 1846 he published the book Etchings of a Whaling Cruise at Harper & Brothers, New York. He married Lucy Anne Mitchell in 1844. The couple had nine children.
Brown settled in California in 1849, in time for the California Gold Rush, where he worked at various Government Jobs. He traveled extensively while writing serializations for Harper's Magazine. He was appointed Minister to China in 1868. John Ross Browne died on 9 Dec 1875 in Oakland, California.