Ancestor Detective receives such wonderful feedback, here is the feedback we received from Molly of Molly’s Canopy about out manuscript on Harold Downes an English Migrant who settled in Mildura, Victoria.

The English Migrant

Harold Downes was the third son born to Daniel Downes, a banksman in a English coal mine, and Eliza Downes (Roe) in Tamworth, Staffordshire, England on 28 December 1894.  The second marriage for his father after his first wife, also named Eliza, died in 1887 after the birth of three children.  Harold grew up in ‘Cork Hall’ in Austrey, Staffordshire. 

On 23 December 1901, Harold’s father, Daniel, died leaving his mother, Eliza with six young children aged 10 through to one month of age.  It is likely that Eliza would have been left destitute, living in poor conditions where disease was common. Census records show some of the young children living with their older step brother, James, while until her death Eliza was not found in census records of the same year. One record found the youngest child, Arthur, then aged one year, in an orphanage, however, more research is required to verify that this was the case, and if so, where Arthur ended up before migrating to Australia to join his older brother Harold. 

In the early 1900s the Australian government concerned about low population levels brought in a range of schemes to increase immigration to the country, one of these was the land settlement scheme.  This lured Harold and his older brothers to Australia and in early 1913, Harold boarded the ship ‘Orama’ and arrived in Melbourne on 18 March 1913 at the age of 18 years. 

Shortly after his arrival in Australia, World War 1 was eminent and at the request of the government volunteered to enlist into the Australian Imperial Force on 20 September 1915 where he became a member of the 1st Depot Squadron at 20 years of age.  His military record describes him as five feet eleven inches tall, with a fresh complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair.  Harold would not see the war fields after being medically discharged from the Army in Seymour on 19 January 1916 .

The Mallee district of Victoria became the heart of the wheat frontier attracting migrants who were lured to open spaces, the chance to own their own farm and promotion of good grain prices.  This lure attracted Harold to Speed, 86 miles from Mildura. It is here where he became a share farmer growing wheat which he would load on a wagon pulled by a eight-horse team that he would take over the sandhills and into the town of Sealake where it was sold.  He would work the farm, known as “Senwod Flats”, for many years living in an English iron house, supported by local tree posts and garnished with a broom brush verandah.

Bill Boyd in his book, ‘Having a Go! Bill Boyd’s Mallee’, he wouldsay of Harold “a big strong fellow, an English migrant.  He liked to fight.  That was one of the entertainments every now and then.  They used to fight with their bare knuckles, you know, and if there was an argument, they’d get Downes.  Anyway, he had horses and he wasn’t a good horseman at all.  He used to shoo them along with a shovel.  The horses were dead scared of him.  Some of these were brumbies that he had brought across from New South Wales and they were pretty wild.”

On 25 February 1923, Harold’s mother Eliza would pass away in England.  Not long after, Harold would meet and marry Jean Fleming, daughter of Andrew Fleming and Rachel Forrester Brown of Scotland, on 23 July 1924 at Scot’s Church in Ouyen, Victoria..  Jean would give birth to their only daughter, Edith Heather, on 18 April 1925.

Around 1935, Harold purchased Melrose Dairy in Mildura where milk from surrounding farms would be processed and delivered.  He would operate the dairy until about 1949 when he purchased a property in Dandenong West. There he would have a market garden and grow flowers that he sold at the Victoria Market in Melbourne.  Harold’s granddaughter would say that they would go to the market in his big grey van and the flowers would be sold out the back of the van.  Next door, she recalled, was a stall where second hand dentures were sold, this the grand children found amusing and would watch as customers would try the dentures for size and purchase them.

Harold also loved his greyhounds and would train them at his property to race at the local Sandown Racecourse.  It was said that Harold trained the last winner at the old Sandown Race track and the first winner at the opening of the new race track.

On 11 November 1963, aged 68 years, Harold passed away.  Jean would go on to live in Noble Park until her death on 15 June 1987 at the age of 93 years.  Harold and Jean are both buried together at Springvale Botanical Cemetery. 



Alpha History. 2014. Great Britain before World War 1. Accessed September 28, 2018. http://www.alphahistory.com.

Australia, City Directories. 1848 – 1948. “Mildura.”

Australian Electoral Rolls. n.d. “1949, Dandenong.”

Tiziani, Debbie, interview by Lorna Tiziani. 2018. Harold Downes (September 28).

England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index. 1895. “Birth Index of Harold Downes.”

England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index. 1901. “Death Index of Daniel Downes.”

General Registrar Office. 1901. “Death Index of Eliza Downes.”

General Registrar Office. 1895. “Registration of Birth of Harold Downes.”

General Registrar Office . 1923. “Registration of Death of Eliza Downes.” February 25.

National Archives of Australia. 2018. More People Imperative: Immigration to Australia, 1901-39. Accessed September 28, 2018. http://guides.naa.gov.au/more-people-imperative/chapter1/.

National Archives Australia. n.d. “Service Record of Harold Downes.”

Springvale Botanical Cemetery. n.d. Jean Downes. Accessed September 28, 2018.

The National Archives. 1901. “1901 England.” Census Returns England and Wales.

Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages. 1924. “Marriage Certificate of Harold Downes and Jean Fleming.” Victoria, July 23.

Victorian Wills, Probate and Administration Records. 1964. “Harold Downes.” Will and Probate. Victoria, April 29.

Western Australia, Australia, Crew and Passenger Lists. 1913. “Passenger List for the Ship Orama.” Western Australia, March 18.

Weston, Bate. 1924. Having a Go! Bill Boyd’s Mallee, Victoria. Victoria: Griffin Press.

Tracing ancestors through the census

The immigration of ancestors across the globe during the 1800’s and 1900’s meant descendants, in some cases, had little information about the families they left behind in their country of birth. While this adds an element of complexity to tracing your ancestors families, there is a wealth of information available to assist you in uncovering who your ancestors family were.

The census is one such research tool available to the keen genealogist to explore and track down their elusive ancestors.

The first census to be taken in England was at the time of William the Conqueror who in 1086 wanted a record of land ownership and livestock numbers. These early records can be found through History Magazine and is known as the Doomsday Book.

In 1801, the English government, unlike other governments across the United Kingdom, introduced the census for statistical purposes for the Overseers of the Poor and the Clergy. Every ten years following 1801 the census was undertaken and each time recorded more information on household composition.

In 1841, the information sought on households have gone onto provide genealogists with a goldmine of information to trace ancestors and their families across the United Kingdom. With a record of names, ages, gender, occupation, place of birth, and year of birth (often rounded up) in each household genealogists now have the ability to track down that elusive ancestor and gain greater knowledge of families and the lives they led.

By 1911 further details were recorded in the census, including how many children were born, how many were living or deceased at the time of the census and whether if any residents had a disability.


In this blog, Ancestor Detective, will go back to 1861 to trace the ancestors of Harold Downes. This exploration of census records will highlight the significance of these records and how much you can learn about your families and the lives they led.


Using the English Census to trace your ancestors

Harold Downes was born in 1894 in England and immigrated to and arrived in Australia on 18 March 1913 on board the ship “Orama”. After his early discharge from the Australian Imperial Force on 19 January 1916, Harold moved to Ouyen in the Victorian Mallee where he married Jean Fleming on 23 July 1924. After farming in the Mallee for some time and owning a dairy in Mildura, Harold and Jean moved to Dandenong where he became a poultry farmer. Harold died on 11 November 1963.

While Harold’s brothers also immigrated to Australia and outlived him, little was known about their family back in England. Using census records Ancestor Detective goes on a genealogy journey to trace Harold’s family in England.

The registration of Harold’s birth reveals that he was born on 12 December 1894 at Albion Street in Tamworth, Stafford to Daniel Downes and Eliza Roe. Using the names of Harold’s parents we searched Ancestry.com for the English census to trace Harold’s father, Daniel Downes, until his death in 1901.

We located the registration of Daniel’s birth at the UK General Registers Office, showing us that he was born on 11 July 1854 in Stafford, England to Abraham Downes, a shoemaker, and Mary Goodwin. In 1861 the English census was undertaken when Daniel would have been seven years of age. However, while his parents Abraham and Mary are recorded as living in Middlehills Street, Heathy Lee in Staffordshire. At the time of this census, Daniel was one of five children, yet on the day the census was recorded only Daniel’s younger brother, William was present. No record of Daniel’s whereabouts or his siblings on the day of the census has yet been found.

Ten years on in 1871, aged 17 years old, Daniel appears in the 1871 English census working as a farm laborer/servant in the Robinson family at Buck Bank farm in the township of Henbury in England.

By 1881, Daniel, aged 25 years, is married to his first wife, Eliza Foukes, and living at Hyde Hall in Lancashire. As a farm laborer, Daniel and Eliza have three children Ann Foukes (aged 5 years), Mary Jane (aged 3 years), and James William (aged 3 months). Six years later Eliza dies, aged 33 years, leaving Daniel to raise their three children alone.

By 1891, Daniel has remarried to Eliza Roe aged 22 years and they are living in Stonnall, Staffordshire with James William (aged 10 years) from his first marriage and Fred (aged 6 months). Daniel and Eliza would go on to have another four children by the 1901 census living at Cork Hall in Austrey. Employed as a banksman at a coal mine, Daniel, aged 47 years shortly after the 1901 census was recorded leaving Eliza, aged 33 years old, with five children aged under 10 years.

With five young children and no husband to support them by 1911 the children of Daniel and Eliza are split up. According to the 1911 census, both Fred (aged 20 years) and Edith (aged 10 years) are living with their older step brother James William in Staffordshire. Herbert then aged 18 years is living as a boarder while working in the coal mines in Burton Upon Trent in Derbyshire. Finding Harold and Arthur then aged 17 and 10 years in 1911 was more difficult and where they are living in 1911 is still a mystery to solve.

At the same time their mother, Eliza, has also disappeared from the census records of 1911 and it is not until her death in February 1923 in Staffordshire that she reappears.

In the years that follow 1911, all but younger Edith, immigrates to Australia where they live until their deaths.


Registration of Birth for Harold Downes, 20 December 1894, Reg. No. 1895/266, United Kingdom General Register Office. Certified copy in possession of author.

SRO of Western Australia; Freemantle Outwards Sep 1900 – Dec 1915; Accession: 457; Item: 61; Roll: 157

Australia, WWI Service Records for Harold Downes, 1914-1920, Series B2455

Certificate of Marriage for Harold Downes and Jean Fleming, 23 July 1924, Reg. No. 8882, The Victorian Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Certified copy in possession of author.

Certificate of Death for Harold Downes, 11 November 1963, Reg. No. 23493/1963, The Victorian Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Certified copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth for Daniel Downes, 11 July 1854, Reg. No. 1854/82, United Kingdom General Register Office. Certified copy in possession of author.

1851 England Census, Heathy Lee Township, Staffordshire County, England; p. 3, family 17; Class: RG 9; Piece: 1949; Folio: 55; Page: 3; GSU roll: 542892

1871 England Census, Cheshire Township, Staffordshire County, England; Class: RG10; Piece: 3678; Folio: 98; Page: 4; GSU roll: 841869

1881 England Census, Lancanshire Township, Staffordshire County, England; Class: RG11; Piece: 4045; Folio: 21; Page: 36; GSU roll: 1341967

Registration of Death for Eliza Downes, 1887, England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915, Vol. 8a

1891 England Census, Stonnall Township, Staffordshire County, England; Class: RG12; Piece: 2214; Folio: 114; Page: 9; GSU roll: 6097324

1901 England Census, Austrey Township, Staffordshire County, England; Class: RG13; Piece: 2650; Folio: 100; Page: 12

Registration of Death for Daniel Downes, 20 December 1901, Reg. No. 1901/120, United Kingdom General Register Office. Certified copy in possession of author.

1911 England Census, Tamworth Township, Staffordshire County, England; Class: RG14; Piece: 16835; Schedule Number: 21

1911 England Census, Castle Gresley Township, Derbyshire County, England; Class: RG14; Piece: 16770; Schedule Number: 71

Registration of Death for Eliza Downes, 25 February 1923, Reg. No. 1923/221, United Kingdom General Register Office. Certified copy in possession of author.

Who was Silas Smith?

Silas SMITH was born to Charles SMITH and Ann (Lacey) SMITH on 6 March 1824 in Sangford, Somerset, England and baptised on the 28 July 1833 in Ulley, Gloucestershire, England.  Silas and his younger brother, Henry, grew up in Whately Street in Langport. 

Shortly after the death of his mother, Ann, in April 1842, Silas, aged 27 years, was employed as a Police Constable located in Bow Street in Middlesex.  Three years later, he would meet and marry, Maria GOODING, the daughter of Samuel GOODING and Elizabeth (Smith) GOODING on 7 August 1854 at St. John the Evangelist in Lambeth, England.

On the 1 January 1855 under the indenture system, Silas and Maria, boarded the clipper ship “Heather Bell” in London, England and headed for the port of Hobart in Australia. They arrived in Hobart on 27 August 1855, seven months after leaving England.  Under the indenture system, Silas was employed as a gardener and Maria a domestic servant, by James MACLANACHAN, a well-known grazier and politician, in return for free passage to Hobart.

In 1856, following the birth of their first son, Charles Morbeth SMITH the family sailed to Victoria and arrived in Portland on 23 April 1857 where they settled.

Still working as a gardener, in 1866, Silas, purchased a land lease of 40 acres, 3 roods and 10 perches in the county of Normanby and the district of Homerton, which would later be called Narrawong. The family would reside at the family property, “Sunny Bank”, for many years to come and where Silas would become a renowned as a grazier and community man.

Silas and Maria would go on to have ten children between 1856 and 1872.  Eldest son Charles Morbeth (1856 – 1922) would be followed by Morgey Gooding (1857 – 1949), Maude Mabel (1858 – 1888), Milo John (1859 – 1946), Marwood Samuel Kingston (1861 – 1946), Meta Mary Edith (1864 – 1940), Mahala Gertrude Lacey (1865 – 1943), Mira Minnie (1868 – 1952), Manoah Effey (1870 – 1945) and youngest Matthew Henry (1872 – 1944).

On 4 November 1896 at their property in Narrawong, Maria, would die suddenly, aged 68 years.  The Portland Guardian reported at the time, that Maria was going to milk the cows when she collapsed and didn’t regain consciousness, passing away the following morning.  Silas would eventually move in with his daughter Morgey Gooding HANLON and son in law James HANLON who were the licensee of the nearby Criterion Hotel in Hamilton. 

On 5 July 1915, aged 91 years, Silas passed away.  In his Obituary he was described as one of the very earliest colonists and a prominent worker in horticulture and agriculture.  In an article of the Portland Guardian, Silas was recognised as amongst the original founders of St. James’ Church in Tyrendarra that was built by the community in 1874.  Both, Silas and Maria, were laid to rest at the Narrawong Cemetery in Narrawong

Archive Office of Tasmania. (1829 – 1957). Tasmania, Australia, Passenger Arrivals. Tasmania, Australia.

Archives Office Tasmania. (1841 – 1884). Immigrant Lists. Tasmania, Australia.

Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies. (1808 – 2007). Australia Cemetery Index. Australia.

Departent of Crown Lands and Survey. (1890). Narrawong. County of Normanby. Victoria, Australia.

General Register Office, England. (1837-1915). England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915.

General Register Office, England. (1854, August 7). Certificate of Marriage between Silas Smith and Maria Gooding. Surrey, England.

Gloucestershire Archives. (1813 – 1913). Gloucestershire, England, Church of England Baptisms. Gloucestershire, England.

Portland Guardian. (1896, November 6). Obituary Maria Smith. Portland, Victoria, Australia.

Portland Guardian. (1915, July 9). Death Notice Silas Smith. Portland, Victoria, Australia.

Portland Guardian. (1915, July 7). Silas Smith Obituary. Portland Guardian. Portland, Victoria, Australia.

Portland Guardian. (1925, December 3). St. James’, Tyrendarra. Portland Guardian. Portland, Victoria, Australia.

Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser. (1866, March 22). Silas Smith 1866 Land Lease. Portland, Victoria, Australia.

Somerset Heritage Socity. (1813 – 2003). Church of England Deaths and Burials. London, England.

The National Archives. (1841). 1841 England Census. 1841 England Census. Somerseet County, England: The National Archives, London, England.

The National Archives. (1851). 1851 England Census. Middlesex County, England: The National Archives, London, England.