My 2nd Great Grandmother…Harriet Matilda Slade

One of the joys of genealogy, in addition to the addiction it brings with it, is finding out all about your ancestors and the lives they led. The greatest enjoyment is when after researching a family for so long and reading about them, finding vital records, newspaper articles and so much more, is when you can put a face to a name.

I started researching my Grandfather’s family about five years ago. I was intrigued by the story I was told growing up about my 2nd great grandfather, James Robinson, who it was told, came to Australia as a young child in the care of a relative (still unknown). It is said that the ship in which he was a passenger became shipwrecked close to Victoria and he was the only survivor. I am yet to find proof that this is true, as no record that I can find is about an immigrant ship that shipwrecked in Australian waters and where the only survivor was a young child. But it was this story that made me slightly obsessed in finding out about James and his family.

James Robinson was born in Liverpool, England on 11 August 1848 to Thomas Robinson and Ann Paterson. By 1873, James was a stockman at Gol Gol Station, not far from Wentworth in New South Wales, Australia. It is here that he met Hannah Slade and went on to marry her at Wentworth in New South Wales. Hannah Slade was born in about 1850 to William Slade and Sarah Lo’vanberyl and was one of 11 children.

James and Hannah went on to have six children between 1874 and 1885. Only days after giving birth, Hannah would pass away from adynamic puerperal fever a complication that occurs following childbirth. Her son, George, would pass away just six weeks later. Leaving behind her husband and young children, James went on to be supported by Hannah’s younger sister, Harriet Matilda.

Harriet Matilda Slade (1864 – 1946)

Harriet Matilda Slade was born on in about 1864, the second youngest of William and Sarah’s 11 children. James and Harriet Matilda married on 19 December 1886 in Wentworth, New South Wales and would have four children of their own. As was common during the 1800’s their first son John Albert would die at birth in 1887. Harriet would go on to have three more children; Issac John, George Frederick and May Emma Elizabeth.

James was well known in the district of Mildura, where they both lived for many years. As a bullock driver, James would work for the Chaffey brothers and be contracted to build the irrigation channels that support the agricultural farmlands surrounding Mildura to do this day. He was recognised as a pioneer of the district following his death on 14 October 1923 after an illness which resulted in blood poisoning and a partial amputation of his arm. Harriet would go on to live another 23 years after her husbands death.

Harriet and daughter May Emma Elizabeth would go on to support her son, George Frederick, in raising his young children; Hazel Frederena, Charles and John Edward, after their mother Elizabeth Cramp left the family home and her husband and children behind.

Harriet Matilda would pass away on 9 September 1946 in Mildura. In her obituary, like her husband, she was recognised as a pioneer of the Mallee district having resided in Mildura for over 60 years.

While researching her husband James, I came across a portrait of Harriet on My Heritage and felt a sense of pride and enjoyment in seeing her for the first time and thinking how beautiful she was. I have only found a small photograph of James from the book in which he is mentioned, Mildura Calling, so it was fulfilling to find a photograph of his wife. Having been in contact with a cousin who I found through Ancestry.com I hope between the two of us we can eventually find a portrait of James and be able to also put a face to his name.

References:

England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, Jacobus Robinson, 11 August 1848. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

Registration of Marriage, James Robinson to Hannah Slade, 29 May 1873, Wentworth, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Death, Hannah Robinson, 2 January 1885, Wentworth, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Marriage, James Robinson to Harriet Matilda Slade, 19 December 1886, Wentworth, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Lapthorne, Alice, 1981, Mildura Calling, The Sunnyland Press, pg. 26

Registration of Death, Harriet Matilda Robinson, 9 September 1946, Mildura, VIC. Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Melbourne, VIC. Copy in possession of author.

Mildura Cultivator, 11 September 1946, Mrs Harriet Robinson.

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.

“Bullocky” Robinson – Part 1

On 29 May 1873, James Robinson and Hannah Slade married at the home of Mr Richard Perring in Wentworth, New South Wales.  At the time of their marriage James was a stockman working at Gol Gol Station in western New South Wales near the banks of the Murray River and not far from the township of Mildura. 

Image from the book “Mungo 1788 – 1901”

Gol Gol was harsh country to some of the first colonists in the late 1860’s to New South Wales who had endeavours to be graziers in the Mallee. .  This remote station spanned over 200,000 hectares of land but continued to be impacted by long periods of drought and massive storms.   At the time of his marriage in 1873 Gol Gol Station was owned by the Peppin brothers who sold Gol Gol Station in 1875 to John Patterson.  

Pastoral Runs of Victoria and NSW

By 1874, James and Hannah, were living on Para Station a large cattle and sheep station consisting of over 528,000 acres and recorded as having one of the largest stock returns in the district.  It would later be bought and renamed as part of Avoca Station and owned by the Cudmore family.  In this same year on 5 March 1874, Hannah gave birth to their first son, William James.  They would then move to Wentworth where Hannah would go on to have another four children Sarah Ann (1874), Mary (1881), Jane (1882), Robert (1883) and George (1885).  Sadly her two sons, Robert and George, would die soon after birth and it would be her last pregnancy in 1885 that would claim Hannah’s life.

On 2 January 1885, after giving birth to her son, George, Hannah passed away from a dynamic puerperal fever, a bacterial infection that occurs following child birth.  One month later, George, would also pass away.  At only 35 years of age, Hannah, left behind her husband and four young children.  Heavily reliant on his income as a stockman to support his young family, Hannah’s younger sister, Harriet Matilda, would support James and his children.  

One year after Hannah’s death, James and Harriet Matilda married on 19 December 1886.  Their family grew with Harriet Matilda giving birth to four more children, John Albert who died at birth, Issac John (1888 – 1907), George Frederick (1891 – 1961) and May Emma Elizabeth (1896 – 1988).

During the late 1880’s James bought some 200 bullocks and become a contractor working for the Chaffey brothers, George and William, from 1888 and was responsible for excavating some of the 170 miles of irrigation channels..  The Chaffey brothers were respected pioneers of the Mallee district for their instrumental work in establishing the irrigation channels that were vital for supporting the many fruit growers who would settle in the Mallee district.  It may be that James met the Chaffey brothers while working at Avoca station, which they bought and farmed until its sale years later.  As a bullock driver in addition to his work building irrigation channels, James was also responsible for sinking dams and building roads across the district. 

James soon become known as “Bullocky” Robinson and was one of the first to work at “Rio Vista” the grand estate of Mr William Chaffey.  He also used his team of bullocks to cart between Menindee and Broken Hill when he would live in a galvanised iron shed on the banks of the river where he remained until his home was built in Mildura.

On 21 September 1907, James and Harriet’s son Issac John passed away after a six month illness with acute nephritis that resulted in heart failure.  Their two remaining children George Frederick and May Emma Elizabeth would go on to live into their later years.  George would have four children to Elizabeth Cramp.  May while she remained single into her older years would take over a caring role for her brother’s children, particularly the youngest John Edward, after their mother Elizabeth left when John was just an infant. 

After the birth of their children James and Harriet moved to Mildura and remained there until their deaths.

Four years before James’ death on 14 October 1923 at the age of 75 years, James became ill and as a result of blood poisoning had part of his arm amputated.  It was following this that his health declined and led to his passing. 

In his obituary it was written that he was a early pioneer of the mallee district and renown as being well respected and a popular identity in the district.  His friend Steele Blayde would write “we of the bushland, who have followed the tracks through the silences will miss him“.  He would go on to say that Bullocky “did not belong in town and was more at home in some camp in the mallee” and concludes his obituary saying “lets hope the long western track is pleasant travelling’ for the old bushman and a permanent camp at the end of a tree“.

Harriet Matilda would outlive her late husband, James, for another 23 years and die on 9 September 1946 and like her husband was recognised as one of the early pioneers of the Mildura district.

Robinson Grave – Mildura Cemetery

You may be wondering why I have told James Robinson’s life storey from 1873 when he was working as a stockman at Gol Gol Station. Well James became my first “brickwall” in my genealogy journey. His life in Australia is well documented through official records, media articles and literature (that I am yet to fully explore), however my brickwall became apparent when I was unable to find records of how he got to Australia and who is parents and family were.

In part 2 of Bullocky Robinson, Ancestor Detective will delve into the official records found for James and write about how little clues left in these documents leads her back to his birth, parents and hopefully how he ended up in Australia. I hope this will help you knock down some of your genealogy brickwalls.


Registration of Marriage, James Robinson to Hannah Slade, 29 May 1873, Wentworth, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Office of Environment and Heritage, 2020, Understanding Mungo Pastoral Heritage, accessed 17 January 2020 at http://www.visitmungo.com.au/pastoral-history

Australian Government, n.d, Mungo 1788 – 1901, accessed 17 January 2020 at http://www.visitmungo.com.au/downloads/mungo-book-1788-1901.pdf

Registration of Birth, William James Robinson, 5 March 1874, Para Station, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Office of Environment and Heritage, 2020, Avoca Homestead Complex, accessed 17 January 2020 at https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5062573

Registration of Death, Hannah Robinson, 2 January 1885, Wentworth, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Marriage, James Robinson to Harriet Matilda Slade, 19 December 1886, Wentworth, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Lapthorne, Alice, 1981, Mildura Calling, The Sunnyland Press, pg. 26

Mildura Cultivator, 17 October 1923, A Pioneers Death – The Late Mr J. A Robinson of Mildura.

Registration of Death, Issac John Robinson, 21 September 1907, Mildura, VIC. Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Melbourne, VIC. Copy in possession of author.

Mildura Cultivator, n.d, “Bullocky” Robinson.

Registration of Death, Harriet Matilda Robinson, 9 September 1946, Mildura, VIC. Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Melbourne, VIC. Copy in possession of author.

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.