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.