Born in 1813 in the tiny village of Nash in Shropshire, England, Edward Downes was the fifth child of a local Blacksmith named Thomas, and his wife Emma (née TURNER). The county of Shropshire is bordered by Wales to the west, and the English counties of Cheshire to the north, Staffordshire to the east, Worcestershire to the southeast and Herefordshire to the south. It is the heart of the Welsh Marches. The nearby River Teme flows from Mid Wales southeast into England, where it is fed by many brooks that flow down from Clee Hill.
The village of Nash still lies in a very remote rural area, centered on the chapel of St. John-the-Baptist, which is where Edward was baptised on the 26th of September 1813.
By 1841, Edward was a shoemaker living in the nearby town of Burford. Two years later on the 13th of June, he married Jane GITTINS, daughter of a shoemaker in the nearby village of Bitterley. Edward was living in Hope Bagot, a pretty agrarian village situated in a southwest valley, overlooked by Clee Hill, and so the couple were married in the church there, also dedicated to St. John-the-Baptist.
In the 1851 Census, the entire parish of Hope Bagot (which included the Village, Rectory, Pothouse & Court) contained 20 houses & a total of 87 inhabitants.
Edward & Jane had six children in total, the first five of which were born in Hope Bagot: William (born 1844), Edward (b. 1846), John (b. 1849), Emma (b. 1851), and Thomas (b. 1853). Their final child, Henry, was born in 1857 in Waitati, Otago, New Zealand after the family emigrated.
The Downes family were amongst the earliest settlers of the area known as Waitete/Waitati, arriving in Port Chalmers on February 5th, 1854, aboard the ship “Stately” out of London. Edward made an application to the Crown for rural land in 1861 in the North Harbour of Dunedin, Blueskin Bay, which he named Stately Farm. He made a great success of his career switch from boot & shoe maker to farmer, and was a pillar of his new community.
Jane Downes died at age 77 on Apr 21st 1892, and Edward died aged 84 on November 13th, 1897, at the home of his daughter Emma, who had married another local settler farmer named Kennedy Brown FERGUSON. They are both buried in the St. Barnabas Churchyard in Warrington, Dunedin.
After starting to scan the family photos in June, I have poked around a bit at the May-Bevin side of the family. I still haven’t managed to get my hands on cousin Sharee Berry’s book about the Bevin family but have asked around. It’s called The Journey from Kent 1879: The Family History of Thomas Daniel Bevin & Mary Ann Fuller. Here’s what I know of the Bevin (also occasionally spelled Bevan and Beavan) line.
Thomas Daniel Bevin was born in 1839 in Ightham, Kent, England to James & Sarah (née Cousins/Cussins) Bevin. He had seven siblings. Like his father, Thomas worked as agricultural labourer.
From 1861, the Bevin family lived on the same street as Samuel Levett, another agricultural labourer, and his second wife Emily (nee Fuller). Samuel & Emily had a daughter, born out of wedlock circa 1853 in Sittingbourne, named Mary Ann.
On July 15th 1871, Mary Ann Fuller and Thomas Daniel Bevin were married in the Ightham Parish Church.
Thomas and Mary Ann’s first child was born on March 28th, 1872, but died a few days later. He was baptised Thomas Daniel (junior). A daughter, Ellen, was born a year later in 1873, followed by Harry on July 18 1875, then another son, Frank, in 1877 and another daughter, Sarah Ann, in 1878.
On the 15th of Feb 1879, the family boarded the “Stad Haarlem”, bound for NZ from Plymouth in Devon. The ship made port in Lyttelton on April 14th.
Thomas & Mary Ann had two more children in NZ: Daisy, born 1880 in Palmerston, Otago, and Horace, born and died in 1882 in Dunedin. Devastatingly, Thomas passed away the same year, on November 3rd, aged only 43.
Mary Ann remarried in 1886 in Dunedin, to Austin William Holbrook, another English immigrant, with whom she had a further four children, although only two survived infancy.
Mary Ann died on 29th October 1918 after suffering from acute bronchitis for over a week, resulting in heart failure. The image above is a portrait of Mary Ann owned by Sharee Berry.
I uploaded some newspaper clippings that I found in our family photo box to a Whanganui history Facebook group, and was subsequently contacted by a cousin, Paul Bevin, the son of James Simpson Bevin. Paul has been helping me identify some of the photos, and clarified the names of Harry Bevin’s children.
As mentioned above, Harry Bevin was born in 1875, in Malling, Kent. After his family emigrated to New Zealand, he met and married Bridget Mena Crawford in 1900 in Invercargill. They had two sons: Thomas Henry James, a.k.a. Harry Junior, born in 1901, and Francis Crawford, a.k.a. Frank, born in 1904.
Bridget died giving birth to Frank, and in 1906, Harry remarried: this time to my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Tansley, on June 27th in Winton.
Elizabeth had been born on January 28th, 1882, in Tokomairiro, now known as Milton, to Henry Edward & Mary Ann (nee Tough) Tansley. She had three brothers & three sisters, one of whom she may have been living with in Winton in 1905/6.
Elizabeth & Harry’s first child was Mavis Mary, born in 1907 in Winton. Mavis died shortly before her 14th birthday, and her funeral card is in the family photo box. My great-grandmother Doreen Alice was the second-born, on September 14 1908 in Westport. Ivan Arthur followed in 1910 in Granity, a small mining town near Westport, then Edward Roland in 1913, James Simpson in 1915, and Leoni Mabel in 1917.
Some time between 1928 & 1935, Harry & Elizabeth moved to Whanganui, as did Doreen & Bill May after their wedding on 7 February 1929, and the birth of their daughter Bronwen in November that year. In 1935, Frank was in Otago and Ivan in Wellington, but Harry Jr, Edward, Jim and Mabel all moved to Whanganui too. I’d love to know when & why they all moved!
Harry was a baker, but that’s all I know about his occupation. He was also a talented musician, a cornet player. He died on May 15th, 1946 of a stomach carcinoma. Elizabeth died June 12th, 1952.
I’ve also been looking into the May lines of our tree, and found the will of my great-great-grandfather, Samuel May, in Archives NZ. Reading it gave me a surprise! He left his estate divided equally between his son, William James May, and his foster son, Arnold Cox. Some digging has revealed that Arnold was the nephew of Samuel through his wife Sarah (nee Probert).
Arnold was born in Wales to Nellie (Probert) and Alexander Cox in 1915. His father was killed 10 months later in France during WWII. In 1922, seven year old Arnold was put on a ship alone, bound for Wellington, where Sam & Sarah took him in. He seems to have done pretty well, working as a clerk, then manager, then storekeeper in various places around NZ. He was married in 1939, and then divorced in 1974. Arnold died in 1997. I wonder how much he kept in touch with the family?
Speaking of the Proberts, I want to share a sweet story that I heard from cousin Sue Thomas. She says that Sarah’s parents had an epic love story. Her mother, Martha Ann Davies, came from a wealthy farming family in Montgomery, Wales, and hired as a gardener one James Probert. Martha was three years older than James, but they fell in love, and her family were horrified, so the young couple eloped in 1884 to get married, and then moved to Glamorgan because there was plenty of work in the mines for James to support a family. They went on to have five children; William James, Sarah Elizabeth, Mary Jane, Nellie, and Margaretta May.
The last couple of updates are in regards to my Dunbar lines. Cousin John Dunbar sent me records for my great-aunt Norah – it includes her father Robert’s handwritten application to have her admitted to a psychiatric hospital as well as her admission & medical notes. Interesting, if sad reading. It’s a hard image to shake: two months after the death of her mother, six year old Norah is sent to Tokanui Psychiatric Hospital, and she dies five years later from tuberculosis and is buried in a mass grave at the hospital. I can’t help but wonder how much her siblings knew! Even with Hannah Ferguson living with them, and Peggy & Nancy being aged 14 & 12 or so, Robert still decided Norah was too hard to look after, as is made clear in the file.
Speaking of Robert Dunbar, I’ve poked around at the Dunbar line again but can’t seem to trace it back much further than I’ve got:
David Dunbar (about 1775-about 1851) married Alison Mill or Milne (1773-1841)
John Dunbar (1812-1866) m. Mary Paterson (1804-1878)
David Dunbar (1841-1874) m. Isabella Flockhart (1848-1928)
John Dunbar (1869-1933) m. Victoria Elsie Lawrence (1868-1936)
Robert Walter Marshall Dunbar (1896-1971) m. Hilda May Ferguson (1896-1937)
I suspect that the David at the top of that list was born in 1777 in Glamis, Angus, Scotland but I can’t quite prove it (yet). David was a crofter, or farmer of a small steading owned by someone else. He appears in the 1841 Scotland Census in Menmuir, Angus, as an Ag. Lab. (or, agricultural labourer), aged 66. David and Alison had 10 children in total, as far as I can find, and my direct ancestor, John, was his second born but first son.
Unfortunately, I don’t yet know enough about early Scottish resources other than the usual births, marriages & deaths records (these are taken from Church registers up until 1855 when civil registration became a thing). Ideally, I’d like to do a Y-DNA test on a Dunbar male so that I can try & trace the line, but they’re frickin’ expensive tests, so hard to justify. Cousin Ian has a Dunbar tree that suggests a different wife for David, but I’m not sold on his hypothesis, so for now, I’ve filed this as a brickwall.
Robert Allen was born on June 16, 1836, in Neath, Glamorgan, Wales, to Robert and Margaret (née Jenkins) Allen. He was the eldest of six children born to the couple, although after his mother died in 1849, his father remarried and had a further five children to his second wife. The family lived in a town called Briton Ferry, on the mouth of the River Neath, where Robert Senior ran a successful shoemaking business. Robert Junior followed his father’s trade after finishing his schooling at age 12.
On 3 September 1860, he married Alice Williams in the town of Merthyr Tydfil, where she worked piling iron bars for a local smith.
Alice had been born on May 24, 1831, in Cadoxton-juxta-Neath, to William Williams, a carpenter, and his wife Jane (née Hopkin). Alice had nine siblings. Her family lived in Llantwit-juxta-Neath, in the Neath Canal Lock House, as her father was the canal engineer and in charge of running the lock.
In July 1861, Robert and Alice, with their six-month-old first child Margaret, boarded the “Derwent Water” in London, a ship bound for New Zealand. They arrived in Otago five months later after an arduous voyage.
The family initially joined the gold rush, settling in Clyde at the Dunstan Diggings, before moving on to Switzers, now known as Wakaia. Robert continued his family trade, repairing and selling boots to the hordes of miners.
The couple had four more children in New Zealand; three daughters and one son, William Henry, born in Dunedin in 1866. By 1877, the family was living in Caversham, where Robert ran a successful shoe business until 1907. He also maintained interests in Wakaia, and with his son William, entered an agreement with a miner named Arthur Sidey to form the Mystery Flat Gold Mining Company to dredge two claim areas at Mystery Flat in Wakaia.
In 1907, Alice died on August 31st while visiting with their daughter Janet in Wellington, and by October, Robert had decided to sell up and move to Warepa in Clutha, where his eldest daughter Margaret was living with her husband, John Christie, and seven children. Robert died on the 1st of September 1922, after 10 years of declining health, at his daughter’s Warepa home.
While going through a family box of photos & ephemera a few weekends ago, I discovered that my grandmother had a third brother. Noel James MAY, son of William James & Doreen Alice (née BEVIN) MAY died in 1947, aged two, of a strangulated bowel. If I hadn’t gone through that box with Mum & my Aunty, I’d never have known about little Noel.
We also discovered that Doreen had a sister who died young; Mavis Mary Bevin died in 1921 shortly before her 14th birthday. A funeral card was in the family box, but without it we’d never have thought to look for another sibling!
I’ve also been in touch with one of Mum’s cousins, John, whose father Brian had a twin sister who died young. I’ll make a separate post about poor little Norah another time, but to sum up – she died aged 11, in 1941, from tuberculosis.
This feels like an appropriate place to show the other side of Mavis’ funeral card:
I admit, when I started building my family tree on Ancestry, I got super excited whenever I saw the shaky leaf symbol that indicated a hint and enthusiastically added the suggested person to my tree. Then I went back over it, trying to find the record that indicated a connection – and often found the hint was instead generated by someone else’s undocumented tree.
The problem with this is that, without a record or source for that info, trees quickly become quagmires of mix-ups, double-ups, and straight out errors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen trees with several versions of the same spouse, or children born after their supposed parents died, or even names that don’t match the record they’re linked to! When you gather with other genealogy geeks, you quickly learn that trees on Ancestry are considered dubious, for these very reasons.
Part of that is because Ancestry is great at pushing DNA testing, but less so at introducing people to family history research. If you’re a newbie, as I was, you have to go elsewhere to figure out the first steps and standards of genealogical research.
I was lucky in that I’ve trained and worked as a researcher before, so I managed to avoid some of the pitfalls, and quickly worked out how to improve my research.
My 4x great-grandfather John William Outram was born on January 3rd, 1831 in Leicester, England, to John and Hannah (née East) Outram. He worked as a wool comber in the woollen mills in Bradford, Yorkshire, and on August 24th, 1850, married Betsy Rushworth, daughter of Michael and Sarah (née Sugden) Rushworth. Betsy also worked at the mills, as a weaver. They lived just south-west of Bradford city in Horton.
Neither John or Betsy had been educated, so John went to night school to learn to read and write. John later joined the Police force in Bradford. While in England, the couple had three children: Sarah in 1852, William in 1854, and Albert in 1856.
On 5 May 1858, John and Betsy left from London, England with their three children on the “NOURMAHAL” and several months later arrived at Port Chalmers, Dunedin, in New Zealand.
The land on either side of the harbour was clothed with bush to the water’s edge, and Betsy, looking round her from side to side and beholding nothing but beautiful virgin bush, asked her husband, “Where is Dunedin?”
They had their first meal in the Immigration Barracks on bread and water – a true prison diet, obtained without much difficulty. Not so easy was finding their sleeping accommodation. It almost seemed that they would have to sleep in the “lock- up”, but at last a place was found for them.
For the first few months in Otago, John found casual work in the bush and elsewhere, until 1859 when he joined the police force. When the gold rush began in 1861 he was stationed at Gabriel’s Gully, in charge of the area; in conjunction with Commissioner Strode & T.W. Parker he issued the first batch of miner’s rights granted in Otago. A few months later, however, he returned to Dunedin and resigned, with the rank of First Class Sergeant.
After a short spell of store-keeping on the goldfields, in 1862 he joined the gaol staff in Dunedin and became the Chief Overseer of Public Works done by prison labour, including the erection of the first bridge over the Anderson’s Bay Inlet. He supervised the prison gangs during the removal of Bell Hill, winning commendation from the Otago Daily Times on more than one occasion for having carried out his duties with such meticulous care and foresight that in all the 14 years of blasting & excavating, not one serious accident had occurred.
Unfortunately in 1878, while on duty, he himself suffered an accident which resulted in the loss of an eye. As a result of this mishap he retired on a pension of 188 pounds ($576) per year, with the rank of Sergeant, an efficient & highly respected officer.
In November 1859 he brought from the Crown Section 44, 45 & 46 of Block XIX, Dunedin. Selling two sections of these in 1875, he retained 46, on which his home had been built, and which became 64 Royal Terrace. This remained the home of the couple and their family throughout John’s working life & his retirement, and it was here that in August 1900 they celebrated their Golden Wedding in the company of 30 of their family, including 19 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Also present that day was the Reverend A. North of Hanover Street Baptist Church, for John had been an office-bearer and a stalwart supporter of that church for may years. John & Betsy have many present-day descendants still active in the Baptist Church.
In New Zealand, John and Betsy had added further to their family, with Joseph born in 1859, James in 1861, Hannah in 1864, Mary Ann in 1866, John Jr in 1869, and Ada in 1871. Their eldest daughter, Sarah, married Peter Rutherford, the well-known Caversham grocer, in 1874.
A grand-daughter, Mrs. Hilda Gilbert, once recalled that John took his wife and their daughter Hannah “home” to England for a holiday, only to find on their return that his pension had been terminated (September 1890). He petitioned Parliament, without success, and petitioned again. In 1893 Parliament agreed to a grant of 50 pounds ($100.00) a year, and with that he had to be content.
After the death of the couple, 64 Royal Terrace remained “home” for their unmarried son & daughter, Jim and Mary Ann, until it was sold in 1934 to R.T. Throp. Today there is no 64 Royal Terrace: the section was sold again in 1942 to the Dunedin City Council, the house was pulled down, and about 1960 the section was used to widen the newly-formed Corrie Street.
Betsy died on 20 November 1905, aged 77 years old, and John on 6 November 1909, aged 78 years old, both from heart disease. They are buried in the Southern Cemetery in Dunedin.
Lockdown has deepened my obsession with interest in family history, so I’m planning to start blogging more often in order to share my research journey. This will include posts about how I’m researching & what I’ve found, as well as my own personal memories & life stories.
For starters, I’m going to share the publicly available basic details of my grandparents’ lines: A Family History. You can navigate to the pages about the various couples either by following the links embedded in the text, or by using the “Pages” menu to the right.
To me, family history is about making connections so I’d love to hear from you if we are/might be related. You can leave a comment here, or on my Instagram, or by emailing me: email@example.com