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John Downing (1816–1906)

from Register

Mr. John Downing, sen., of near Harrogate, died early on Monday morning. The deceased had on July 15 celebrated his ninetieth birthday, and until quite lately was hale and hearty. Born at St. Hilary, Cornwall, of yeoman stock, he came to South Australia in 1840, reaching Glenelg on February 6, 1840, in the ship Java, 1,175 tons, Capt. Duthie, master. Mr. Downing landed at Holdfast Bay with only 4/6 in his pocket wherewith to begin his colonial life. In a recent interview he related that when walking from Glenelg to Adelaide with several "swells" who had been his fellow- passengers the party called at the Halfway House Hotel. His companions asked him to call for a bottle of porter. It was a hot day, and, thinking the others intended to share in the cost (3/6), he did so. The men, however, refused to contribute; and, after satisfying the landlord's bill for the liquor, Mr. Downing was left with only 1/. That night he was lodged in Emigration square, on the west park lands. He resolved to lose no time in finding employment, and before breakfast the next morning he called at the office of the South Australian Company, and agreed upon terms for driving a bullock team to cart rations to the shepherds and stockkeepers belonging to the company in the neighbourhood about Chain of Ponds, Gumeracha (the head station), and Mount Pleasant. For that work he received £2 per week wages, a house rent free, and wood and water. Afterwards he was employed at Uraidla for 12 months by a well-known character named Anthony Best, who had the reputation of having served on the crew of a pirate ship, and who afterwards came to a tragic end by a fall from his horse in King William street. During that year Mr. Downing was paid only 8/- per week and food for himself and wife; but out of that pittance he managed to save £10 10/- to purchase a bullock dray in order to start in business for himself.

"While I was employed with the South Australian Company as a bullock driver," said Mr. Downing, "I handled the first bricks that were made at Hindmarsh and Bowden. They were carted from the kiln to the edge of a bad swamp near Port Adelaide. I was stationed at the swamp with a strong team, and it was my duty to carry the bricks across the swamp and deliver them on the site for the company's new store. A road was afterwards made across the swamp with gravel brought at great cost from the bed of the Torrens and its tributary creeks east of Adelaide." After being employed by the South Australian Company for six months, Mr. Downing went to Sleep's Tiers (Upper Sturt), where he built a hut, and on his own account split and sawed timber for sale in the city, and helped the other settlers at shearing and reaping. Mr. Downing subsequently rented a farm at Coromandel Valley, and a little later bought the section of 72 acres in the same district upon part of which the Blackwood Railway Station now stands. It cost him £72, and he sold it to two Irishmen who had returned from the diggings for £500. In 1857 he purchased the house and land which he owned till his death, between Nairne and Harrogate. At 90 years of age his proud boast was — ''I never turned insolvent. I never had anything to do with a law case, and never had a man ask me twice for money."

Mr. Downing reared a family of 12 children to manhood and womanhood. His wife died in November, 1891, but 10 of his family still survive, and have founded homes in various parts of the State. The sons are:— Mr. James Downing, Nairne; Mr. John Downing, Native Valley; Mr. William Downing, Harrogate; Mr. Elijah Downing, Rockleigh; Mr. Edward Downing, Dawesley; and Mr. Robert Downing, McLaren Vale. The daughters are:—Mrs. W. J. Phillips, Moonta; Mrs. James Hendry, Cooke's Plains; Mrs. W. Shepherd, Rockleigh; and Mrs. W. J. Hannam, Harrogate.

Original publication

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Additional Resources

Citation details

'Downing, John (1816–1906)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 July, 1816
Altarnun, Cornwall, England


15 October, 1906 (aged 90)
Harrogate, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.