My distant aunt Mary Richards Kelynack grew up as a fisherman’s daughter but her descendants were to end up criss-crossing the south Pacific between Argentina and England.
She was born in Newlyn in Cornwall, probably in the first half of 1792, when George III was on the throne. She married John Downing, a local man and also a fisherman, and together they had 7 children.
Generally the family seemed to be like many of my other Newlyn fishing families I’ve looked at recently, where children were born to fisherman, fished or made nets or worked in the home, then had fisherman sons and daughters who married fishermen and stayed in the parish, usually Newlyn itself: in Mary’s case they were called Simon, Grace, Benjamin, Mary, Henry, Jane and John. So it was a surprise, when looking at their oldest child Simon’s story, to find that in 1881 he and Elizabeth his wife had a grand-daughter with them on the night of the 3 April census. And she had been born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
When trying to find out more about her on Ancestry and FindMyPast files were unavailable with my UK package, although Ancestry kept suggesting records I may be interested in but whose names I didn’t at that point recognise. So I asked for help in the Facebook group Ancestry UK [no relation to the Ancestry UK company] and a couple of kind members give me info on a census record, and also gave me the link to the site www.argbrit.org which has been invaluable in providing the missing pieces of the puzzle of Simon’s descendants.
Simon married local girl Grace James on 30 December 1838 and their son John James Downing was baptised 10 months later, in Paul Parish Church above Newlyn, where the majority of my family’s life-marking events took place. Sadly she died in early April 1841 and was buried in Paul parish, with her son less than 2 years old. She is likely to have been in her mid to late 20s.
Simon re-married; he and Elizabeth Curnow Kelynack (no known relation yet), a 22-year old servant who marked her wedding register, married at Paul Parish Church on 18 January 1846. On 30 March 1851 on census night he was fishing on the Conquerer under William Payne with Elizabeth at home in the Fradgan [a winding street rising up from the harbour] in the Street-An-Nowan area of Newlyn with her niece staying that night, perhaps because her husband was away. Simon’s 11-year-old James [by his first wife Grace] was with his grandparents Mary and John Downing.
The 1861 census found Simon and Elizabeth round the corner in Chapel Street, and the 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses found them 5m walk away in Clifton Terrace. A normal fishing couple’s story apart from the fact that their marriage produced no children but the 1851 and 1891 censuses show they were part of a larger family network. Simon died in 1895 and Elizabeth died in 1898.
Before August 1864 Simon’s only child John James Downing, a carpenter, must have sailed for Argentina, perhaps for adventure, perhaps for work, for he was witness to the marriage of George Reeves and Margaret Wolf at that time so presumably would have needed time before then to make friends and acquaintances.
In February 1868 his wife Hannah Jane (b1845) gave birth to their first child Elizabeth Agnes Downing who was baptised in St John’s Church in Buenos Aries on 12 May 1867. I have not found the record of their marriage in either England or Argentina. Their names also appear in the records as witnesses to the baptisms of the Van Domselaar girls: Bertha in November 1867 and Charlotte in September 1869. The second daughter Grace Alice Downing was born on 2 April 1869. On 28 January 1872 their third daughter, Charlotte Downing, was baptised; at that time they were living in the Bararcas al Norte area of Buenos Aries with Hannah identified as his wife.
I haven’t found any records of Hannah’s death and burial, or return to England; I suspect she died in Argentina and John returned home with their three young daughters.
On 26 September 1877 John married his second wife, Jane Frances Pentreath (nee Oats) in Paul Parish Church. She was the widow of a master fisherman living in nearby Moushole (1 mile west of Newlyn) but had been born in neighbouring parish Sancreed.
The April 1881 census found the couple living in Mousehole with six children: Elizabeth and Charlotte from John’s first marriage, Benjamin and William Pentreath from Jane’s first marriage, and two new children together: John and Orpah. (Babies John and Orpah had been baptised together on 14 November 1880.) John’s second daughter Grace Alice was living with her grandparents Simon and Elizabeth Downing in Newlyn on the night of the census, which was the initial intriguing discovery that had sent me on the transatlantic record search.
At some point in the 1880s Grace [Johns’ daughter by his first 1st wife Hannah] had moved back to Buenos Aries and settled down with Thomas Franklin Andrews. Their first child Elsie Maud was born in April 1890, then son John in November 1891, Doris Ethel in November 1893 and Ivy May in January 1896. All were all baptised at St John’s Church.
Her father John’s second wife Jane died in March 1905 in Newlyn and was buried on 24 March in consecrated ground in Paul.
On 22 December 1905 John and his daughter Orpah [by his late 2nd wife Jane] sailed on the Margarita from Newport to Bahia Blanca, Argentina. Orpah met an engine driver called Charles Thomas Matthews and they had their first two children in February 1907 (Eliza Jane) and in June 1908 (Thomas Charles); both were baptised in St Andrew’s Scots Presbyterian Church, Buenos Aires on 21 June 1909. Harold Reginald was born on 25 March 1910 and Edward Douglas was born on 6 September 1911; again two children were baptised together on 10 May 1914.
It’s not known how long John stayed in Argentina at that time; he married for a third time in spring 1910 and he and his younger wife dressmaker Janie (nee Rodda later Harvey) were living together in April 1911 in Heamoor, a town above neighbouring Penzance. Jane was a butcher’s daughter who married a widowed mariner/Trinity Lighthouse Keeper/RN Reservist called Richard George Harvey in 1876. He’d died in 1884; it appeared that he had recently taken up the role of Victualler in Penzance – unexpected but the info all matches.
I was surprised that there was no further mention of his wife Janie, and was shocked to find out that she had been buried in April 1924 in Bodmin after dying in the County Asylum, 47 miles away up county.
At some point John moved back to Clifton Terrace as he died there on 20/21 May 1924 aged “85 years of age, was a well known and respected inhabitant, and had spent a number of years in Buenos Ayres [SIC]”. He was buried in Paul Cemetery on 23 May 1924 (as described in The Cornishman newspaper on 28 May 1924) with a floral cross from his daughters [Grace and Orpah] and grandchildren in Buenos Aires. His probate was heard in January 1927 in Bodmin and he left his effects to his two widowed daughters.
Sites used: Ancestry, FindMyPast including their BNA Archive, Facebook group AncestryUK, Argbrit.org , Cornwall Family History Society, Cornwall OPC database, West Penwith Resources, FamilySearch.org, Wikepedia.
Words and UK images copyright Lynne Black
First published on starryblackness on 8 October 2017