Holborow in Australia 1: From Wales with Love

One of my long-standing genealogical projects is to create a one-name study of the surname Holborow (variously Holbrow, Holborrow, Holb(o)rough and many transcription errors such as Holbron …). My first step in this has been to document every Holborow event documented in Australia. Why Australia? I couldn’t tell you. Because it’s less than the UK and more than the US? Possibly.

I soon found, thanks to Ancestry and the various state archives (special shout out to Libraries Tasmania, but we’ll get there), National Archives of Australia and the brilliant Trove website with its digitisation of newspapers, that there were only a handful of primary progenitors of historic Holborows in Australia. There are a few outliers, a few arrivals who didn’t leave much of a trace, but plenty of stories to tell: we’ve got mayors, we’ve got murder, we’ve got mystery (and, yes, we’ve got a convict…).

But first, we’ve got Wales …

The story starts in the mid-1850s when William Holbrow leaves Stonehouse in Gloucestershire along with his wife, Mary (nee French, originally from Devon), and sets up shop (quite literally – he became a grocer) in Rhondda Fach, Glamorganshire. A son, named for his father, arrived in 1857, and in 1861 the family grocer shop is obviously doing fairly well as William can afford a general servant, and has enough space to rent a room to a boarder.

William Holbrow in 1861 Wales Census
via Ancestry.com

Mary dies in 1870, but by February the next year William senior marries again – to Margaret Lewis. In 1871 William is listed as the inn keeper at the Horse & Groom in Pontygwaith. And then William and Margaret disappear. No death entries. No census entries. Poof!

Not so William, his son. In 1881 he is living on Crescent Street, Merthyr Tydfil, with his wife, Elizabeth, and a number of children: Thomas and David Davies and Eliza and (another) William Holbrow. Clearly a blended family, and this is borne out when we find the marriage in 1877 between William Holbrow and Elizabeth Davies. Only … Eliza seems to have arrived prior to the wedding, and there isn’t a registration for an Eliza Holbrow. There is a registration for an Eliza Davies, and when the GRO birth entries are compared online, it shows her mother’s maiden name: Beachom. There is a David Davies also registered with this surname, but no Thomas. So Elizabeth must have been married before.

William Holbrow and family in 1881 Wales census
via FindMyPast.com

Looking in more depth, there is a marriage between Thomas Davies and Eliza Beacham in the middle of 1864. But still no birth for Thomas. A more detailed search shows the birth of a Thomas “Becham” in early 1864. Could this be the Thomas Davies shown in the 1881 census? It seems likely.

Now, you’re probably wondering about the emigration part. Well, on 26 July 1886 the RMS Austral docked at Circular Quay, Sydney at 5pm amidst somewhat squally and wet weather. Of the 365 remaining passengers (the ship had previously docked at Adelaide and Melbourne), there were five named Holbrow: William, Eliza, David, William and Eliza. [I should point out that both women flip between Eliza and Elizabeth in records!]

Royal Mail Steamship Austral
Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland., Public Domain,

The abandoning of Davies by David and Eliza is further illustrated by their marriage entries. First, David Holbrow marries Barbara Clark in Woonona in 1895, and then Elizabeth Holbrow marries James Dixon Wilson in 1899, this time in West Wallsend. William junior would go on to marry two years later in Charlestown to Mary Steel.

The family seems to be very close. In June 1914, Elizabeth passes away, and William fairly swiftly remarries to a widow, Mary Dial (nee Dainty). This marriage is short lived as William himself dies only a year after his first wife.

It was looking at the obituaries and announcements for Elizabeth and William that a few things struck me. Firstly, in William’s probate announcement:

William Holbrow probate notice.
Published in The Telegraph, Sydney, 9 July 1915
via Trove

As we can see, David Holbrow and David Davies (here spelt Davis) are one and the same, confirming that William is not his father, but David freely uses the name.

Second, from William’s death notice and then an announcement the same year in remembrance of William’s first wife, Elizabeth:

William Holbrow’s death notice.
From Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 3 July 1914
Via Trove
Elizabeth Holbrow’s remembrance notice.
From Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 19 June 1915
via Trove

The “Mr and Mrs Thomas Beecham” can only be the Thomas Davies from the 1871 census and matches the Thomas Becham birth in 1864. I find it very interesting that he discarded the Davies name at some point (he marries in England as Beecham in 1884), but didn’t take up the Holbrow surname as David did. (As an aside, further obituaries show that Thomas and his brother-in-law, James Dixon Wilson, were in business together for many years.)

William’s second wife, Mary, died in 1929. Her death notice I find striking:

Mary Ann Holbrow’s death notice.
From Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 19 January 1929
via Trove

She is stated to be the “relict” (a term that I hate!) of her first husband, and not of her second … William Dial died in 1912. The Dial children submitted their own part of William Holbrow’s death notification, calling him “beloved stepfather”, yet it’s the deceased William Dial who is called out in Mary’s own notice. Perhaps this isn’t as strange as I think it is!

Between David Holbrow and William Holbrow junior, William had 16 Holbrow grandchildren, with another seven via Elizabeth. If we push the envelope further, another eight via Thomas.

There will be more articles about this line of Holb(o)row in Australia, as well as looking at the other migrants who left their home towns and countries to set up a whole new life in a whole new environment on the other side of the world.

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