Holborow in Australia 3: John Isaac Who?

John Isaac Holborow: where did you come from?! This post has been a long time coming, and the subject of this post is probably the source behind the whole “Holborow in Australia” idea in the first place! He is certainly one of the earlier Holborows to arrive in Australia, and he and his wife had a number of children between 1845 and 1860 who go on to lead some interesting lives and leave their own legacies.

But his provenance back in the UK remains a mystery …

Before we get started, in the spirit of full disclosure, I started searching for John several years ago. Back in 2014 I posted a request on the RootsChat forum regarding a probate packet I’d found mention of on the New South Wales archives website. This prompted a flurry of activity from several amazing researchers – some based in Australia and some not – and this post will contain some information shared by them and conversations therein. If you want to read the full thread, you can find it here.

Now, I’m going to add two images. One of John’s marriage certificate and one of his death certificate …

There is a reason to that madness, I promise you! Firstly, we know that John Isaac was in New South Wales by May 1844 when he married Johanna Cantwell in St Mary’s cathedral, Sydney. There’s a fair amount that I could write about the history of St Mary’s Cathedral, instead I’ll point you to the direction of their own website! Secondly, we also know that he died on 23 July 1881 in Waterloo (nowadays an inner-city suburb of Sydney).

What else do we know of Jo(h)anna? She arrived age 20 on 19 January 1841 aboard the Alfred as an assisted passenger, along with her elder sister Mary, and was originally from Cahir in Tipperary, Ireland. State of bodily health and probable usefulness? “Very good.” So that was a relief for all concerned! Also please note her parent’s names: William and Margaret.

As I said, John and Johanna (sometimes Joanna, sometimes Johannah) had 8 children, including another John Isaac and an Isaiah. John senior manages to stay below the radar in terms of being mentioned in the newspaper. In 1844 his name appears in the Sydney Morning Herald stating that his partnership with William Lynch is to be dissolved, but he will continue in the butchery business. He appears again in an article from 1859 from the New South Wales Government Gazette as a named supporter of a petition for Waterloo to become its own municipality and separate from the municipality of Redfern. He is also listed as an “Inspector of Nuisances” (not as exciting as it sounds – part of the job was removing, uh, nightsoil).

And that’s it until his funeral announcements are published. Given the address (the corner of Botany Road and Buckland Street), it would appear that he lived opposite where the current Cauliflower Hotel is located. Which does AU$4 tacos every Wednesday, if you’re interested, and which opened in 1838 making it one of Sydney’s oldest pubs. Currently on the site of his former residence (presumably) is a branch of Nationwide Corporate Services.

But where did John come from? If we return to his death certificate there are some pointers. His age at death is given as 65 which gives us a birth year of around 1815-6, and in “England”. (Although his headstone – see photo below – states he was 63, placing the range of a possible birth at 1815-1819!) The informant also declares that he had been in New South Wales for 40 years, meaning an arrival date of around 1840-1. It might be worth pointing out here that the informant is a son of John’s, and it appears to be ‘S. Holborow’. However, there is no evidence that John and Joanna had any children whose name starts with an S. Despite the fact that the letter matches another capital S on the form, I personally propose that it is supposed to be an I, and that the informant is either Isaiah or (John) Isaac (junior).

Then we reach a few places where the information is somewhat questionable. In the Australian records, there can be found 8 children born to the couple, yet the informant declares that there have been only 6, all of whom are living. Then there is the matter of John’s wife – named as “Margaret Hinde”. Even’s John’s headstone states that his wife was Joanna (they are also buried with two of their children). How could someone incorrectly give their own mother’s name? He also states that his father was married at age 24. Well, 1816 + 24 = 1840 so somebody somewhere is misappropriating 4 years. (Although if Joanna was c.20 upon her arrival in 1841 then this would roughly match her supposed date of birth.)

Then the information about John’s parents is given as William Holborow and Margaret Green. A marriage that I cannot find. To my knowledge, no William Holb(o)row marries any Margaret. Anywhere. But I turn your attention back to Johanna whose parents are William and Margaret (although I haven’t confirmed that she was Margaret Green).

Headstone of John Isaac Holborow, wife Johanna and children Esther Moggridge and Peter Joseph Holborow in Rockwood General Cemetery, Rookwood, New South Wales, Australia.
Photo via Findagrave, taken by Chris Pigott

You may be thinking to yourself that I’m taking my sweet time getting to the crux of the problem, and that if I just looked at his entry on the passenger manifest then things would be a lot easier, especially if he arrived with other family members … And in one regard you’d be right – it has taken more words than I’d like to get us to this point. And you’d also be wrong – John doesn’t appear on any surviving or online passenger list. Not on Ancestry, nor on those available at the New South Wales State Archives site. He doesn’t appear on any convict or court records, he’s not an assisted passenger, nor an unassisted passenger. His family do not provide an obituary for him. And that probate packet? The researcher, Ros, who checked it out in person said she’d never seen an emptier record (he died intestate and the kids all signed to say that their mother could have everything).

The closest anybody could find back in 2014 was that of a Mr & Mrs Holborow arriving at Port Phillip in 1839 from Launceston, Tasmania. However, upon researching further, it soon became apparent that this was a Daniel and Mary Holborow, and the ship – Anna Watson – had sailed from Bristol earlier that year and stopped at Launceston before continuing to New South Wales. (We will become better acquainted with Daniel at a later point in time.) In the ensuing 6 years, nothing has changed … He simply doesn’t appear on a manifest!

But there must be a baptism somewhere in England, right? A baptism with no corresponding marriage/death/census entry…? My spreadsheet (yes, I made a spreadsheet!) tells me otherwise. Of course, he might have been born/baptised with a surname other than Holborow, or in a non-conformist ceremony and their records haven’t survived. Either way, without a baptism I cannot confirm that his parents were “William and Margaret”.

But given the prevalence of the name Isaac in subsequent generations, might we be able to infer anything about the preceding generation(s)? As it turns out … no. I have (well, had) a suspicion that he might’ve been the son of William Wraxall Holborow and Jane Greenman as William’s father was Isaac, and they later have another son called Isaac. Isaac also crops up in various other grandsons. Another point in the plus column is that two other children emigrate to Australia, and children of a third brother also set up shop there. But it would mean he was born a full 2-3 years before they got married. And although a son was born before their marriage, he was baptised as a Holborow with William right there on the register. So I don’t hugely buy them as parents (although for the sake of argument this is where John is hanging out in my tree for the time being).

There is an “Isaac Holborough” baptised in Leighterton in 1816, the son of William and Sarah. Is this the same William and Sarah who were also the parents of the William we met in Part 1 moving to Wales? They have children baptised in 1815 and 1817 in Avening – only about 8 miles away – but William is described as a whitesmith and not a yeoman as he is in Isaac’s Leighterton baptism. So perhaps not.

Where did you come from John Isaac? Who were your parents? Answers and suggestions on a blank postcard or the back of a stuck-down envelope please …!

Cover image: St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. Hand-coloured engraving of the original St. Mary’s Cathedral, from the original edition of the Illustrated Sydney News c. 1865, by Oswal Rose Campbell.


  1. From basic research I believe this chap to be a long gone g g (g) grandfather. Funny he married a Cantwell in 1844 and in 1969 I married a Cantwell. From the above post I take it he was a free settler not a convict, not that I would have any problems if that was the case, my granddad was John Isaac Holborow, dod 1952. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate he is a. Relative. Anything else be please to know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bryan. Thanks for the message! I assume that John (senior) was a free settler only because I can find no convict records for him, either in Australia or here in the UK. I’ll be doing some more posts about his children etc as some of them are pretty interesting (some of which I’m sure you’ll be familiar with!). If I find anything else about John’s background pre-Australia then I’ll be sure to let you know!


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