Thomas Underdown
Sex: Male
Birth: 1821
Baptism: 01/07/1821
Death: 26/11/1876
Father: Thomas Underdown
Mother: Ann Harding
Spouse/Partner: Rachel Harpur
Marriage: 30/08/1851 Adelaide, South Australia

Thomas Underdown was born in Southleigh, Devon in 1821, the 7th of Thomas and Ann Underdown's twelve children. His siblings were Elizabeth, James, Amelia, Jane, Sarah, Agnes, Robert, Catherine, George, Elizabeth and William.

The NavyEdit

Thomas's father was a labourer who appears to have died in approximately 1837, when most of his children were still young. The family was not wealthy, so by neccessity as a result, all his children were almost immediately sent into some form of service. While most of his brothers and sisters were sent to be apprentices on local farming communities, Thomas joined the navy at the age of only 15.

Nothing is known of Thomas's navy life other than what is provided on his Seaman's ticket number 389.198, issued in London on the 6th December 1847. The certificate gives his birthplace as the Honiton district of Devon, but gives an incorrect birthdate as 27th March 1823 (incorrect birthdates have also been noted recorded on official documents of his brother Robert and sister Sarah, so it is possible that Thomas and his siblings were not certain of their true birthdates, or deliberately wanted to hide their real birthdates for some reason).

Sea ticket 389198 Thom Underdown

Seaman's ticket 389.198

He is recorded as a seaman who had served in the navy for 7 years since 1838, having first went to sea as a boy. He is described as 5 foot, 8 and a quarter inch tall, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a fresh complexion. He is also recorded as having a crooked little finger on his right hand and not being able to write. When unemployed, it said that he resided at the Sailor's Home. Unfortunetly, no voyages are recorded on Thomas's seaman's ticket, so we do not know the names of any ships he served on. Because his ticket was issued in London, it is assumed he had left the navy by the time he registered.


Just over a year after registering for his seaman's ticket, Thomas decided to emigrate to Australia. It is uncertain exactly when he arrived but some passenger lists provide some possibilities.

There is a record of a Thomas Underdown arriving at Geelong in Victoria on 31st July 1849 on the ship called RIVER CHEIF. The ship has left from Hobart on 14th July 1849. This was reported in the Shipping Intelligence section of The Argus and The Melbourne Daily News on 2nd August 1849.

There is also a record of a Mr T. Underdown travelling on the brig WILD IRISH GIRL to Adelaide from Sydney on October 1, 1849, which could potenially be him. This entry was recorded in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on Saturday 6th October 1849.


Thomas married a 21 year old Irish girl by the name of Rachel Harpur in Adelaide on 30/8/1851. The marriage occurred at St John Church in Adelaide.

The groom was recorded as aged 26 and the bride aged 20.


It is uncertain where the couple lived during the first few years of the marriage, but their early married life appears to have been unsettled due to Thomas travelling back and forth from the Victorian Goldfields. There is a record of a T Underdown traveling from Melbourne to Adelaide on the ship BROOKSBY on 10/12/1852 and a Thos Underdown on the ship PHANTOM on 29/12/1852. This would explain why the couple's first child was not born until early 1854, some two and a half years after the marriage. Rachel is likely to have stayed behind in Adelaide until Thomas took her over to Victoria with him.

It is uncertain how successful Thomas was on the goldfields, but the family lived there for approximately 10 years. They were located in the Bendigo area around Iron Bark Gully, First White Hills and Bullock Creek. A lithograph by the artist Samuel Thomas Gill, depicting how Iron Bark Gully was at the time of Thomas being there can be found on the National Library site at the following location:-

Thomas may have signed the 1853 Goldfields Petition under the name of 'Thomas Underwood". Underwood is an alias surname known to have been used by Thomas' brother Robert. The Goldfields Petition was the result of protests against the fees for miner's licences in the Bendigo area, and came about following the Red Ribbon Rebellion on 27th August 1853 where miners wore red ribbons in their hats to symbolise their defiance. Further investigation is required to determine is this is our Thomas or a real person of the name of 'Thomas Underwood".

There is a record in the Goldfields Libraries of a Thomas Underdown paying a rate of 10 pounds in 1858 for a canvas tent. This tent was likely to be the family home during their time in the goldfields region.

Failed Hotel PurchaseEdit

According to the Bendigo Advertiser (dated 5/4/1860), Thomas attempted to purchase a property called the Specimen Hill Hotel. Specimen Hill is a locality of Bendigo, 3 kms west of the city centre. It is now the Northern part of Golden Square.

The article states that Thomas paid 25 pounds deposit for the property on 13/1/1860 to a man called Phillip Kennedy. He applied for delivery of the property several times and, when this did not occur, he took the matter to court. It appears that the original owner, a man called Collie, still had possession of the house and Phillip Kennedy had some difficulty in getting him to leave. The judge ruled that "possession should be given up in the usual manner", which meant straight away, and gave a verdict on behalf of Thomas for the amount of deposit he had paid.

It is not known if Thomas ever actually took possession of the property, but it is unlikely as none of the remaining children appear to have been born there. He may have given up on the idea of the purchase once his deposit money had been returned, and began planning long-term to head back to South Australia.


In that time they lived on the goldfields, Thomas and Rachel lost 3 children in infancy. Those children were Jane (buried in the Old Sandhurst Burial Ground in May 1854), William (buried in the Golden Gully/Square Cemetery in February 1860), and William John (buried in the Kangaroo Flat Burial Ground in February 1861).

The remaining four children born on the goldfields all survived.

Port AdelaideEdit

The family moved back to South Australia between 1863 and 1867, where their son Robert is recorded as being born at Portland Estate (part of Port Adelaide). What he did while there is uncertain, but it is noted that he may have been involved in carting and farming.

Wife in HospitalEdit

Rachel was hospitalised for tuberculosis on the 20/10/1869 in the Adelaide hospital. Unlike others of the time, she managed to survive the condition, and was discharged only a few weeks later on 8/11/1869. In 1874, she returned to hospital, when she was suffering from ulcered legs.


Thomas died on the 26th November 1876, aged 55 years of 'softening of the brain' (cerberal softening, as a result of stroke or hemorrhage). He died at his home on College Street, Portland Estate. His youngest daughter was only 4 years old at the time of his death.

He was buried at Alberton, and wife Rachel would outlive him by 28 years. In 1898, his wife Rachel and children Robert and Anne recorded a memorial notice for him in The Express and Telegraph newspaper, asking that the notices be copied to the Devonshire papers also.


Name Birth Death
Children of Thomas & Rachel Underdown

Jane 27/3/1854
Iron Bark Gully, Sandhurst, Victoria
Opposite 1st White Hill, Sandhurst, Victoria

Thomas 14/3/1855
Iron Bark Gully, Sandhurst, Victoria
Portland Estate, South Australia

Rebecca Jane 27/2/1857
First White Hills, Sandhurst, Victoria
Woodville, South Australia

William 14/12/1858
First White Hills, Sandhurst, Victoria
Kangaroo Gully,Sandhurst, Victoria

William John 5/10/1860
Bullock Creek, Sandhurst, Victoria
Bullock Creek, Sandhurst, Victoria

Anne Elizabeth 22/1/1862
Bullock Creek, Sandhurst
Port Adelaide, South Australia

William George 13/9/1863
Bullock Creek, Sandhurst, Victoria
Port Adelaide, South Australia

Robert John 29/6/1867
Portland Estate, South Australia
Birkinhead, South Australia

Arabella 23/7/1869
Portland Estate, South Australia
Portland Estate, South Australia

Mary Eleanor 14/10/1872
Portland Estate, South Australia
Birkenhead, South Australia


  • Parish records
  • Births, Deaths and Marriages for South Australia and Victoria
  • Genealogical information from Peter Underdown
  • National Archives of the UK - Seaman's ticket 389.198
  • Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on Saturday 6th October 1849
  • Shipping records & passenger lists
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