David Johnstone Davidson (1865-1954)



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The family of David Johnstone Davidson in  WA, c1903
standing at rear: David Johnstone Davidson.
seated: his sister Frances (left) and his brother Archibald (right)
The Davidson children, standing (from back): William, James ("Harry") and John (centre front).

   
Birth: 12 April, 1865, Uralla, (nr. Armidale), NSW
Father: John Davidson (1835-1929)
Mother: Elizabeth Frances Frizell (1840-1923)
Marriage: i) Sarah Glenmire Farrell, 09 July 1891, Armidale, NSW

ii) Bridget Mary O'Brien, 3 April, 1910, Boulder, WA
   (no children from this marriage)
Death: 22 July, 1954, Freemantle Hospital, Western Australia

Children:

William Graham (1892-1953)
James Henry 'Harry' (1895-1980)
John (1900 - ?)
In the second half of the nineteenth century in Australia, small communities were being set up in rapidly spreading areas following  in the tracks of  the European pastoralists and gold hunters - and some of the most valued members of the community were blacksmiths, who could turn their hands and their forges to repair and build all metal tools and necessities such as horseshoes and ploughshares. 

In Uralla, a small town just south of Armidale, one of these blacksmiths was John Davidson, who had established himself by the age of just 21 in his own blacksmith forge.  That same year, 1857, he married Elizabeth Frizell, a local girl from a property with the discouraging name of "Terrible Vale".  John and Elizabeth started their family soon after, and their third child, a son, David Johnstone Davidson, was born at Uralla in 1865. 

Young David followed in his father's footsteps, learning the blacksmithing trade, going first into the business at the mining town of Hillgrove, just east of Armidale.  Hillgrove started life as an antimony mine in 1876, and a decade later, gold was discovered there, with a resulting boom in population.  David set up his workshop there under the name of Hillgrove Ironworks.  In the photograph at left,  David is on the left, with his brother Alfred George (also a blacksmith) on the right.

 According to Wikipedia,

Hillgrove then had four churches, six hotels, two schools, a school of arts, a hospital, several banks, a stock exchange, a court house, police station, a recreation ground, a technical college, debating society, a temperance league and a cordial factory. The town also printed its own local paper, the Hillgrove Guardian. In 1895 it became the first town in Australia to be supplied with power by means of hydro-electricity which operated from Gara Gorge to the west.


above: Hillgrove township, around 1900
left: the  tramway linking the mines in the Gorge with the township on top.

below: one of the Hillgrove mines

 

During the same period, David set about wooing an Armidale seamstress, Sarah Farrell, the youngest daughter of an Irishman who came to the colony in 1839. David and Sarah married in Armidale in 1890 and had their first child, a son William at Hillgrove in 1892. Three years later, James Henry, who would be universally known later as "Harry", was born.

Very soon after that, David must have realised that prospects at Hillgrove were lessening, while those of the goldfields in Western Australia were getting better and better. Before the turn of the new century, the young couple packed up their belongings and David's tools of trade, and set out for the Kalgoorlie-Boulder fields in WA. Gold had been discovered there in 1893, and the gold rush picked up pace.... At the time of the arrival of the Davidson family 1898, which included David's brother Archibald,, the population of Kalgoorlie had reached 2000, three quarters of them men - and within three years, the number of people seeking their fortune had more than doubled.  David Davidson didn't join the gold seekers - he wanted to practise his trade there, and set about establishing himself as a blacksmith.

At this time, the Davidson family increased by one, with the birth of John, in October 1900, but early in the following year, 35 year old Sarah succumbed to a case of enterica, a type of food poisoning, and died within three weeks.

 

left: The funeral notices for Sarah, posted in the Kalgoorlie Miner, Friday, 8 February, 1901, p6

 

 

Sarah's death posed a major problem for David - as well as the loss of his loved one, he also had no one to care for his three sons, the youngest only three months old.  David's sister Frances came to the rescue and crossed the continent to join the family.  This arrangement wasn't an entirely happy one, at least for the middle son, Harry.  From stories told a century later, it appears Harry and his aunt didn't see eye-to-eye, and perhaps Harry didn't want to see anyone taking his mother's place in the household.  Whatever the reason, Harry, then aged about 10, was dispatched back across Australia to his maternal grandmother Jane Garrett, who took him in at her family home in Wandsworth, near Guyra, on the New England tablelands (for Harry's story, click here)..

 


The family in WA seems to have shifted around a little on the goldfields in this first decade of the 20th century.  David is listed on the state's electoral rolls as living and working as a blacksmith at the Golden Link Lease in 1901, but by 1910, he is at the Ida H mine at Laverton as a labourer, a significant loss of both income and status. This wasn't enough to deter him from re-marrying, and in April of that year, he and  Bridget O'Brien wed in Mt Margaret, near Laverton and started their married life there.

 

In the meantime, his brother Archibald has also worked and fossicked at various mines, but never far from his sister Frances and his brother's family on the goldfields .  At various times, they are shown as living in Davidson street, Kalgoorlie - but whether or not this name has anything to do with the Davidson family is unknown.  David's lack of progress didn't deter another brother Alfred George, also a blacksmith, from making the journey from the New England tablelands - but he, perhaps more cautiously, decided to settle in Perth.  And so when their sister Frances met and married James Rose in 1916, all of the clan, with the exception of Archibald, headed to the coast.  Archibald continued to work mostly as a labourer at  the various mines around the goldfields, while he fossicked until his death in Coolgardie in 1952.

Maybe Alfred's arrival encouraged David to again set up in business as a blacksmith.  From 1916 onwards,  "blacksmith' is listed as his occupation in the electoral rolls in Armadale then an outlying township about 30km from Perth, the W.A. capital.  In 1936, the government record changed David's occupation to "retired" when he and Bridget lived in Third Road, not far from the centre of the small town.

 

David outlived Bridget who died in 1946, while David himself died in Fremantle hospital in 1954 aged nearly 90 years.
 
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
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