John Plowright was born 1831 in Kings Lynn, Norfolk to William Plowright (1791-1869) and Sarah Ann née Jackson (1796 – 1864). He was the fourth of eight children of the couple and in addition had an older half-brother from his father’s first marriage.

He was three days old when christened at St Margaret’s Church Kings Lynn on 29 November 1831 as the transcription of the parish register states he was born on 26 November.  His father was a mariner and the family was living at Austin Street, Lynn. (Transcription from retrieved 5 August 2013)

On the 1841 census John was aged 9 and living with father, half-brother and six siblings at Austin Street Kings Lynn in the Parish of St Margaret.  His father’s occupation was labourer.  His half-brother William aged 20 was a plumber.( 1841 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2010. Source Citation: Class: HO107; Piece: 786; Book: 5; Civil Parish: St Margaret; County: Norfolk; Enumeration District: 6; Folio: 9; Page: 15; Line: 11; GSU roll: 438868.)  None of the other children had an occupation stated.  John’s mother was away from home, one of two female servants in the house of John Ayre a merchant living in Norfolk Street Kings Lynn with his wife. ( 1841 England Census [database on-line]. Source Citation: Class: HO107; Piece: 786; Book: 5; Civil Parish: St Margaret; County: Norfolk; Enumeration District: 7; Folio: 20; Page: 2; Line: 7; GSU roll: 438868.)

Austin Street has changed significantly from the 1840s but remnants of an old wall are standing based on Google maps street view Norfolk Street was one block away from Austin Street (Google maps link ). More buildings from the 1840s would appear to survive although I have not identified Mr Ayre’s house (Google street view link ).

In 1851 John Plowright was in London, a seaman boarding with a number of other young men also from Lynne in Shadwell in London.  He had signed on as a seaman with the rank of boy at the age of 17.

Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1857: records of individual seamen that the central British government created to monitor a potential reserve of sailors for the Royal Navy.  Retrieved from

When he was admitted to Maryborough Hospital in 1873, John Plowright stated he had been in the colony for 20 years arriving on the Speculation.  His occupation was as mariner. The Maryborough hospital collected information on port of embarkation, name of ship, number of years in colonies. This information was collected apparently as part of a disease tracking program.

Shipping Intelligence from The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Thursday 22 September 1853, page 4 retrieved from

As there were no passengers I assume he came as crew.  There are no reports that I can find in the newspapers of crew desertion from the Speculation.

John Plowright married Margaret Smyth (1834-1897) on 19 November 1855 at his residence at Magpie near Ballarat.  Margaret had arrived on the Persian in April 1854.  She had been born in Bailieborough, County Cavan Ireland. Her father William Smyth was a farmer.  her mother was Mary née Cox.

There is a description of the Magpie diggings  from the perspective of James Davies born 1846 who arrived in Australia earlier in 1855 with his family and wrote about his experiences some time later:

Among the many fresh fields that were being opened about this time & they were numerous, was Magpie Gully about two miles south of Ballarat in the spring of 1855. This gutter, below its junction with the Chinaman’s Lead, proved to be the richest alluvial wash in Victoria, many of the claims washing up with an average of 8 to 10 oz to the tub. One claim that I knew went over a pound weight to the tub all through the claim. A town sprang up here in three or four days with a main street over a mile ling consisting of business places, hotels, theatres and restaurants, among the latter was one kept by the renowned John Ah Loo, whose table was appreciated by the diggers on many fields. The first hotel was opened by Teddy BRADSHAW, later a business man in Buninyong for many years, & partner at the crossing in the gully & did a roaring trade while the rush lasted. The theatre proprietors introduced an attraction in the shape of a tightrope walker named Madam De La Cass who used to walk a rope fastened at the height of 15 to 20 feet

——————–(Page torn off here)———————

retrieved from Letter transcripts contributed by Jacqui Cunningham to the Ballarat and District Genealogy Society.

 John and Margaret had six children and also adopted one child:

  • William John born 1859 at Alma (four miles west of Maryborough)
  • James Henry born 1860 at Homebush (about 10 miles from Alma)
  • Ann Jane born 1862 at Four Mile Flat (Homebush)
  • Frederick Edward born 1865 at Avoca
  • Samuel Joseph Smyth born 1868 at Homebush
  • John Plowright born 1872 at Homebush and died the same year
  • Frederick Harold born 1881 was adopted. No birth record found. In the probate file of John Plowright he is described as adopted son and no blood relation.

In 1872 Margaret was admitted to Maryborough Hospital. John was admitted a year later in 1873 and again in 1884.

In 1878 tragedy struck the family when Frederick died while cutting down a tree.  He died on 24 April and a magisterial inquiry was held the day after.  The file of the inquiry contains statements from John and his daughter Ann Jane.

Statement by John Plowright to magisterial inquiry touching the death of Frederick Edward Plowright held at Avoca on 25 April 1878 from inquest file held by Public Record Office of Victoria VPRS 24 number 372 of 1878 (male).
Statement by Ann Jane Plowright on 25 April 1878 presented to the magisterial inquiry into her brother’s death. Ann Jane was 15 years old. VPRS 24 1878/372 (male)

The death of Frederick was widely reported; mentions appeared in the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, the Launceston Examiner as well as the Argus.

John’s wife Margaret died of Brights Disease, dropsy and exhaustion in 1897.  She is buried in the Avoca cemetery.

Bereavement Card for Margaret Plowright.  The card was rescued by Lenore Frost and I found a mention of it on her site

In the last years of his life John continued to live at Lower Homebush and had a carrier business.

John died at Homebush Lower on 8 January 1910.  The cause of death was given as pneumonia syncope. Pneumonia is a “Lung inflammation caused by bacterial or viral infection.” Syncope is “Temporary loss of consciousness caused by a fall in blood pressure.” He had been ill for six days and Dr Charles G Grimm had last seen him the same day he died.

The death certificate informant was John’s son William John Plowright of 27 Hannover Street, Windsor.  He gave John’s occupation as miner.  He stated that John’s father was William, a tailor. He didn’t know who John’s mother was.  He knew John was born in Lynn, Norfolk, England and stated he had been 55 years in Victoria, that is arriving about 1855.

John was buried at Avoca cemetery on January 10th.  The undertaker was J. Classen.  The minister of religion was Reverend Tuckfield, a Methodist minister.  Coincidentally Tuckfield is related to another branch of the family tree.

John had made his last will in 1902.  He divided his estate into sixths.  Each child received a sixth except for Samuel Joseph Smyth Plowright who received two one sixth shares. His two oldest sons were appointed executors.  His estate did not have any real estate but personal effects amounted to £204 11 shillings one penny.  This was mainly in cash with the exception of furniture valued at £12.  Probate was granted 2 April 1910.   (Probate files held by Public Record Office of Victoria reference 114/702).