Blog31 Aug 2010
This week on Who Do You Think You Are? Australian actor and singer Jason Donovan traced his roots.
Jason was born in Melbourne in 1968. He was brought up by his father, Terence, and is estranged from his mother, Susan Menlove. Susan’s mother Joan looked after Jason when he was a child while both his parents were busy with their show business careers.
Jason’s maternal great grandmother, Eileen Dawson, was born 1886 in Melbourne. Eileen was also in show business and Jason visited Judy McCard, his mother’s cousin, to find out more. Judy confirmed that Eileen started her stage career in 1903 when her father put her on the stage. Eileen headlined nightly at the Sydney Opera House at the height of her career.
Eileen’s father was Simeon Lyons who was born in Tasmania. Joseph Lyons, Simeon’s father, first arrived in Tasmania in 1842. The findmypast.co.uk team found Joseph with wife Rosetta on our 1841 census before they left England:
We also found Joseph, Rosetta and Simeon in the 1861 census on findmypast.co.uk:
Jason traced his family back seven generations to find William Cox who was born 1764 in Dorset, England. Here you can see William’s baptism record, recently published on findmypast.co.uk courtesy of the Dorset Family History Society:
From this record we can tell that William’s father was Robert Cox – one generation further back than Jason found during his research.
When he was 36, William volunteered on board the convict ship Minerva; Jason assumed he was a convict but he was actually the captain of the ship, in charge of the convicts and soldiers on board. William’s ship arrived in Sydney harbour in 1800 and during the voyage his wife Rebecca gave birth to their baby.
By 1814 William and the convicts had built 60 miles of road across the Blue Mountains from Sydney to Mount York. Jason read Cox’s memoirs which described difficult conditions, including traversing a sheer rock face. William treated the men as equals and looked after them well. In 1815 the men laid the final stretch of road – it was 101 miles long in total. This road linked Sydney to the Interior and paved the way for settlers to make their way inland to start a new life.
William died in 1837. Today’s road still follows traces of his original route.
Jason was pleased to connect with his Australian roots. The findmypast.co.uk team, however, have found more evidence in our records of Jason’s British ancestry in his paternal line.
Jason’s Donovan line were based in Staines, Middlesex as far back as we could trace them – until we got to his great-great-great-grandparents who were both born in Ireland.
Here you can see Jason’s great-grandfather Walter Donovan and great-great-grandparents John and Martha Donovan on this 1911 census return on findmypast.co.uk:
This census return shows Walter as an Examiner and Packer for Wallpapers Ltd, while John worked as a Coal Porter. Martha had given birth to a staggering 14 children and the census form shows 12 people living in five rooms.
We also found Jason’s ancestors on the 1861 census on findmypast.co.uk. Here you can see Jason’s great-great-grandfather John (aged three) and great-great-great-grandparents, Mathew and Catherine Donovan:
Mathew, described as a Labourer, and Catherine were both born in Ireland.
The Rowat(t) family, another side of Jason’s paternal family history, provide more British heritage and a black sheep of the family. The Rowat side were based in Kingston, Surrey until we get back to Jason’s great-great-great-grandfather who was born in Scotland.
The 1901 census on findmypast.co.uk shows Jason’s great-great-grandfather Robert Rowatt as a prisoner in HM Prison Holloway (Holloway was not made female-only until 1903):
We found Jason’s great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Rowat, who was born in Scotland, on findmypast.co.uk’s 1851 census:
This census return shows that Thomas was employed as a Carpenter and was lodging in Kingston with a widowed laundress and her grandson.