Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Davis family of ‘Nassau’, Moreland

When I began my research into the various Davis families of Coburg I thought I would not need to search very far, as I had taken at face value the statement by Richard Broome on page 192 of Coburg: between two creeks that the Mayor of the day, Cr Albert Davis of ‘Moreland Hall’, had three sons at the Front.

Cr Albert Davis.
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society

Those of you who have ever tried to research families with very common names like Smith, Jones, Davies or Davis will know that it is never easy to establish the truth and on this occasion the information contained in what is considered the Coburg ‘Bible’ is wrong. Cr Davis had only one son, Roy. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 4 June 1915, p. 2 mentions that ‘Roy Davis, only son of the Mayor, on Monday volunteered for service.’)

There was an extensive Davis family network in the area, however, and two of Roy’s relatives Richard Stanley Davis and Nassau William James Davis also served. I’ve yet to establish the exact relationship of Stanley (as he was known) and Nassau (often recorded mistakenly as Nassan) to Roy Davis, but I think that perhaps their father was the brother of Roy's grandfather William Davis of ‘Nassau’, Moreland Road, Moreland.
You might wonder how the following information fits into an account of Coburg during the First World War, but I’ve included it here to show one piece of research can lead to another and another and another … Besides, the Davis family became great fund-raisers during the War years and without them, the patriotic efforts of the Coburg community would have been much the poorer.
Irishman William Davis, his wife Elizabeth (nee Johnston) and their eleven children lived at ‘Nassau Villa’ in Moreland Road. Broome records that he worked for a short time as a warder at Pentridge but took up residence at ‘Nassau’ in 1866 where he raised sheep. He also operated a flock mill until it burnt down in 1894. The Coburg Leader (12 March 1898) refers to him as a collector for the Coburg Council and another article in May 1908 says he had a 40 year connection with the City Council, but when he died in 1900, his occupation was given as landowner and he certainly owned a lot of land.
In the 1890s he leased land between Albion Street and Moreland Road to the Melbourne Sparrow Shooting Club and although my research into this Club and sparrow shooting as a sport has led me down many paths, I won’t go into that here!
I will mention one other act by William Davis that speaks to his character as a generous and compassionate man:
Petty criminal Ernest Knox was 18 when he killed the owner’s son while robbing Michael Crawcoar’s  pawnbroker’s premises in Williamstown. He was executed at the Melbourne Gaol in 1894 and buried on site, the initials E.K. marking the place of his burial. In 1929 when the remains of those executed at the Gaol were being removed to Pentridge, a workman named Ted Baxter stole the skull he found there in the mistaken belief that it was Ned Kelly’s skull he had taken. That belief remained ‘fact’ for over a hundred years, but it is now known that the skull in question was not Ned’s but that of Ernest Knox.
Ernest Knox’s mother, a Mrs Webb, was left bereft and impoverished when Ernest was executed. William Davis stepped in and provided her with a small cottage for life. (Coburg Leader, 28 April 1894).
William Davis died in 1900 and the Nassau estate was soon broken up by sub-division, but William’s generosity of spirit continued in the fund-raising activities of his widow Elizabeth and their son Albert and his family during the years of World War One. After his wife’s death in 1927 aged 94 the estate was further reduced when land was sold for the construction of the Sacred Heart (now John Fawkner) Hospital.

Sacred Heart Hospital, Moreland Road, Coburg
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society


  1. I am the only surviving family child of Nassau William Davis. Richard Stanly Davis is his brother and my uncle. Desmond Davis

  2. Wonderful to hear from you and to know there are family members still interested in the Davis family story. Sorry it's taken such a long time to respond. For some reason I didn't notice that you'd commented!