James Downey was born in September 1834 and was 4 on arrival in Australia on the Calcutta on 16 October 1838.
James was closely linked with his bushranging cousins and with John Gilbert and Ben Hall. He was accused of bushranging in the papers, was arrested but it is not clear if he was ever convicted.
However, in May 1862 he was charged, and acquitted, in connection with the robbery of two storekeepers of over 1,600 pounds.
The story started around 10 am on the 10 March 1862. Robert Henry Hewitt, on horseback, and Alfred Horsington, in a Spring Cart with his wife and “servant boy”, were accosted by Frank Gardiner, John McGuiness (who was shot soon afterwards at “Bi llabong”) and two other men. The party had been travelling towards Stoney Creek, which is some two and half miles out of Wombat. On seeing the bushrangers emerging from the bush Alfred Horsington whipped his horses but was fired upon, with th e charge supposedly coming close to his head. James Downey was accused of being one of the two although it was unclear who fired the shot. In the meantime, Robert Hewitt was riding about 20 yards behind the cart and second duo of bushrangers pr esented their revolvers. One ordered him to stand and the other told him to dismount. When Hewitt asked why, the second bushranger threatened to “put a ball” into him. The party was then taken a quarter of a mile off the road, searched by the infamous bushranger Gardiner and robbed of the very considerable monies they were carrying.
However, it is interesting to note that Hewitt expressed his anger over people saying he was not robbed at all, which was probably a social commentary over the practices of many shopkeepers at the time who accumulated considerable wealth at th e diggings. All members of the party claimed to be confident of the identity of James Downey. The bushranger in question was said to be dressed in a light coat and moleskin trousers. Horsington said he had identified Downey amongst 13 or 14 men at a camp and indicated that he had seen him 3 or 4 times before at Lambing Flat, that he was a remarkable man whose identity could not be mistaken. The description he had given to the police was a man of 5 feet 11 inches , whose hair was “not light nor dark” and about 27 years of age. It was noted that he had given no further description despite Downey having had a large sandy beard and moustache. Similarly, Hewitt had mistakenly identified a butcher named James Goodluck as Frank Gardiner.
Constable James Tracey apprehended James Downey that night at Guerbey’s shop at Lambing Flat because he matched the outlaw’s description. Tracey suggested that Downey was “rather the worst for liquor” at the time and indicated that Downey’s horse was very tired, Wombat being some ten miles from where he accosted the prisoner. There was a coat and teapot strapped to his saddle.
James Downey claimed he had travelled the 42 miles from the Weddin Mountains to Wombat. This claimed was supported by a number of businessmen who vouched that he had been at his mother’s place in the Weddin Mountains the morning of the robbery . In reviewing the not guilty verdict, the judge indicated that he would have come to the same conclusion.
James appears to have been living around Bimbi in 1887, taking up a selection on 20 June which remains as Everslea. He also appears to have taken up in that year a 324 acre block on the Rossi Creek Run.
The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser reported on 17 January 1867 of a ‘painful occurrence’ involving James Downey. Downey had lost his way in an attempt to reach home and arrived at Thomas Ryan’s public-house. “On approaching the house he was heard by Thomas Ryan, who, suspecting him to be a bushranger, discharged one of two barrels of a double-barrelled gun, loaded with shot, at him, and wounded him on the right arm and side. Ryan subsequently ran to the assistance of the wounded, brought him into his house, and assisted him to stop his blood, which was then flowing profusely. The police, who were sent for by Ryan, very shortly arrived, and apprehended him for the hasty deed, and placed him in the lock-up. The telegraph was immediately taken advantage of for surgical aid from Yass, and Dr. Campbell arrived in the evening; he extracted some shot from the wounds, and has all hopes of his recovery. In accordance with the doctor’s instructions, the patient was removed yesterday morning to Yass, to be under the immediate treatment of Mr. Campbell. Ryan was tried before W.D. Campbell, Esq , J.P., and remanded till Wednesday next; he was admitted to bail, himself in £150 and two sureties in £75 each.”
James died at Burrangong on 21 February 1896, aged 61, from diarrhoea and “progressive asoxy” after a six month illness. He is buried at the Roman Catholic cemetery at Young. He was described as a selector at the time of his death.