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John OWEN (1879-1970)


John Owen in front of the Ashfield house


John at his Golden Wedding celebrations


John Owen


Rachel Elizabeth Burley in front of the Ashfield house


Rachel Elizabeth Owen

John OWEN1 (known as 'Jack'), son of Thomas OWEN (1839-1914) and Sarah BUCKLEY (1840-1885), was born on 1 April 1879 at Kendall Street in Cowra, NSW.2,3,4 His relationship to John is Paternal Grandfather.

Jack was a follower of the Catholic faith . He and his wife Rachel were said to have had a mystical experience which caused their conversion to Catholicism. The nature of this experience is unknown.5 From 1900 to 1920 he was a miner at Silverspur, Adaminiby and later probably at Wollongong . The dates are a guestimate of the likely period. It is not certain that he was working as a miner in Wollongong but given the existence of the coal industry in the area it is most likely.1,6 He was a carpenter . His daughter Sylvia described him as a carpenter although it is not known whether he had any formal qualifications. She said he was able to build anything or make anything.7

Jack married Rachel Elizabeth BURLEY when he was 27 and she was 23 on 2 June 1906 in Texas, Qld. It is believed Jack walked from Sydney to Texas for the marriage, taking about six months to do so. He gained work along the way to purchase food and supplies. Most probably he was a Sundowner.8,9,10

from 2 June 1906 to 20 October 1963 they lived at various locations in New South Wales . They moved around quite a lot due to John following his work as a miner. They lived at Silverspur in Queensland when they were first married (2 June 1906) because John was working in the mines there. John had rooms at the Silverspur guesthouse before their marriage but it is unlikely they lived there. Given Rachel's accident occurred in an outdoor kitchen, they probably lived some time with Rachel's parents (John and Sarah Burley) at Texas. Most likely they were still there for the birth of their son Francis on 12 November 1906. After Rachel's accident, the medical advise was for her to move to a cooler climate and so John went to Adaminaby in NSW and found work. Rachel then set off to join him with a stayover in Orange where their daughter, Sylvia was born. Their son Edward was born in Adaminaby on 9 August, 1909. On 14 May 1911, their son Frederick was born in Texas, Queensland. Whether they were both living there or whether Rachel had just gone back to her parent's place to have the baby is not known. By the time son Thomas was born on 7 August 1918, they had moved to Wollongong. Their last son George was also born in Wollongong on 13 March 1920. Around 1931/32 they were living at 67 McDonald St Lakemba and were buying these premises but they lost the home as a result of the Great Depression. Sometime before 9 December 1939, they moved to 97 Thomas St Ultimo. They were resident there before their son Edward was married. In about 1961/62 they were evicted to make way for the building of a new Technical College. (Now known as the University of Technology). As part of the eviction agreement they were given an apartment in the Northcott Apartment Block, Curtis Place, Block 4, Flat 5 (ground Floor), 53 Moorehead St Redfern, NSW. These were High Rise Housing Commission Flats. They were one of the first tenants into these flats. Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the flats in 1963. They only lived there for a short while as Rachel died in 1963.6,11

In 1930 (approx.) Jack was a railway worker .12 On 27 September 1941 he was a labourer . This was his stated occupation at the time of his son Edward's marriage.13

Jack was diagnosed with the medical condition silicosis. It affected him for most of his adult life. Being a miner was the cause. He worked in the rock mines at Mt Morgan and this was the most likely place he contracted the disease. He had continual lung problems and winters were very difficult for him. His son Edward always used to say he lived on half a lung but his daughter Sylvia suggests that this was probably an exaggeration. She says his lung was perforated and he used to have a haemorrhage every winter. He fought the Dust Diseases Board for many years about his condition claiming he was entitled to a pension and/or compensation for the damage done to him by the silicon dust. He was successful in that he was eventually awarded a pension probably sometime in the 1960s.1,7 Between 1964 and 1971 he resided at 11 Rowe St in Roseville Chase, NSW. Following Sis' death, he stayed at the Redfern flat for about a year and then moved in with his daughter, Sylvia where he lived the last seven years of his life.14

his interests included music. He played the banjo and Sunday dinners at Rachel's and his house in Ultimo were always entertaining as he provided the music for the evening singalongs. His daughter Sylvia also notes that he was in a band when he was younger and that she thinks he also played the cornet.5,7

his interests included scientific experimentation. He was very interested in science and how the world worked. He was an experimenter who had developed a scientific theory about a natural force he believed he had discovered. He spent a large amount of his free time after his retirement in visiting various universities and scientific institutions trying to convince them of the validity of his theory but never received any acceptance. He built a machine which sat out the back of the house at Ultimo under a lean-to shelter and was covered with sugarbags. This machine was in some way supposed to help prove his new force theory. The machine was powered by about a dozen very powerful magnets all mounted in slots which were laid out in a circular pattern. They were arranged in such a way that their opposite polarity was the driving force which made the motor rotate. The magnets were quite large, being about 200mm long, 70mm wide and 50mm thick. They would have been very expensive to acquire. His grandson John E Owen remembers that he had a journal in which he started to write out some of these theories. From glances John had through the book, it appeared that he started rewriting the information a number of times and never really got to grips with putting it all down on paper. John advises that he never actually got around to reading it before it was accidently destroyed.5

Jack had 6 children. Rachel gave him five boys and the one girl, Sylvia. Rachel had one child before her marriage to John, Edna Olive. Sylvia's daughter, Kay advises that her mother had told her that there was another daughter who died when Sylvia was about two, ie c.1910. At present no birth or death record of this child has been found. It is not known whether there is any association between this child and Edna Olive.1

he died (aged 91) on 7 November 1970 at Royal North Shore Hospital in St Leonards, NSW. The cause was Coal Worker's Pneumonoconiosis and Benign Prostatic. In reality it was a loss of the will to live. The doctors stated there was no clinical reason for him to die.15,16,17,18 He was buried on 10 November 1970 in the Catholic section of Woronora Cemetery in Plot 1217 of Section 5 in Sutherland, NSW.4,15,19,20


After his mother's death he was raised by his half-sister, Rose Denniss (nee Smith) and her husband, George Denniss.7,9,21


His father called him "Jacque" (pronounced "Jark"). This is the Welsh pronunciation of Jack which is what he was called by most people. His grandchildren all called him "Pop".1


Jack attributed his longevity to two main reasons. The first was his daily walk helping him keep fit. Given his lung condition this is probably very true. The second was his refusal to eat tinned products especially tinned fruit. This is probably less true because it was well known throughout the family that Rachel used to use tinned goods without telling him.1


Jack was a contestant on a popular radio programme in the 1950s hosted by performer Jack Davey. He was quite successful and won seven or eight prizes, including a Pope washing machine, a complete Meakin bone china dinner set and a canteen of cutlery.1


Jack used to tell a story about the family name, Owen. He used to claim that the Owen people were descended from the Earl of Owen while the people with the surname Owens were descended from the Earl's troops; i.e. they were "Owen's". The validity of the claim is unknown. It appears there were at least two Earls of Owen but at this stage research hasn't established any connection to them. It's probably just a good family story.22


Rachel Elizabeth BURLEY23 (known as 'Sis') was the daughter of John Williams BURLEY (1849-1915) and Sarah Jane PARTRIDGE (1858-1949).


In their retirement years, John and Rachel often travelled to Brisbane in the Winter months for the warmer weather and usually stayed at their son Fred's and his wife Rita's house at 62 Isedale St Woolowin. On one such occasion (22 June 1962), Rachel wrote a letter to her grandson John, gently admonishing him for not letting her know whether he had received a birthday present of £1, a rather generous amount for the times.

Two of his grandchildren, Janice and Gerard recall one trip where John (Pop) tried to make himself useful and do the washing up while Fred and Rita were at work. He proudly announced when they got home that with a lot of time and elbow grease, he had been able to get that "black stuff" off the frypan. The "black stuff" was the Teflon coating, a new technology that he caught up with that day.24,25,26


When queried about family life when growing up, their daughter Sylvia volunteered the following :

"Our childhood was mainly happy. It was hard but we didn't know. We certainly weren't a privileged family. Pop was strict with the boys when they were young - a bit too strict - while Nanna sheltered them. Pop was a marvellous man. He was a provider, protector and defender of the family. He earned those titles. He really did all those things. He loved children and babies".7


There is a family story told of John and Rachel which nicely illustrates the contrasting aspects of their characters. The boys arrived home one day with some cabbages which they had stolen. The number of cabbages is not known but John being the man of high principle that he was, chastised the boys and insisted that they take them back. However their pragmatic mother, who at that stage had very little for the evening meal, met them out the front of the house, commandeered the cabbages and promptly assigned them to the pot.27,28


Rachel Elizabeth BURLEY and John OWEN had the following children:


Francis Charles OWEN (1906-1967) (known as 'Frank')

Sylvia May OWEN (1908-2005) (known as 'Syl')

Edward Arthur OWEN (1909-1972) (known as 'Ted')

Frederick John OWEN (1911-1974) (known as 'Fred')

Thomas William OWEN (1918-1978) (known as 'Tom')

George Vincent OWEN (1920-2000)


1{S0021}, Researcher : OWEN, John Edward (0001). Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
2{S0005}, Certificate - Birth : OWEN, John (0013). Custom Id: NSW 1879 / 12263. Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Primary evidence.
Registration no : 2263 / 1879
3{S0165}, Certificate - Birth : OWEN, John (0013) Extract. Custom Id: NSW 1879 / 12263. Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Primary evidence.
Application no : 47 / 25984
4{S0036}, Researcher : OWEN (nee QUESSY), Marie (0129) : re OWEN. Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
5{S0021}, Researcher : OWEN, John Edward (0001). Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Primary evidence.
6{S0594}, Electoral Roll : Federal (Unknown); Qld State (Maranoa); Sub-Division (Texas). Cit. Date: 18 June 2012. Assessment: Primary evidence.
7{S0015} 1992, Interview : NEWTON (nee OWEN), Sylvia May (0080). Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
8{S0198}, BDM (Qld) Online Marriage Index. Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
Reference no : 1906 / C000653
9{S0363}, Researcher : DOBSON (nee HUDSON), Fay : Various. Cit. Date: 3 September 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
10{S0021}, Researcher : OWEN, John Edward (0001). Cit. Date: 8 November 2010. Assessment: Primary evidence.
John heard the story about the walk from his father when he was a child
11{S0021}, Researcher : OWEN, John Edward (0001). Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
John has a picture of his mother's 21st birthday cake which was taken outside the Ultimo house. His mother was 21 on 9 December 1939, hence the "from" date stated.
12{S0036}, Researcher : OWEN (nee QUESSY), Marie (0129) : re OWEN. Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.

{date} {individual} was {a/an value} <at {address}> {place}
13{S0162}, Certificate - Marriage : OWEN, Edward Arthur (0010) and COLLINS, Gladys Elizabeth (0009). Custom Id: NSW 21282 / 1941 (Orig Cert (C556414). Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
Registration no : 21282 / 1941
14{S0015} 1992, Interview : NEWTON (nee OWEN), Sylvia May (0080). Cit. Date: 15 September 2009. Assessment: Primary evidence.
15{S0372}, Certificate - Death : OWEN, John (0013). Custom Id: NSW 38986 / 1970. Cit. Date: 2 October 2009. Assessment: Primary evidence.
16{S0791}, Memorial Card - OWEN, John (0013). Cit. Date: 27 December 2013. Assessment: Primary evidence.

The front of John's memorial card


The inside of John's memorial card

17{S0066}, BDM (NSW) Online Indexs : Deaths (NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Deaths Index :;event=...). Cit. Date: 18 September 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
Registration no : 38986 / 1970
18{S0021}, Researcher : OWEN, John Edward (0001). Cit. Date: 19 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
Researcher John was present at the hospital before his grandfather died and heard the doctors say this.
19{S0629}, Headstone : OWEN, John (0013) and Rachel Elizabeth (nee BURLEY) (0014). Cit. Date: 16 September 2012. Assessment: Secondary evidence.

John and Rachel's headstone at Woronora cemetery

20{S0385}, Cemetery : Woronora ( Woronora Cemetery Search : Cit. Date: 31 January 2010. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
Text From Source: "Surname: Owen : Type: Burial : First Name: John: Other Names: :
Date of Death: 07/11/1970 : Interred Date: ? : Roman Catholic Monumental, Section 5, 1217"
21{S0367}, Biography : OWEN, John (0013). Cit. Date: 29 March 2012. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
22{S0021}, Researcher : OWEN, John Edward (0001). Cit. Date: 27 January 2014. Assessment: Primary evidence.
23{S0019}, Certificate - Birth : BURLEY, Rachel Elizabeth (0014). Custom Id: NSW 1883 / 27597. Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
Registration no : 27597 / 1883
24{S0366), Letter : from OWEN (nee BURLEY), Rachel (0014) to OWEN, John Edward (0001). Cit. Date: 4 September 2009. Assessment: Primary evidence.
25{S0356}, Biography : OWEN, Janice Anne (1409) [Autobiography]. Cit. Date: 4 September 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
26{S0355}, Biography : OWEN, Gerard John (1415) [Autobiography]. Cit. Date: 4 September 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
27{S0021}, Researcher : OWEN, John Edward (0001). Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.
The story is also attested to by Margarette Owen
28{S0156}, Verbal ( Personal Knowlege) : OWEN, Margarette Daphne (0763). Cit. Date: before 1 July 2009. Assessment: Secondary evidence.

Compiler of this family history is : John Owen


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Thanks for looking
Ellen & John

Updated : 23 Mar 2014