John Downer appeared out of the blue in 1891 and in two seasons established Norwood’s link with South Australia’s most iconic political dynasty.
John was a nephew of Sir John Downer, brilliant barrister, premier and a founding father of the Australian federation. Sir John’s son, Sir Alec Downer, and grandson Alexander Downer both served as federal ministers.
Norwood’s John Downer was the youngest child of Sir John’s big brother, Charles, who was the eldest of the six boys and one girl born to tailor Henry Downer and his wife Jane. Charles was four years old when his parents sailed from Portsmouth for Adelaide in February 1838. He became a chemist and druggist at Port Adelaide and later an aerated water and cordial maker in Waymouth St, Adelaide. While living at “Tukurua”, Kilkenny, he married Marion Frame Hamilton in 1861 and they had five children – George, Marion, Charles John, Laura and John Hamilton, who was born at Port Adelaide on 20 August 1871.
Young John was a solid defender at Prince Alfred College in the big matches against St Peter’s College in 1888 and 1889, enjoying victories of 8.11 to 2.6 and 7.13 to 6.5. He had only modest success at cricket as an opening batsman. He joined the Adelaide Steamship Co Ltd at Port Adelaide in 1891 and subsequently worked for the company at Esperance, Albany and Port Pirie.
He also emerged as a Norwood defender in 1891 - a premiership year, though he was absent later in the season. Twice he helped keep weak opposition teams scoreless, with Norwood amassing 14.14 against Adelaide at Adelaide Oval in 1891 and 18.28 against Medindie at Kensington Oval in 1892, when he kicked his only goal. Altogether he was named in the team for eight matches – four in each of the seasons 1891 and 1892 – and experienced defeat in perhaps only one of them, when Port Adelaide won 9.4 to 8.7 on 21 May 1892, though newspapers disagree on whether he played that day.
John married Mary Rankine, eldest daughter of the late James Rankine of “Wyngate”, Hindmarsh Island, at the Woodville Church of England on 12 June 1901. He was Albany manager of the Adelaide Steamship Co from 1901 to 1918, when he was promoted to WA manager in Perth. John and Mary had a daughter, Ruth Hildorf Downer, and a son, John Rankine Downer, both born in Albany.
John Downer retired in June 1935 to cultivate special blooms at his home at Darlington and look over his pastoral property at Broome Hill. He was 65 when he died in Perth on 2 July 1937.
P. Robins, G. Adams, D. Cox Jan 2020