Hugh Louis Zephyr Downey (1861-1922)

Hugh Louis Zephyr Downey (1861-1922):
NZ Field Artillery, NZ Armed Constabulary, 1st Victorian Regiment, Victorian Permanent Artillery, Victorian Rangers, Australian Instructional Staff
Hugh Louis Zephyr Downey was born in Tasmania on 14 March 1861, the fifth child of Hugh Downey, a pensioned British soldier ex-99th Regiment.  Downey senior enlisted in the 99th Regiment of Foot in Ireland in 1842 and came to Tasmania as a convict guard in October 1843.  With his Regiment’s Grenadier Company, he was deployed to New Zealand (NZ) with the outbreak of the Maori War and fought at Ohaeawai, North Island and at the taking of Pa Owiwi.  Severely wounded in July 1845 he returned to his regiment in Sydney, where he was discharged in March 1847, medically unfit.
Downey senior went back to England, only to return once again to Hobart as a convict guard, one of 30 pensioners enlisted to escort the convicts carried to Tasmania by the barque Maria Somes in 1851.  In about 1869, Hugh Downey moved his family to NZ and took up his Chelsea Pension, also enlisting in the ‘Southland Volunteers’ in Invercargill in 1875 and transferring to the ‘Arrow Rifles Volunteers’ in 1877.  He died in Dunedin in 1890, aged 66.

H.L.Z. Downey was no doubt strongly affected by his father’s service in both war and peace. In 1874, Downey volunteered for the NZ Field Artillery as a ‘boy soldier’.  He married Irish-born Eliza Ann Cody in Dunedin, in 1882, when he gave his occupation as a clerk. There were four children from this marriage. In 1884 he attested into the NZ Armed Constabulary where he served for more than three years in its artillery arm. Government austerity measures resulting in cut-backs to serving members in 1888 led to Downey’s resignation.

Downey sailed for Australia in late 1888, but for whatever reason without his family.  In Victoria Downey wasted no time in signing up for the militia infantry, perhaps to earn some money, perhaps to indulge his interest in rifle-shooting.  During the years 1889-1891 Downey served in the 1st Victorian Regiment.  Downey re-married in Hawthorn in January 1891, to Elizabeth Edmondson, giving his profession as a Commission Agent, living at ‘Zephyr Villa’ in Essendon.  His father, ‘Henry Hugh Downey’, was recorded as ‘Commissioned Officer’ and Downey gave his place of birth as ‘Calcutta, India’.  Given that he knew but had clearly not disclosed that he was entering a bigamous marriage, this erroneous information appeared to be at least a nominal attempt to cover his tracks.

In January 1892, No. 1072 Private H.L.Z. Downey requested a transfer to the Victorian Permanent Artillery (VPA).  A memo from the Officer Commanding the Victorian Artillery, Lieutenant-Colonel C. E. E Umphelby (later killed in the Boer War) to Lieutenant-Colonel J. M. Templeton requested Templeton meet Downey of ‘Zephyr-mee’ in Essendon and bring him to Queenscliff.  On 18 March 1893 Downey enlisted in the VPA, giving his profession as a clerk working for the Singer Manufacturing Company in William Street, Melbourne.  Downey described himself as ‘a good rifle shot’.  He was allocated Regimental Number 863 and remained with the VPA until June 1900.   Templeton, later Chairman of the Victorian Rifle Association (VRA) and ever on the lookout for good shots, no doubt would have taken a personal interest in Downey and encouraged his pursuit of rifleman skills.

By mid-1893 Downey was an Acting Bombardier [Corporal]. He engaged in the Annual Gunnery courses and Inter-Battery competitions required to maintain his ‘Crossed Guns’ Badge, which entitled him to extra pay.  In the VPA, he ranked 31st overall in 1893, 11th in 1894 and 15th in 1895.  In 1896, now a Bombardier and serving with No.2 Company of the Garrison Artillery’s Western District Brigade, Queenscliff, Downey won the Layer’s Prize in the Annual VPA Regimental competition.  He also came 4th in the Annual Gunnery Course with a score of 452 out of 480 and so was again entitled to wear the Crossed Guns Badge (with pay) for another year.  Clearly Downey liked the soldier’s life and in March 1897 he re-enlisted for a further five years.


HLZ Downey 1897
HLZ Downey 1897

Downey also demonstrated a keen interest in rifle-shooting.   In the 1893 annual matches of the VRA Downey made the ‘possible’ at 500 yards and won prize-money of £6, even though he was 158th out of 180 prize-takers that year and equal 20th out of 21 standings.  His standings continued to improve. In 1895 he again won £6 in winnings, but also came 10th in the ‘Queen’s Thirty’ with a score of 255.  Soon after he re-enlisted in 1897, he was chosen for the Victorian Team for Bisley in England to compete for the Kolapore Cup and was granted leave from the VPA to do so.  Although not chosen for the final Kolapore Cup team, he shot in a number of individual matches with mixed success.  Following the Bisley matches, Downey completed a Flag Signaling Course at the Shoeburyness School of Gunnery in England, arriving back in Melbourne in November 1897.

In mid-1899, after promotion to Mounted Sergeant in September 1898, Downey came 2nd in the Sergeant’s Gunnery Prize and 2nd in the Annual Gunnery examination in his Company (winning 10 shillings for his efforts). With the outbreak of the Boer War in late 1899, a shortage of cadre in non-VPA units leavened by Boer War volunteers meant opportunity elsewhere.  In June 1900 Downey was seconded from the now Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) and temporarily appointed as a Permanent Staff of the Militia Infantry (Victorian Rangers): ‘to perform the duties of Coy. Sergt-Major during the absence from the colony, on duty, of CSM E.N. Coffey.’  In the VRA annual matches of November 1900 Sergeant-Major Downey won £2 in the Members’ match and competed in the first stage of the ‘Queen’s Prize’.  The following February he re-enlisted for a further five years of service and became No.69 of the Permanent Staff, Victorian Rangers. In November 1901 Downey again qualified in the 1st stage of the ‘King’s Prize’ at the VRA annual matches.

BY 1902 DRILL INSTRUCTOR Downey and his wife Elizabeth became residents of St. Arnaud, a small gold mining town west of Bendigo and headquarters of  the Victorian Rangers Regiment in that district.  With this shift to country Victoria, Downey does not appear to have continued to be a competitive rifleman, at least at the VRA level. Downey’s name is not among VRA prize-winners listed after 1902 – the last we hear of him is as a team member representing the Victorian Rangers in the United Service match in November 1902.  However, he may well have continued to fire in local competitions (St. Arnaud had an active rifle club and St. Arnaud names appear regularly in VRA competitions in the years after 1902).

In 1904 Downey as one of the senior instructors for an Officers and NCOs School of Instruction Course for the Victorian Rangers at Port Melbourne. Discharged from the Permanent Force in late 1905 Company Sergeant-Major Downey re-enlisted in February 1906 for a further three years in the new Australian Instructional Staff and joined 12 other cadre for a School of Instruction Course at Port Melbourne.  He was promoted to a Class III Instructor in December 1907.  1909 saw Drill Instructor Downey resident at Dunolly, northwest of Bendigo, still with the Victorian Rangers, but on 22 August 1909, Downey was discharged at his own request.  Now retired, Downey continued to live in Dunolly.

With the outbreak of WWI, Downey re-enlisted.  In October 1914, aged 51, he was appointed to the Instructional Staff of the 3rd Military District, at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne.  He was appointed a Provost Sergeant in May 1916 and continued to serve until late August 1920, when he resigned for the last time from military service.  After WWI when his son Sydney took up soldier settlement land near Diamond Creek near Watsonia in outer north east Melbourne, Downey went to live with him there, where he passed away on 24 September  1922, at the age of 60.

Downey’s five sons all saw active service.  Herbert Hamilton Downey joined the 1st Battalion Victorian Rangers as a boy Bugler in January 1906.  In 1910 he joined the Permanent Military Forces Artillery serving at Queenscliff until 1914.  Posted to Thursday Island from 1914 through March 1916, the now CSM Downey enlisted in the 1st AIF and joined the 2nd Australian Siege Battery in France.  He won a Military Cross on the Western Front and returned to Australia in 1919.  He remained in the RAA and was made a 1st Class Master Gunner in 1920.  In 1922 he transferred to the Australian Instructional Corps and seconded to the School of Artillery as an Honorary Lieutenant.  In 1932 he was awarded the Long Service Medal and in 1935 the Meritorious Service Medal in addition to his WWI service medals.  He joined the 2nd AIF with the outbreak of WWII, was promoted to Major and appointed Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services in 1st Australian Corps.   He was deployed to Greece in 1941 but died of wounds received during an air attack at Thebes in April 1941.  He was re-buried in the Athens Military Cemetery in 1945.

Clifton Downey enlisted in September 1914, citing 9 months service with the Victorian Rangers.  Assigned to the 12th Battalion, he was wounded in action at  Gallipoli. He was re-deployed to France before the effects of service on his health forced a medical discharge in Australia in July 1917. Sydney James Downey, who served 3 years with the Victorian Rangers, was serving with the Heavy Artillery when he enlisted in April 1915 and served in France with the Siege Artillery.  He was wounded in action in late 1917, promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and later to Lieutenant before returning to Australia in 1919.  In 1923 he was placed on the Reserve of Officers (Artillery) and served as a Lieutenant in a gun ammunition inspection role during WWII, being placed on the retired list in late 1943.  Burnley Edmund Downey, served with his brother Herbert in Greece and was wounded in the same air attack which took his brother’s life, himself losing a leg.  He was subsequently captured and spent the war as a POW. William Thomas Stawell Downey, served with the 2/2nd Field Artillery Regiment in North Africa.

Hugh Louis Zephyr Downey served as a Volunteer, militia and professional soldier.  He was influenced by his own father’s service and in turn influenced his five sons who all saw military service themselves. He tried farming on and off for short periods in country Victoria, but it was the military life that appealed to him most and he kept returning to it. His combined volunteer, militia and permanent service amounted to over 40 years in both NZ and Australia.  However, because of the type, length and place of service, he apparently was never awarded any medal to honour his many years in uniform except for his Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee 1897 Medal.  He never saw active service. His shooting medals and various certificates showed his prowess as a rifleman who was good enough to represent Victoria at Bisley during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897, even though he was not, in the end, chosen to shoot for the Kolapore Cup Team. Downey’s second wife Elizabeth outlived him by 20 years, passing away in Camberwell in Melbourne in 1942, aged 80.

Contact Andrew Kilsby about this article.

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