James Ford: Ballarat and Bendigo


James left Wellington, New Zealand, sometime after the birth of his second daughter, Margaret Ford in 1867 and is next recorded living in Ballarat where his son Robert Muir Ford was born on 12 May 1869.

Robert Muir Ford’s birth certificate records the family living in Ballarat West and confirms that James was born in Millport, Cumbrae, Scotland and his wife, Elizabeth, was born in Greenock, Scotland.  Elizabeth is recorded as being 24 years of age verifying that she 19 years of age in 1864 when she married James in Waitouaiti, New Zealand.

To date, I have found no record of the passage of the family from Wellington to Port Phillip.  How and when James Ford arrived in Ballarat is open to speculation.  Perhaps he travelled along the series of well know ‘tracks’ leading from Melbourne to Ballarat.  On the other hand, he may have travelled by rail.  The Geelong to Ballarat railway was opened in 1862, the same year that the railway from Melbourne to Bendigo was opened.

Here is a copy of relevant information from Anne Beggs-Sunter (2012) writing for The Courier which began publication in 1867.

‘The opening of the railway was a marvellous advance for passengers. Trains left Geelong twice daily, at 10.30 am and 6.30 pm and the journey took two and a half hours, stopping at Steiglitz Road (Moorabool), Lethbridge, Meredith, Lal Lal and Buninyong (Yendon) … The coming of the railway had a dramatic impact on the coach services between Geelong and Ballarat. The coach had taken all day to do the very bumpy trip. The train was much more appealing, although initially, Ballarat people complained about the high cost of tickets.’
It should be remembered that Ballarat was already a thriving city.  A copy of the Statistics of Victoria appearing in The Argus 24 October 1960 gives some idea of the size and prosperity of Ballarat.

From National Library of Australia

In the 1860s Ballarat and the surrounding district had a population approaching 67,000 serviced by a railway by the time James Ford arrived.  By comparison, Ballarat’s population in 2018 was a tad over 100,000.

Ballarat Station under construction in 1860. Photo The Courier 2016.

Ballarat Post Office 1861: credit Old Australia Photos and Ballarat History


Yet, it appears that James did not stay in Ballarat for long before he moved to Bendigo.  The next definite date we can find is contained in the Bendigo Rates Report where James Ford is recorded living at Forest Street (1879), Short and Queen Streets (1883-1886) and then Wills Street (1887-1902). The Bendigo Rates Report, obtained by my brother Tim Ford on his visit to Ballarat and Bendigo, gives us some valuable information.

James’ first entry in the record indicates that he is working, first as a carpenter then later as an Inspector, and finally as an Inspector of Works.  Interesting, the Net Asset Value of the property steadily increased until 1890 after which the NAV declined perhaps indicating something of the economic fortunes of Bendigo.

Rates Record Bendigo. Photo by Tim Ford

James Ford was apparently well respected within the local community.  It is also apparent that he travelled outside the Bendigo district and supervised the building of ‘large public buildings’.

James died 3 September 1915, in his son’s arms according to one report, at his Wills Street residence.  His wife, Elizabeth Ford/Muir died in Ballarat 27 January 1882 at the age of 37.

Obituary for James Ford appearing in the Bendigo Advertiser 4 September 1915. National Library of Australia.

The obituary records James’ surviving family, Janet and Mollie (Mary) and Robert Muir Ford.  Mrs. William Kinsey Bolton is Margaret Ford, who married William Kinsey Bolton 18 August 1894.

I came across this photograph recently from the Ballarat Museum collection taken in 1870 and gives an indication of the living conditions for the time.  Robert Muir Ford was born in Ballarat in 1869.

From The Bendigo Advertiser 4 September 1915:

The numerous friends of Mr. James Ford, of Wills-street, Bendigo, will be sorry to hear of his death, which occurred early on Friday morning. He had not been in his usual good health for a couple of weeks, and after a sharp attack of influenza cul- minating in heart failure, he passed away quietly in his son’s arms. The deceased gentleman, who was 79 years of age, was a native of Scotland, hailing from the same county as his favorite “Bobbie” Burns. He came to the colonies 60 years ago, and had been a citizen of Bendigo for the past 35 years, and an inspector of the Public Works department for about 40 years. In the latter capacity he travelled miles of the “Never-Never” country, often being in a buggy for weeks on end, and, later, super-vised the erection of many of the large public buildings in the district. Both personally and in his business affairs he was a man of the strictest probity, and withal of the most genial nature, being a great favorite with everybody, especially the younger generation, and held in the highest esteem by his fellow travellers “on the roads.” He leaves four children to mourn their loss—Misses Janet and Mollie Ford, who are widely known in Bendigo, and Mrs. W. K. Bolton, wife of Colonel Bolton: and Mr. Robert M. Ford, of Ballarat. So passes another of the old pioneers who have done so much for the land of their adoption.
Copyright John Ford 2018.