Show ContentsDownham History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The lineage of the name Downham begins with the Anglo-Saxon tribes in Britain. It is a result of when they lived in the parish of Dunham, in the county of Norfolk. The place-name is made up of two old English elements: dun, which is a word for hill; and ham, which means home. The translation of the name is home on the hill.

Early Origins of the Downham family

The surname Downham was first found in Norfolk at Downham Market, often referred to as Downham, a town and civil parish. The place dates back to c. 1050 and was listed later in 1086 in the Domesday Book as Dunham. However, there are several more listings of the place name including Little Downham in Cambridgeshire, Downham, Lancashire and Downham, Essex.

Wilmslow in Cheshire was an ancient family seat for the family. "The church is a handsome and very ancient structure in the decorated and later English styles, with a square tower; it comprises a nave, chancel, and two aisles, of which the east end of one and the west end of the other are inclosed as sepulchral chapels, for the families of Dunham and Trafford." 1

Downham Estate is a housing estate in Downham, south east London named in honour of Lord Downham, who was chairman of the London County Council between 1919-1920.

Downham Hall is an English country house in Downham, Lancashire, but this estate was never held by anyone with the family name.

Early History of the Downham family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Downham research. Another 153 words (11 lines of text) covering the years 1190, 1332, 1511, 1561, 1577, 1579, 1585, 1634 and 1652 are included under the topic Early Downham History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Downham Spelling Variations

Only recently has spelling become standardized in the English language. As the English language evolved in the Middle Ages, the spelling of names changed also. The name Downham has undergone many spelling variations, including Dunham, Dunnam, Downham, Dounham, Downnam and others.

Early Notables of the Downham family

Distinguished members of the family include

  • William Downham (1511-1577) chaplain to Princess Elizabeth, Bishop of Chester (1561-1577.)
  • George Downham or Downame (d. 1634), was Bishop of Derry and elder son of William Downham, Bishop of Chester. He was probably born at Chester, to which see his father was elected 1 May 1561. He was el...
  • John Downham or Downame (d. 1652), was an English Puritan divine, younger son of William Downham, Bishop of Chester. 2

Ireland Migration of the Downham family to Ireland

Some of the Downham family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt. More information about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

United States Downham migration to the United States +

To escape the unstable social climate in England of this time, many families boarded ships for the New World with the hope of finding land, opportunity, and greater religious and political freedom. Although the voyages were expensive, crowded, and difficult, those families that arrived often found greater opportunities and freedoms than they could have experienced at home. Many of those families went on to make significant contributions to the rapidly developing colonies in which they settled. Early North American records indicate many people bearing the name Downham were among those contributors:

Downham Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • John Downham, who landed in Virginia in 1665 3
  • William Downham, who landed in Virginia in 1666 3
  • John Downham, who arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1668 3

Australia Downham migration to Australia +

Emigration to Australia followed the First Fleets of convicts, tradespeople and early settlers. Early immigrants include:

Downham Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century

New Zealand Downham migration to New Zealand +

Emigration to New Zealand followed in the footsteps of the European explorers, such as Captain Cook (1769-70): first came sealers, whalers, missionaries, and traders. By 1838, the British New Zealand Company had begun buying land from the Maori tribes, and selling it to settlers, and, after the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, many British families set out on the arduous six month journey from Britain to Aotearoa to start a new life. Early immigrants include:

Downham Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century
  • Miss Sarah E. Downham, (b. 1845), aged 17, British general servant travelling from London aboard the ship "Echunga" arriving in Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand on 24th December 1862 5
  • Miss Sarah E. Downham, (b. 1854), aged 17, English general servant from Middelsex, England, travelling from Gravesend aboard the ship 'Merope' arriving in Lyttelton, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand on 25th August 1871 5
  • Thomas Downham, aged 23, a gardener, who arrived in Wellington, New Zealand aboard the ship "Collingwood" in 1875

Contemporary Notables of the name Downham (post 1700) +

  • E. Ethebert Downham, American politician, Mayor of Alexandria, Virginia, 1887-91; Defeated, 1878 6
  • Noel Y. Downham, British FIDS meteorological assistant at Hope Bay, Falkland Islands, eponym of Downham Peak, Antarctica
  • Jenny Downham (b. 1964), British novelist and an ex-actor, nominated for the 2008 Carnegie Medal and the 2008 Booktrust Teenage Prize

HMS Prince of Wales
  • Mr. James Arthur  Downham, British Ordinary Seaman, who sailed into battle on the HMS Prince of Wales (1941) and survived the sinking 7

  1. Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of England. Institute of Historical Research, 1848, Print.
  2. Smith, George (ed), Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1885-1900. Print
  3. Filby, P. William, Meyer, Mary K., Passenger and immigration lists index : a guide to published arrival records of about 500,000 passengers who came to the United States and Canada in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. 1982-1985 Cumulated Supplements in Four Volumes Detroit, Mich. : Gale Research Co., 1985, Print (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8)
  4. Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 9th December 2020). Retrieved from
  5. New Zealand Yesteryears Passenger Lists 1800 to 1900 (Retrieved 17th October 2018). Retrieved from
  6. The Political Graveyard: Alphabetical Name Index. (Retrieved 2015, November 25) . Retrieved from
  7. HMS Prince of Wales Crew members. (Retrieved 2014, April 9) . Retrieved from on Facebook