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The mystery of Joseph Downey
Joseph Downey
Joseph Downey was one of the first to arrive from Jamaica

Nearly 150 years ago, a young man from Jamaica arrived to start a new life in Yorkshire. His name was Joseph Downey.

Joseph was one of the first black immigrants into Leeds but since then, his story has been forgotten.

His great great grandson Oliver Neilson is investigating Joseph's life and trying to solve some family mysteries.

Oliver Neilson has heard lots of stories about his great great grandfather, but he doesn't know how much is true.

Stories about Joseph have been passed down through the generations in Oliver's family. They believe Joseph came from a wealthy background in Jamaica, but he came to England after running away from home.

In those days, to a new arrival, Leeds must have been a baffling, busy place. Joseph was blazing a trail for others who would follow.

Oliver Neilson
Joseph Downey's great great grandson Oliver Neilson.

Joseph married a white woman, Oliver's great great grandma, this relationship would have raised a few eyebrows. The family have lived in Leeds for five generations and for a lot of that time, they were the only black people in their community. They lived in Beza Street in Hunslet. Now the slums have been demolished, but this used to be one of the poorest parts of Leeds.

Oliver knows Joseph died in 1897. According to his death certificate, he was killed in a factory accident. Oliver's family think he died saving others but is hoping to find evidence to prove it. Joseph never left Hunslet and is now buried in the local cemetery, in a plot shared with 20 people.


The mystery of Joseph Downey


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