Australian family discover Ilfracombe roots

Joseph Bulmer

Victorian farmer from North Devon started new dynasty in the colonies

AN Australian family have returned to Ilfracombe to trace their roots and follow in the footsteps of their Victorian ancestor before he left North Devon for a new life in the colonies.

Lisa Sim, nee Coats, is the great great great granddaughter of Samuel Coats of Higher Mullacott Farm, who in 1860 aged just 20 decided to emigrate to Australia, where he established a farm named “Ilfracombe.”

Lisa grew up on there at Donald, Victoria, where her family continues to farm to this day, mainly rearing sheep and growing wheat.

She contacted Ilfracombe Museum and manager Sara Hodson to find out more about her family tree.

Accompanied by husband Neil and children Bethany, Joshua and Hannah, they recently visited North Devon and the museum, where they met Sara and went on to Higher Mullacott Farm, now holiday cottages owned by Kathy and Tim Pike, as well as family graves at West Down researched by Sara.

“We had a great visit to Ilfracombe and we are so glad we made the effort to ‘drop in,’” said Lisa.

“Sara was an amazing help to me and I really appreciate the time she took to look into our family background. It was a special treat to visit with Kathy and she was really welcoming – showing us around the farm and her home.”

Samuel was baptised in West Down in 1840, the sixth son of tenant farmer Robert Coats. Samuel’s brother inherited the tenancy of the farm so he left for Australia – he met a girl on the boat over, Katherine Stevens and they were married.

By the 1870s he had settled with his wife and young children near Donald, Victoria - north of Melbourne. He died shortly after but five generations later his descendents still farm at Ilfracombe in the Southern Hemisphere.

“It was a bit surreal to be at the location of your ancestor’s birthplace and really put history into perspective for us - the Coats’ no longer farm in Devon, but they do in Australia,” added Lisa.

Sara added: “I think what we all found the most interesting part of the story is that Samuel left Ilfracombe in search of a new venture, which was risky, and ended up founding a farm still going strong today, whereas the rest of his family at Mullacott seem to have left farming altogether by the end of the 1890s.”