Benjamin was born in approximately 1762 and was baptised in the local parish church at Northleigh, Devon on 6th October 1762. His parents were Thomas and Joan Underdown (nee Cox).

He was the 9th of 18 children. His siblings were Sarah, Jane (Jenny), Robert, Abraham, Thomas, James, Phillip, Samuel, Joseph, Elizabeth, Molly, Agnes, Noah, Emanuel, Anne (died young), Susanna and Ann. Benjamin was 13 when his youngest sister Ann was born.

Seventh Son[]

Benjamin was also his parent’s seventh son. There are many mythologies surrounding seventh sons that have been passed down through different cultures, but it is unknown at this stage whether Benjamin’s parents believed in any of them. Most of the myths had to do with the seventh son of a seventh son (which Benjamin was not). It is interesting to note because Benjamin himself would have six sons and no more – possibly trying to avoid the myths surrounding the seventh son of a seventh son.

Death of Siblings[]

Being one of 18 children, a few of his siblings died before Benjamin was married. The first was his sister Anne, who died before 1775 when his youngest sister with a similar name was born.

Next was his eldest sister Sarah, who did in 1783 at the age of 33.


Benjamin married on 13th September 1789 at Colyton in Devon to Elizabeth Bishop. Details of her family are currently unknown, except that her father's name was James Bishop. Bishop is a common surname in the district in which Benjamin lived. Witness to Benjamin and Elizabeth’s marriage was James Bishop, likely to be father or brother of Elizabeth. The couple would have eight known children together.


There is a document in the Devon Record Office dated 25/02/1791 that states that a Catherine White was apprenticed to a Benjamin Underdown for Morganhayes, in husbandry. This seems to indicate that property that Benjamin farmed on was called Morganhayes. Morganhayes is located in Southleigh.

Move to Southleigh[]

Between 1793 & 1795 the family moved from Northleigh to Southleigh, a town of similar size and in close proximity, but further south then Northleigh. The reason for the move is yet to be determined. The first two of Benjamin's children were baptised in Northleigh while the others were baptised in Southleigh.

A likely cause is the death of Benjamin's father, Thomas in April 1795. It is known from the will of Benjamin's brother Samuel that Samuel and his brother Robert inherited land from their father, and it is likely that brother Emanuel inherited a lease to Hornshayne farm. What and if Benjamin inherited any property at this time is unknown. If he did, this could have provided a reason for the family to move residence.

Benjamin's mother Joan died in 1796.

Tenant Farming[]

According to Land Tax Redemption Records for 1798, Benjamin was an occupier of land owned by John Woolert. This was in the Southleigh parish.

Brother's wills[]

The contract for Northleigh Farm in Samuel Underdown's will.

Benjamin's brother Robert died in April 1811. Benjamin was the executor of his brother Robert’s will, along with his brother Emanuel. On the 3rd October 1811, the Exeter Flying Post newspaper displayed an advertisement where Benjamin and Emanuel took a large amount of property to auction, all beleived to be Robert's property. The property included three lots in the parish of Northleigh:- Northleigh Farm, a farm called Shutes and Langlands (a part of a larger property called Thrushes), and a farm called Cockerlake and Summer Down (with a house called Latchcombe). It is beleived that the brothers had to sell the property in order to cover Robert's debts, which would, in turn, also affect them financially. It appears that the Underdown family had been doing well financially until this time, when their resources began to decline as the result of Robert's debts.

The adverts were repeated in the Exter Flying Post on 10th and 17th October, with the auction set for 26th October at the Black Lion Inn in Honiton.

Another brother of Benjamin, Samuel, died on the 23rd March 1812. According to Samuel’s will, the debts that Emanuel and Benjamin were left with after their brother Robert’s death appear to be the result of Robert purchasing a property that was never paid for during his lifetime. The property was the one called Northleigh Farm, and Samuel contracted with Emanuel and Benjamin the real estate in trust. The premises consisted of a barton and farm and had been purchased for the price of five thousand and seven hundred pounds. Samuel instructed his brothers in the will to sell the property to cover the outstanding amount, but it appears that the sale of the property proved difficult.

Northleigh Farm did not sell at the first attempt as the Exeter Flying Post of 1st October 1812 has brother Emanuel and others associated with the property advertising its sale again. On this occasion, though, a sale by private contract rather than auction is being advertised.

Death of son[]

The youngest of Benjamin’s children, a son called Alfred, died in February 1816 at only four years of age. His cause of death is currently unknown.

Continued sale of Property[]

The last attempt at sale of Northleigh Farm also appears to have been unsuccessful, for in 1819, brothers Benjamin and Emanuel are advertising the property for sale again in the Exeter Flying Post. On this occasion, the advert they took out was large, detailing sections of the property and their occupiers. It included tenements called Tricombe, Mitchell's and Duncroft. Benjamin was the second largest occupier, on 69 acres of land called Townsend, while Emanuel was on only 12 acres of the land called Latchcombe's. The largest occupier of the land was a man called William White, likely to be his brother-in-law (husband to his sister Jane Underdown) or his nephew. Another occupier of the land was his cousin, William Priddle.

The sale of the property left by his brother Robert appears to have had a profound effect on Benjamin, not only financially, but in time and energy. The large newspaper article indicating all the occupiers of the land indicate that Benjamin had to pay the most rent of all the tenants listed. His rent was £44, and the next largest amount of rent £5 10s. The reason for the disparity is unknown, only to assume that Benjamin occupied the best parcel of land on the property.

Death of another son[]

Another of Benjamin's sons, Thomas died in February 1833, aged only 42 and leaving a family in poverty. As a result, Benjamin's grandchildren in this family were sent out to be servants on many of the neighboring farms in the East Devon Community.

Brother Thomas's will[]

Benjamin listed with his siblings in his brother Thomas's will.

Benjamin's brother Thomas died in Widworthy in 1839. It appears that he never married or had children, so he left his estate to two of his nephews and his brothers and sisters who were living. Benjamin was one of the brothers listed. Because the amount of the entire estate was valued at under 800 pounds, and a large number of his brothers and sisters were still living at the time, it is likely that Benjamin inherited only a small amount.

1841 census[]

In the 1841 census, Benjamin (1762) and his wife Elizabeth are living with their son Benjamin (1789) at ‘Heathhouse’ Cottage in Northleigh.

Death of wife[]

Wife Elizabeth died on the 18th February 1849 at Northleigh, aged 85 years. Her death was recorded as being of old age, and husband Benjamin was present at her death.

1851 census[]

Benjamin is in the 1851 census for Devon living with his daughter Eliza and her family at Bickham, Branscombe, Devon. Branscombe is on the coast of Devon, just south of the Southleigh area. Eliza was married to James Tucker, a shepherd, and had two children, Henry (aged 29) and Samuel (aged 26) living with them. Benjamin was incorrectly recorded as ‘mother in law’ instead of ‘father in law’ and his age was recorded incorrectly as 78 years, rather than 88 years. He was listed as widowed and a pauper, formerly a farmer. His birthplace was recorded as Colyton.


Benjamin's death certificate

Benjamin died at Bickham, Branscombe on the 22/4/1853. He was 90 years old and the cause of death was recorded as old age and dropsy, not certified. A Phoeby Bancroft was present at his death and she signed the death certificate with her mark.

Benjamin was buried at Northleigh on 1st May 1853, it taking eight days for his body to be prepared and transferred from Branscombe.

He was the last of Thomas and Joan Underdown’s sons alive at the time. It is also likely that he was the last of the 18 siblings alive, but this in not 100% confirmed at this stage. His death was recorded in the North Devon Journal, most likely because of this.


Name Birth Death
Children of Benjamin & Elizabeth Underdown

Benjamin bap 29/11/1789
Northleigh, Devon
bur Dec Q 1869
bur Honiton District, Devon

Thomas bap 16/2/1791
Northleigh, Devon
buried 24/2/1833
buried Southleigh,Devon

James bap 16/6/1793
Southleigh, Devon

Eliza bap 25/12/1795
Northleigh, Devon

Robert bap 12/11/1797
Southleigh, Devon
after 1861

Emanuel bap 25/12/1799
Southleigh, Devon
bur after 1881

Ann bap 03/01/1802
Southleigh, Devon

Alfred bap 22/1/1812
Southleigh, Devon
bur 16/02/1816
bur Devon


  • Parish records
  • Genealogical information from Peter Underdown
  • 1841 and 1851census
  • Wills of Thomas and Samuel Underdown
  • Taunton Courier, 18/4/1811 & 3/10/1811
  • Exeter Flying Post, 3/10/1811, 10/10/1811, 17/10/1811, 1/10/1812, 21/10/1819
  • Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 21/10/1819
  • Tithe Apportionment for Northleigh, 1840
  • Death certificate of Benjamin Underdown