How an Armagh man with four wives had a Sydney suburb named in his honour

Hugh Kelly had been transported to New South Wales in 1806 for stealing clothes from an outhouse

Bus outside Kellyville Post Office on corner of Acres and Windsor Roads, Kellyville, in the 1930s. Source: Wikipedia

Bus outside Kellyville Post Office on corner of Acres and Windsor Roads, Kellyville, in the 1930s. Source: Wikipedia

 

When my daughter first went to live in Australia and I went to visit her, I used to roam the roads and side streets around her two-bedroom apartment, searching for the edge of Sydney. The western suburbs of the city seemed alien to me – many of the more appealing side roads didn’t have footpaths: what was that about? – so I often tramped along the busy artery known as Windsor Road. Which was about as restful as a stroll along the M50; but at least I wasn’t clumping through people’s front gardens.

Eventually, I came to an area where the houses stopped and scrubby tangles of gum trees, grevillea and golden wattle began. Where, I inquired when I got back, was this place? “Kellyville”, came the answer. In my mind Kellyville became a “here be dragons” sort of place, at – or just off – the edge of the map.

That was 12 years ago. Much has changed in the meantime: Kellyville is now one of the fastest-growing suburbs in an exploding metropolitan area; in 2011 its population was recorded at 20,000, a whopping 50 per cent increase in a decade.

Kellyville is the suburb of choice for many young people struggling to get a foothold on Sydney’s dizzying housing ladder. And that includes my Aussie family

Despite being located 40 kilometres west of Sydney’s central business district and suffering from a chronic shortage of public transport for city-bound commuters, it is the suburb of choice for many young people struggling to get a secure foothold on Sydney’s dizzying housing ladder. And that includes my Aussie family.

So I began to wander a new set of roads. Scrubby wasteland, I discovered, was disappearing fast, swallowed by Kellyville’s ever-expanding estates and even – to my delight: something affordable! – an Aldi. But why, I wondered, was the area called “Kellyville”?

In 1800, Kellyville was known by the Heaney-esque name of “There and Nowhere”. For a time it was known as “Irishtown”, which suggests that plenty of Irish families fetched up there (in contrast to “Blacktown”, just down the road). It was finally named “Kellyville” after Hugh Kelly, an Armagh man who had been transported to New South Wales in 1806 for stealing some clothes from an outhouse.

Kelly was assigned to a work for an English couple, Humphrey and Mary Evans, who had been given 135 acres of land in the hilly countryside west of Sydney. When Evans was killed by a falling tree soon afterwards, the 21-year-old Kelly promptly “took up”, as the convict records put it, with his widow. They set up an inn, the Half Way House, on Windsor Road. Which may not have been a two-lane highway in those days, but was nevertheless bustling with a constant stream of traffic between Sydney and the productive farmlands of Windsor, to the west.

Kelly must have been quite a character – and quite a charmer. After his wife died he took up with his neighbour’s daughter

Kelly must have been quite a character – and quite a charmer. After Mary died, he “took up” with his neighbour’s daughter, Esther Harley. By February 1831, he was married to Eliza Purcell. She was, the Sydney Gazette reported, drawing some spirits from the inn’s store-room when a candle ignited and she was badly burned. “She was the third wife whom Mr Kelly has had to follow to the grave. Her funeral took place Wednesday, and was most numerously attended,” the reporter observed.

Kelly wasn’t broken-hearted for long; he acquired a fourth wife,

Mary Ann Moran. We don’t know what age he was when he arrived in New South Wales but he lived until 1884, so he must have been tipping the 100 mark. After his death his land was divided into smaller farms which were known as “the Kellyville estate”.

What would he make of today’s Kellyville? He’d probably be quite impressed by its sheer fecundity. And with all those kids of his, he might enjoy the daily pilgrimage to the playground, where Irish grannies and Chinese grannies beam and nod at each other as their pre-school charges clamber happily from slide to climbing frame and back again.

I know I do. And from now on, I’ll tip my supermarket sunhat to the spirit of Mr Hugh Kelly of the Windsor Road.

If you know of an Irish connection which would interest readers of this column, please email awallace@irishtimes.com with details of the story, as well as your contact address

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.