Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kelly, Anthony Edwin (1852–1930)

by Doreen Wheeler

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Anthony Edwin Bowes Kelly (1852-1930), company director, was born in 1852 at Ballinasloe, Galway, Ireland, son of John Kelly and his wife Louisa, née Daly. In 1854 John with three children migrated to New South Wales where he became sub-collector of customs at Albury and from 1856 police magistrate at Deniliquin; the rest of the family, including Bowes, joined him in 1860. Educated by a tutor at Deniliquin, Bowes worked as a jackeroo on Riverina sheep-stations and as a drover. He became manager of Billilla Station on the Darling River near Wilcannia about 1875 and was eventually a partner. About 1881 he joined a Melbourne syndicate speculating in land around the Paroo River and made the basis of his fortune. He next fitted out a party to explore the Nullarbor plain region, and subsequently joined a group taking stock by ship to the Kimberley, Western Australia, for the King Sound Pastoral Co.

In 1884, hearing of silver discoveries in the Barrier Ranges, Kelly journeyed to Silverton and on behalf of himself, his brother George (father of Sir George Dalziel), and William Weatherly bought a one-fourteenth share in the new Broken Hill mine which, however, he did not visit. The share had belonged to James Poole, one of the syndicate of seven who began digging at Broken Hill in 1883. Poole had swapped his share with (Sir) Sidney Kidman for four steers; Kelly bought it for £150 and within ten years it was worth £1.5 million.

In 1885 Kelly was a member of the committee asked by the syndicate (then numbering fourteen) to draw up a prospectus for the new Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. He was a member of the board of directors which held its first meeting on 15 August and served until his death. He was chairman of the board from 29 April to 2 August 1892, while a great strike saw Broken Hill armed and barricaded, and from 23 March 1893 to 1 February 1895. His longest period as chairman, however, was from 9 March 1917 to 27 October 1922 when he oversaw the most difficult period of B.H.P.'s development: the company's steelworks had opened in 1915 and the organization faced both external competition and internal strain as it moved from mining and smelting at Broken Hill and Port Pirie, South Australia, to steelmaking at Newcastle.

Kelly's association with B.H.P. in 1884 sparked off an interest in mining which absorbed him over several decades. Although he lacked technical mining knowledge he was ever willing to invest, in particular in large fields which were either under capitalized or poorly managed. He was one of a group of B.H.P. directors which included William Jamieson, William Knox, Duncan McBryde, W. R. Wilson and James Reid, who between them invested in all the main base-metal fields in Australia before 1914. Kelly's brothers, Herbert and Aloysius, followed him into mining investment.

His second fortune was based on the copper mine at Mount Lyell, Tasmania, discovered in 1883 and worked for gold with little success. Kelly and William Orr in 1891 sent ore samples to Broken Hill for analysis, and a decision was made to mine for copper. The Mount Lyell Mining Co. N.L. was formed with Kelly as principal shareholder having some 27,000 shares purchased for £3500. This company was superseded by the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd in 1893; Kelly was a director until his death and chairman until 1911 and in 1914-24. Enormous capital expenditure — approximately £400,000 — was required for the building of a railway to Strahan and a smelter, but with excellent management the mine made substantial profits for Kelly and other shareholders by 1910.

In 1897 Kelly was one of four directors of the Emu Bay Railway Co. Ltd, floated to connect the copper fields with the port of Burnie. Following the huge success of Broken Hill's Silverton Tramway, the Emu Bay Co. was rushed for shares. But there were two other competing lines, including Mt Lyell's own line to Strahan, and no dividends were paid. In 1912 Kelly, with Tasmanian entrepreneur Lindsay Tulloch, bought up shares in the Hercules and Primrose silver-lead-zinc mines at Mount Read and Rosebery. A planned merger with the German owners of the Zeehan smelters, the Tasmanian Smelting Co., was thwarted by World War I. But in 1915 Mount Lyell acquired the Hercules and Primrose shares as well as the Tasmanian Copper Co.'s Mount Read mine and formed the subsidiary Mount Read and Rosebery Mines Ltd. In 1920 this was sold to the Electrolytic Co. of Australia Ltd. Not all Kelly's Tasmanian ventures were successful. He lost money on Zeehan and Dundas enterprises, a cement works at Maria Island and the Sea Elephant Tin Mining Co. on King Island.

In 1902 Kelly bought the historic Tasmanian station Norton Mandeville. He also invested in city and rural properties around Melbourne; at his mansion Moorakyne in Glenferrie Road, Malvern, the family reputedly dined off gold plate. He was a member of the Malvern Shire Council in 1892-96. A director of the Colonial Bank of Australasia from 1907, and chairman from 1914, until its merger with the National Bank of Australasia Ltd in 1918, Kelly remained a director of the National Bank, and from 1909 of Union Trustees, Executors and Agency Ltd. He was president of the Australian Club in 1903-05 and of the Athenaeum Club in 1925-26. Kelly was over 6 feet (183 cm) tall, 'a massive man with a bone-crushing handshake', ginger-haired. The story of board meetings ending with a two-up game played with sovereigns, clings to his name. When he died at Moorakyne on 16 October 1930, little remained of his original fortune: his estate was valued for probate at £36,589 in Victoria and £1895 in New South Wales. He was survived by his wife Mary Fanny, née Hawley, whom he had married at Christ Church, South Yarra, on 14 February 1888, and by six of his nine children. He was buried in St Kilda cemetery with Anglican rites.

For at least four decades Bowes Kelly enhanced Australian mining and manufacturing. He combined financial daring with shrewd appreciation of mining or industrial possibilities and gave extraordinary time to running Australia's main manufacturing venture, B.H.P. Skilled in manipulating the stock-market, he never speculated for his own financial gain in mines which lacked a solid basis for mineral wealth. His investments instead encouraged the growth of companies which both gave employment to thousands and broadened the base of Australian economic life.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, The Peaks of Lyell (Melb, 1954), and The Rise of Broken Hill (Melb, 1968), and The Steel Master (Melb, 1971)
  • P. Mawson, A Vision of Steel (Melb, 1958)
  • A. Trengove, "What's Good for Australia...!' : The story of BHP (Syd, 1975)
  • BHP Recreation Review, May 1927, Oct 1930
  • Argus (Melbourne), 17 Oct 1930
  • BHP Board minutes, 1885-1930 (BHP Billiton Archives, South Melbourne)
  • Malvern Council (Melbourne), minutes, 1879-1930
  • private information.

Citation details

Doreen Wheeler, 'Kelly, Anthony Edwin (1852–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kelly-anthony-edwin-6916/text11999, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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