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Kennedy, John (1862–1937)

by Ann G. Smith

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

This is a shared entry with:

Malcolm Kennedy (1858-1944), John (1862-1937) and Colin (1868-1936), engineers and shipbuilders, were brothers. Malcolm was born on 1 July 1858 at Anderston, Glasgow, Scotland, first son of eight sons and three daughters of Robert Kennedy, ship carpenter, and his wife Florinda, née Aitken. In 1860 the family migrated to Melbourne where Kennedy senior set up as a shipwright and where his second son John was born on 4 April 1862 and his fourth son Colin on 5 December 1868. In 1879 Malcolm and John, who trained as a naval architect, joined their father as Robert Kennedy & Sons, shipbuilders and shipsmiths. On 27 December 1883 at North Melbourne, Malcolm married Ann White with Presbyterian forms. Next year Robert Kennedy & Sons removed to Hobart where with John W. Syme and W. J. Duffy, partners until 1889, they took over the Derwent Ironworks & Engineering Co., a foundry formerly owned by the (Alexander) Clark family. The Kennedys also acquired the patent slipyard, formerly Ross's, at Battery Point.

The firm's first major undertaking was the construction under government contract of the dredge (Sir James Wilson) Agnew. The shipyard workers were trained from scratch by the Kennedys and the Agnew was launched on 26 March 1887 amid acclaim as the first iron ship built in Tasmania. The Kennedys also built the steam launch Tarrina for the Launceston Marine Board, made ironwork for bridges, and towards the end of Robert's life began operating a fleet of interstate trading vessels. Robert Kennedy died in Hobart on 15 May 1903.

Colin joined the business about 1901 after education at St James's School, Melbourne, and experience on the Tasmanian railways, at the Lefroy and west coast mines and as mine-manager in Western Australia. After the shipbuilding industry in Hobart began to flag John also turned to mining: he attended the Ballarat School of Mines in Victoria and reopened the Hobart smelters which had been an adjunct of the Derwent Ironworks in the 1870s. He made several voyages overseas on smelting business and as mining promoter, and was a member of the London Stock Exchange. In 1913-14 he was manager of Tongkah Compound (1910); Robert Kennedy & Sons was reputed to have contributed to the success of the Hobart-run Tongkah Harbour, Thailand, tin mines by developing a suitable dredge. The brothers also held shares in the Irrawaddy Burma Co. John was a member of the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers and from 1932 an honorary life member of the American Institute of Mining & Metallurgical Engineers. He and Colin both owned and raced trotting horses. Colin died in Hobart on 2 June 1936, survived by his wife Amy Naomi, née Wilkinson, whom he had married on 18 September 1895 at Hobart, and by a daughter. John died in Hobart on 10 January 1937; his second wife Helen and two sons survived him.

Malcolm succeeded his father as head of the family business in 1903 and when this was incorporated as a limited liability company in 1926 was managing director. His interests extended to fur-trading, mining and general hardware; he succeeded (Sir) Alfred Ashbolt as chairman of directors of Tongkah Harbor Tin Dredging Co. in 1919 and as a director of Charles Davis Ltd in 1920. President of the Economic Society in 1911 and vice-chairman of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce in 1918-20, Kennedy contributed substantially to the founding of the faculty of commerce at the University of Tasmania in 1918. He served the government in the 1920s on the Public Service Salaries, the Bursaries, the Commonwealth Carbide Co. and the State Development boards. Once active in athletics, rowing and football, in 1912 he was president of the Royal Hobart Bowling Club. Like John a member of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, he was grand master of Buckingham district in 1895; he was a Rotarian and a manager of Scots (Chalmers) Church. He died, childless, in Hobart on 28 July 1944, leaving an estate valued for probate at £34,999. The Kennedys were all buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Reynolds, Men and Mines (Melb, 1974)
  • University of Tasmania, Calendar, 1920
  • Mercury (Hobart), 26, 28 Mar 1887, 18 May 1903, 3 June 1936, 12 Jan 1937, 29 July 1944
  • Kennedy family scrapbooks (State Library of Tasmania).

Citation details

Ann G. Smith, 'Kennedy, John (1862–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kennedy-john-7092/text11963, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 October 2014.

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

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