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Henry Brown (Charles) Kellow (1871–1943)

by H. S. Broadhead

This article was published:

Henry Brown (Charles) Kellow (1871-1943), motor car dealer, was born on 24 October 1871 at Sutton Grange, Victoria, son of Joseph Kellow, grazier, and his wife Elizabeth, née Patterson. He changed his name to Charles by deed poll. Educated at Kings' College, Clifton Hill, Melbourne, he soon escaped to clerical work, for a time in the real estate firm of his uncle (Sir) James Patterson, before exploiting the bicycle boom of the 1890s as a racing cyclist and salesman. A dashing performer on the new safety-bicycle, he won the Austral Wheel Race (the 'Melbourne Cup' of cycling) in 1896 and some £800 in prize-money in 1897. In business, he and his partner W. H. H. Lewis prospered in their Swanston Street bicycle shop, despite an unprofitable interlude Kellow spent on the goldfields of Western Australia in 1894.

Kellow married Florance McRae Coles at Richmond on 10 August 1898 and, having assumed sole ownership of the bicycle shop, began thinking about branching out into motor cars, cranky and commercially unpromising contraptions though they appeared to be. Although not as mechanically gifted as Harley Tarrant and Herbert Thomson, he imported and demonstrated a Darracq early in 1901 and captured headlines with spectacular advertising and sporting stunts in the improved cars of later years. During the railway strike of 1903 he delivered Melbourne newspapers to country towns and in 1905, with Harry James, set a 24-hour endurance record of 556 miles (895 km) in a 12 horsepower Humber. They made a record-breaking Melbourne to Sydney run of 25 hours 40 minutes in 1908, driving a 15 horsepower Talbot.

By 1910 the Kellow Motor Co., established in Exhibition Street, was importing a large range of both popular and expensive vehicles from England, Europe and the United States of America, selling them to Melbourne's developing truck and taxi services and to a rapidly growing motoring public. At the first Melbourne Motor Show in 1912 the Kellow stand was among the most prominent, with a display in which lesser breeds like Wolseley, Minerva, Albion (lorry) and Renault (van) paid court to the regal splendour of a Rolls-Royce.

A big man — 13 stone (83 kg) in cycle-racing trim — Kellow was enormously energetic, personally popular and commercially audacious to the point of illegality. In 1910 he was fined £1980 by the High Court of Australia for manipulating invoices to evade customs duty. In his forties he looked for opportunities to diversify his interests and expand his wealth and found them in the traditional Australian fields of sheep-grazing and horse-racing. While continuing to develop his motor business, he invested in Gundaline, a Riverina sheep-station to which he travelled by private plane in later life, and also in Hall Mark, Heroic, Nuffield and many less notable gallopers, trained by Jack (Michael) Holt. Hall Mark won the 1933 Melbourne Cup, Heroic justified the very high price of 16,000 guineas Kellow paid for him in 1925 by winning more than twice that amount, while Nuffield won the Sydney and Melbourne Derbys in 1938.

Kellow's first wife died in 1923. On 27 March 1926 at Kew he married a widow Lucy Maude Sommerville Coles, née Hutchings. Kellow died of heart failure at his South Yarra home on 2 July 1943 and was cremated. He was survived by his second wife and three of the four daughters of his first marriage. His estate was sworn for probate at £147,229.

Select Bibliography

  • H. H. Painting (ed), The James Flood Book of Early Motoring (Melb, 1968), and The Second James Flood Book of Early Motoring (Melb, 1971)
  • Tatler (Melbourne), 30 Apr 1898
  • Punch (Melbourne), 22 Apr 1909
  • Argus (Melbourne), 31 Aug 1912, 9 Mar 1929
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9 Mar, 25 Oct 1929, 6 Dec 1935, 2 July 1943.

Citation details

H. S. Broadhead, 'Kellow, Henry Brown (Charles) (1871–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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