Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Frederick Kelly (1847–1894)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published:

David Frederick Kelly (1847-1894), professor of classics, was born in Ireland, the eldest son of David Kelly, landowner of Castledawson, County Londonderry, Ireland. From Dungannon School he won a classical scholarship in 1869 to Trinity College, Dublin, was admitted to the Middle Temple on 23 April 1872 and moved to Clare College, Cambridge (B.A., 1875; M.A., 1879). He then taught the sixth form of Dulwich College but resigned at the end of 1878 when he accepted an appointment as Hughes professor of classics and comparative philology and literature at the University of Adelaide. With his wife Louisa Jane, née d'Arenberg, and her brother, Frederick Augustus, he arrived at Adelaide in the Assam on 27 February 1879. Next day he was introduced to the university council.

The council had added evening classes to the regular day-time lectures but Kelly's expositions were not popular. In his address to the annual commemoration in December 1885 he criticized the growing emphasis on utilitarian subjects and strongly advocated the discipline of classics, especially the study of Greek which local educationists were trying to oust from South Australian schools and thereby from the university. He was more successful in his advocacy of sports. He had rowed at Cambridge and in Adelaide joined the University Rowing Club. He played tennis and was a member and sometime captain of the Adelaide Archery Club. He enjoyed carpentry, built a dogcart for himself and installed his own bells and lighting system.

From about 1886 Kelly began to suffer from locomotor ataxia. On 20 November 1886 his wife died at Oakbank, leaving a son, Ignatius George. Kelly later married her sister, Sophie Armstrong; their son, David Victor, was born at College Park on 14 September 1891. In October 1893 Kelly sailed in the Oruba with his wife and two children to spend Christmas in England. On 6 March 1894 he returned to Adelaide alone and in rapidly deteriorating health. Friends took him to hospital at North Adelaide where he died on 21 March, aged 46. He was buried at the North Road cemetery and the university was closed for the day. His will of 28 November 1890 bequeathed his estate of £750 to his wife but it was revoked and he died intestate. His son David (1891-1959) became a well-known British diplomat.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Kelly, The Ruling Few (Lond, 1952)
  • Register (Adelaide), 27 Feb 1879, 3 May 1882, 2, 5 Nov 1886, 5 Oct 1893
  • Observer (Adelaide), 24 Mar 1894.

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Kelly, David Frederick (1847–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




21 March, 1894 (aged ~ 47)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

locomotor ataxia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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