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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kelly, John Edward (1840–1896)

by Margaret Woodhouse

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

John Edward Kelly (1840-1896), businessman, was born on 17 June 1840 at Swan Reach, near Morpeth, New South Wales, son of James Kelly, settler, and his wife Mary, née O'Keefe. At 14 he worked in the Bourke district as a ration-carrier and store-keeper on a station, and four years later was head stockman for Vincent Dowling, with whom he explored the west and north-west of New South Wales and to whom he was largely indebted 'for his early training and education'. In 1862 Kelly took up leases himself and built the Old Fort (Royal) Hotel in Bourke. On 26 August at West Maitland he married Margaret Agnes, née Tierney.

In 1868 he sold the hotel but continued to select land and became increasingly critical of government officials. In 1872 he was involved in a land dispute with James Tyson and after an 'altercation' with a lands official, Kelly had to pay damages of £30. In 1875 he moved to Ashfield and bought a bookselling and printing business at 426 George Street, Sydney. He continued as printer and publisher to the Council of Education and on 20 February began publication of the Stockwhip, a weekly devoted mainly to free-thought and critical of 'religious, social, commercial and political charlatans'. Politically it was pro-Parkes and anti-Robertson and made libellous attacks on parliamentarians and other citizens. Although Parkes had encouraged Kelly, he begged him after five months to change the character of the Stockwhip, but Kelly refused. He became involved in court cases with his printer, with his tenant who objected to the noise of the printing machinery and with Edward Greville for whom he printed Greville's Official Post Office Directory of New South Wales. A libel case with John McElhone was dropped after Kelly apologized. Kelly had to pay damages of £250 to Robert Burgess of Tenterfield and lacking financial support had to sell the Stockwhip in September 1876. Over the years he was a frequent contributor to the press on public issues.

Kelly returned to his property at Weelongbar, Bourke, and in 1877 lent Parkes £500 but had difficulty in getting it back. In 1881 Kelly selected land near Trangie and adjoining blocks in the names of his son and daughter. He built Myalmundi, a fine homestead with gardens, dairy and a sawmill. Defeated for the Bogan in 1865, 1875 and 1885 when he narrowly lost to Sir Patrick Jennings, Kelly held the seat in 1887-89. In the assembly he spoke up for men on the land, attacked the civil service and railway extension and was one of the eight Catholics who voted in favour of Sir Alfred Stephen's divorce bills. He had mining interests, owned Copper Hill near Molong and was general manager of the Peak Hill Pty Co. In 1894 he was first mayor of Peak Hill but after three months resigned through ill health. He died from cancer of the throat at Peak Hill on 4 November 1896, survived by his wife, five sons and two daughters. He was buried in the Catholic section of the Peak Hill cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine Centennial History of New South Wales, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • M. Woodhouse, An Index to the Stockwhip, 1875-1877 With a Life of John Edward Kelly (Syd, 1969).

Citation details

Margaret Woodhouse, 'Kelly, John Edward (1840–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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