Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nicholas William Kelly (1851–1907)

by John E. Price

This article was published:

Nicholas William Kelly (1851-1907), soldier, auctioneer and estate agent, was born on 1 October 1851 in Dublin, son of Christopher Kelly and his wife Honoria, née Moran. He began school in the west of Ireland but, aged 14, accompanied his parents to Melbourne where he completed his studies at Archibald Millie's private academy.

In May 1866 Kelly began work with the Victorian Railways as a fuel clerk in the locomotive division. He enlisted as a gunner for part-time military service with the Melbourne Artillery Corps in 1868, thus beginning a steady climb up the promotion ladder. Commissioned lieutenant in April 1875 in the Victorian Volunteer Artillery, he was promoted captain in April 1880. Upon the formation of the Victorian Militia in 1884 he was appointed to 'C' Battery, Field Artillery, at South Melbourne. There he captained its champion rifle team and led many teams which competed in intercolonial shooting contests. In April 1888 Kelly was promoted battery commander with the rank of major. In May he left the railways to open an auctioneering business in partnership with Thomas Carney in Swanston Street. Promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1895 he went to England in 1897 as adjutant and coach to the rifle team, captained by Colonel Templeton, which won the Kolapore Cup. In England he underwent a course of instruction while attached to the Royal Artillery.

'Keen eyed and slightly grizzled', Kelly left on 1 May 1900 for service in the South African War in command of the 4th Victorian (Imperial Bushmen's) Contingent. Disembarking at Beira, Kelly's regiment crossed Rhodesia, reaching Mafeking on 20 August. There they entered the Transvaal as part of Brigadier General Lord Erroll's brigade, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Carrington. Later Kelly's force was attached to a flying column under direct orders from Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen. Kelly was a popular and trusted leader who constantly attempted to improve mounted infantry tactics in an effort to match the Boer commandos. At Hartbeesfontein on 16 February 1901 he received a thigh wound which necessitated convalescence in England where he was presented to King Edward VII. For his work in South Africa Kelly was appointed C.B. and was twice mentioned in dispatches (16 April and 7 May 1901).

Invalided home in August he returned to his business, becoming sole proprietor after Carney's death in 1902. In April he was awarded the Volunteer Officers' Decoration and in July was placed on the reserve of officers. He was posted to the unattached list in 1905, but was next year appointed to command the 4th Light Horse Brigade in the rank of colonel. During 1906 he suffered a haemorrhage of the brain, but ignored the instructions of his medical adviser, Colonel (Sir Charles) Ryan, to retire and live more quietly. On 9 June 1907 Kelly died, unmarried, of apoplexy at his home in Smith Street, Collingwood, and after a requiem Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral was buried with military honours in Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • J. Stirling, The Colonials in South Africa, 1899-1902 (Edinb, 1907)
  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • R. L. Wallace, The Australians at the Boer War (Canb, 1976)
  • London Gazette, Apr, May, June 1901
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 Apr 1900
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 Apr 1900, 10, 12 June 1907
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 14 Apr 1900, 15 June 1907
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 28 Feb 1901, 21 Sept 1905, 13 June 1907
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 2 Mar, 27 Apr 1901, 15 June 1907
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 June 1907.

Citation details

John E. Price, 'Kelly, Nicholas William (1851–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 October, 1851
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


9 June, 1907 (aged 55)
Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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