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Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy (1810–1883)

by Peter Boyce

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Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy (1810-1883), soldier and governor, was born on 9 April 1810 at Cultra, County Down, Ireland, the fourth son of Hugh Kennedy and his wife Grace Dorothea, née Hughes. After study at Trinity College, Dublin, he was gazetted an ensign in the 11th Regiment on 15 August 1827. He served in Corfu, bought a commission and later spent three years in Canada as a captain in the 68th Regiment. In 1846 he returned to Ireland and as a poor law inspector in County Clare saw much of the Irish famine. He sold his commission in 1848 and joined the colonial service, becoming governor of Gambia in 1851, Sierra Leone in 1852 and Western Australia in July 1855.

In Kennedy's seven-year term in Western Australia the colony's economy grew steadily and the population rose by 40 per cent largely because of the influx of convict labour. In the Legislative Council he was opposed by the elected members Lionel Samson and Marshall Clifton. They were supported by the Perth Gazette and resigned within two years, alleging that Kennedy was riding roughshod over their proposal for a move towards self-government. The governor's rejection was endorsed by the Colonial Office but the acrimony continued until Kennedy left. However, his relations with the judiciary were reasonably amicable and his hand was strengthened when (Sir) Frederick Barlee, who had been his private secretary in Sierra Leone, was appointed colonial secretary.

Kennedy was early persuaded to use convict labour more intensively than his predecessor had allowed, and to concentrate on public works around Perth. The comptroller-general of convicts, Colonel (Sir) Edmund Henderson, favoured dispersal of labour and sought to obstruct Kennedy's plans, but the depots at Albany in 1855, York and Toodyay in 1856 and Port Gregory in 1857 were closed and the number of ticket-of-leave men in government employment was reduced. Notable public works by convict labour were road clearance, swamp drainage around Perth and the first stages of Government House on St George's Terrace, Perth. To counter serious mismanagement in the police and convict departments, Kennedy inquired into allegations of fraud involving the police commissioner and had him replaced. In 1859 a superintendent of convicts was suspended for embezzlement and another senior officer was dismissed for quarrelling with his superior.

Kennedy left the colony on 19 February 1862 for England where he was appointed C.B. in July. He was governor of Vancouver Island in 1863-67, governor-in-chief of the West African Settlements in 1868-72, governor of Hong Kong in 1872-77 and of Queensland in 1877-83. He was knighted in December 1867 and appointed K.C.M.G. in September 1871 and G.C.M.G. in May 1881.

In Queensland, with no constitutional problems, Kennedy was able to display his humanity and urbanity with good effect. His only unpopular action was to refuse the excited call of the working classes to dismiss the Chinese domestic staff which he had brought from Hong Kong. Sometimes he also complained that a few members appointed to the Legislative Council were unsuitable because of their unclear heads and unclean hands, but these were the comments of a strong-minded man and even the press declared them worthy of earnest attention. His last official act was to sanction the annexation of New Guinea by Queensland, subject to approval by the Colonial Office.

Kennedy had become very feeble and suffered severely from asthma. Attended by a devoted daughter he left Brisbane on 3 May 1883 farewelled by large crowds and many honours. He died at Aden on 3 June. Predeceased on 3 October 1874 by his wife Georgina Mildred, née Macartney, whom he had married in 1839, he was survived by a son and two daughters. In Western Australia’s Gascoyne region, the Kennedy Ranges had been named in the governor’s honour by the explorer F. T. Gregory in 1858. Most of the area has since been designated as national park. Port Kennedy, a feature of Warnbro Sound, south of Perth, which has since become a suburb of Rockingham, was likewise named for the governor in 1859 by the colony’s then surveyor general, J. S. Roe.

Select Bibliography

  • H. C. Gilliland, ‘Arthur Kennedy's Administration of the Colony of Western Australia …’, British Columbia Historical Quarterly, 18 (1954)
  • Perth Gazette, 18 Sept 1868
  • Inquirer (Perth), 20 June 1883
  • P. J. Boyce, The Role of the Governor in Western Australia, 1829-1890 (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1961)
  • R. J. Eagleton, Governor Kennedy—Governor of Western Australia 1855-1862 (Royal Western Australian Historical Society, and State Library of Western Australia).

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Citation details

Peter Boyce, 'Kennedy, Sir Arthur Edward (1810–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 17 July 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]


9 April, 1810
Cultra, Down, Ireland


3 June, 1883 (aged 73)
Aden, Yemen

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