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Michael Kenny (1808–1892)

by John C. Radcliffe

This article was published:

Michael Kenny (1808-1892), by unknown photographer, c1885

Michael Kenny (1808-1892), by unknown photographer, c1885

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 8510/9

Michael Kenny (1808?-1892), farmer, was born probably on 24 December 1808 at Six-Mile Bridge, County Clare, Ireland. He later claimed that in 1829, imbued with patriotism, he was involved in nominating the Liberal Daniel O'Connell for his election to the British House of Commons. On 5 November 1841 Kenny sailed in the Brankimmor, reaching Launceston, Van Diemen's Land, on 6 April 1842.

Moving to Port Phillip to meet a brother and two sisters, he stripped wattle bark in Gippsland, sailed to Hobart Town and walked back to Launceston, carrying 'a double-barrelled gun on my shoulder, always ready and willing to take any employment'. He and a brother then settled at Morphett Vale, South Australia, finding work by grubbing, fencing, reaping and threshing. Each then purchased an 80-acre (32.4 ha) section in the hundred of Noarlunga for £80. On 22 October 1848 at Morphett Vale Catholic church Michael married Irish-born Bridget Ayrene (Herreen), née Purtle, a widow with four children. They were to have six children between 1849 and 1863. Kenny was a leading sportsman and in a race won a silver cup, which arrived from England two years later. His wife and children stayed in South Australia when he went to the Ballarat diggings for nine months in 1852. He claimed to have been involved in the Eureka rebellion.

In 1856 the Kennys moved to 600 acres (about 240 ha) at Shea-oak Log, purchased for £1 2s. 6d. per acre with the proceeds of his prospecting. They also owned and ran the Freeling Railway Hotel, which became a focus for local meetings. Kenny founded and became secretary of the Light Farmers' Club. Dissatisfied with the railway rates for the carriage of wheat, he put heavily loaded teams on the roads. The consequent damage persuaded Governor Daly to meet a deputation of 150 farmers; as a result uniform railway freight on all goods was introduced. Kenny was active in discussions leading to the South Australian Waste Lands Amendment (Strangways) Act of 1869, which encouraged closer settlement and the spread of agriculture.

About 1870 Kenny and several sons selected land in the hundred of Melville, southern Yorke Peninsula, under the Strangways Act. Crop yields began to decline with reduced soil fertility, however, and in 1876 the family sailed from Edithburgh to Waterloo Bay (Elliston), on the western coast of South Australia. In September Kenny took up a wheat and sheep property at Colton, about 120 miles (nearly 200 km) beyond Port Lincoln; he named it Balla McKenny (home of the Kennys). Grain was shipped from Port Kenny, on Venus Bay.

Kenny and his family were staunch Catholics, associated with building the churches at Morphett Vale and Colton. His contribution to the Irish National Federation of South Australia, particularly through assisting early colonists to South Australia, was recognized by presentation of a gold medal. He died on 11 May 1892 at Colton, survived by his wife and their four sons and one daughter. His son Patrick took over Balla McKenny.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1909)
  • K. Kenny, The Descendants of Brigid Purtle & Daniel Herreen 1840-1847 and Brigid Herreen (nee Purtle) and Michael Kenny 1847-1892 (1979)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 19 Feb 1887, p 35, 21 May 1892, p 37.

Citation details

John C. Radcliffe, 'Kenny, Michael (1808–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Michael Kenny (1808-1892), by unknown photographer, c1885

Michael Kenny (1808-1892), by unknown photographer, c1885

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 8510/9

Life Summary [details]


24 December, 1808
Six-Mile Bridge, Clare, Ireland


11 May, 1892 (aged 83)
Colton, South Australia, Australia

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