Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Augustus Charles (Jack) Kilfoyle (1893–1962)

by Geraldine Byrne

This article was published:

John Augustus Charles (Jack) Kilfoyle (1893-1962), pastoralist, was born on 9 December 1893 at Palmerston (Darwin), only child of Thomas Kilfoyle, a grazier from Ireland, and his native-born wife Catherine, née Byrne. In 1882-83 Tom had led an overlanding party with his relations, the Duracks and the Byrnes, and established Rosewood station which extended from the eastern Kimberley region of Western Australia into the present Northern Territory. Jack was educated (1901-14) at Christian Brothers' College, Perth. Although he had lost the sight in one eye as the result of an insect bite which became infected, he proved an excellent athlete. On his father's death in 1908, he inherited a half-share in Rosewood; he worked on the property from 1915 and took over its management in March 1922.

During the next twenty-five years Kilfoyle built a reputation as a successful owner-manager on a medium-sized property (734,000 acres, 297,042 ha) on what was known as a 'big man's frontier' increasingly dominated by companies and absentee proprietors. Having improved his beef Shorthorns with a strain of 'milk' bulls acquired from Nestlè & Anglo Swiss Condensed Milk Co. (Australasia) Ltd, he put his profits into improving the property by fencing, paddocking and providing watering-places. He also welcomed technological innovations. A Federal board of inquiry into land policy in 1937 praised Kilfoyle's thorough management and close supervision of Rosewood.

To Kilfoyle's neighbours he seemed prone to 'tarry-diddle' in that he was too enterprising in branding cleanskin calves found on his boundaries. In 1932 he was charged with the theft of some part-Devon bulls from the Wyndham Freezing, Canning & Meat Works. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment in Wyndham gaol, but allowed his liberty during the day. At a retrial the sentence was commuted to a fine. As a result of the incident his sleeping partners, Holmes Bros Ltd, withdrew from the pastoral company. The Devon strain became a feature of Rosewood cattle.

Kilfoyle's manner was disarming. His strongest oath was 'By Jove'; he neither smoked nor drank alcohol; and his worst habit was chewing the corners of his handkerchief. At the age of 40 he seemed a model bachelor, but in 1938 he was sued for breach of promise by May Dorothy Hayes, daughter of his father's former partner: she sought damages of £10,000 and received £850. Kilfoyle's only comment was, 'Oh dear . . . these women are expensive'. On 23 February 1939 at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Perth, he married a divorcee Thelma Ada Hope Ryan, née Dutton. His fortunes prospered during World War II and in 1947 he sold Rosewood, fully stocked, for £92,000. He established an £8000 trust for the Aborigines on his property, then moved with his wife in turn to Sydney and Melbourne. His collection of Australian stamps was to be valued at £35,000 in 1961. The Kilfoyles lived in Berkeley Square, London, from 1952 but returned to Perth in 1961. Survived by his wife and stepson, Kilfoyle died of emphysema and bronchitis on 26 May 1962 in Perth and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £94,608.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Durack, Sons in the Saddle (Lond, 1983)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1937-40, 3, p 813
  • West Australian, 12, 23, 25 Feb 1932, 22 Nov 1947
  • G. C. Bolton, The Kimberley Pastoral Industry from 1885 to the Present (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1953)
  • G. F. Byrne, An Analysis of the Social Profiles of the Kilfoyles of Rosewood Station (M.A. thesis, Edith Cowan University, 1996)
  • Kilfoyle papers (privately held)
  • Dame Mary Durack papers (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Geraldine Byrne, 'Kilfoyle, John Augustus Charles (Jack) (1893–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 5 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 December, 1893
Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia


26 May, 1962 (aged 68)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.