Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Katherine Kirkland (1808–1892)

by Jean Hagger

This article was published:

Katherine Kirkland (1808-1892), née Hamilton, was born on 23 February 1808 in Glasgow, Scotland, daughter of Archibald Hamilton (1772-1827), merchant, and his wife Agnes Anna, née Trokes. On 14 April 1836 at Glasgow she was married to Kenneth William, the seventh of eight children of John Kirkland and his wife Sybilla who was a sister of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, the Canadian explorer. Kenneth was then working in the sugar refining business inherited by his brother Alexander, but he became exasperated by Alexander's overbearing ways, and in June 1838 sailed from Greenock in the Renown with his wife and infant daughter Agnes, and with Katherine's brothers, James and Robert. The party arrived at Hobart Town in October and the men went to Port Phillip to select a farm. Kirkland chose one at Trawalla, 120 miles (193 km) north-west of Melbourne, returned to Launceston, bought livestock, equipment and provisions, and in January 1839 took his family to Geelong.

Katherine's impressions of the journey through rugged country to her new home and of her two years of life there are recorded in the article Life in the Bush which, though published anonymously in Chambers's Miscellany in 1845, is undoubtedly the work of this intrepid woman. The publication is important because it gives the woman's angle on the social life of the rural community of the 1830s. She was distressed by the behaviour of many of the men, who prided themselves on the roughness of their dress and manners. Servants also were a problem, for they ran away if the settlers criticized their slovenly and dishonest practices.

Mrs Kirkland seemed to remain untouched by crude conditions. She graciously complimented her hostess on the damper when tasting it for the first time, and though barely settled in her new home managed to find accommodation for eight unexpected visitors. She went to Melbourne where her son, Kenneth William, was born on 16 September 1839, and returned in November. On New Year's day she served kangaroo soup, roast turkey, boiled mutton, parrot pie and plum pudding, all eaten at midday when the temperature was 100°F (38°C), yet she could comment 'What good things we had in the bush'. The article also throws an interesting light on the early settlers' methods. She described her own activities in the dairy, and the work of the men, their troubles with wild dogs, Aboriginals and careless shepherds as they cleared their land and cared for their livestock.

The previous owners of the selection had abandoned it through fear of the Aboriginals; the Kirklands left after two years because Kenneth's family was concerned at his spending his life in manual labour. Katherine was pleased to move for the sake of her children. They went to a small farm at Darebin Creek but in April 1841 bushfires and illness drove them into Melbourne, where for six months her husband served as registrar of the Court of Requests at a salary of £150. Katherine opened a school but because of her health she sailed with the children on 10 September in the Brilliant for Glasgow. Her husband was forced to sell his estate, was declared insolvent in July 1842 and with the help of friends returned to Scotland. It is said that he later went to British Columbia and died there.

Katherine lived for some time with her mother and in December 1843 her third child, Isabella Christine, was born at Glasgow. Later she moved to Argyllshire and to Cheshire; she died on 10 June 1892 at the home of her granddaughter Ethel at Waterloo, Liverpool.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vol 3 (Lond, 1958)
  • Port Phillip Gazette index (State Records of South Australia)
  • private information.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Jean Hagger, 'Kirkland, Katherine (1808–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hamilton, Katherine

23 February, 1808
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


10 June, 1892 (aged 84)
Liverpool, Merseyside, England

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.