Kate Kelly (outlaw)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Kate Kelly
Kate Kelly, sister of Ned Kelly.jpg
Portrait in the State Library of NSW
Catherine Ada Kelly

(1863-07-12)12 July 1863
DiedOctober 1898 (aged 35)
Lake Forbes
Cause of deathDrowning
  • John Kelly (father)
  • Ellen Quinn (mother)
RelativesNed Kelly

Catherine Ada Kelly (12 July 1863 – October 1898) was the younger sister of famous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. She died drowning in Lake Forbes, possibly trying to save an aboriginal child.

Early life[edit]

Kate Kelly was born in Beveridge, Victoria, Australia, on 12 July 1863 to parents John and Ellen Kelly (née Quinn), their seventh child; the family moved to Avenel soon after her birth, where another child, Grace, was born. John Kelly died of dropsy when Kate was four years old. Ellen Kelly then moved the family to her sister's house at Greta. One year later, the family moved once again, to a two-room hut on their own land at nearby Eleven Mile Creek. Kate helped her mother bring up the family, which included three more children by Ellen's second husband George King.

The Fitzpatrick incident[edit]

The Kellys had already had a long history of trouble with the police when the Fitzpatrick incident occurred.

Kate attracted the attention of Alexander Fitzpatrick, a young police constable with a history of womanising. On 15 April 1878 Fitzpatrick, whilst drunk, paid a visit to the Kelly household, claiming he had a warrant for the arrest of Dan Kelly for horse stealing, he made some kind of pass at Kate, resulting in her family coming to her assistance. Exactly what this assistance constituted is unknown, and a point of debate amongst historians.

Fitzpatrick returned to Benalla police station claiming that Ellen Kelly had struck him with a fire shovel, Dan Kelly had beaten him, and Ned Kelly had attempted to shoot him. William Williamson and William Skillion, neighbours of the Kellys, were also accused of violence. Ellen Kelly received a long sentence for her alleged crime, based purely on Fitzpatrick's claims. Ned and Dan Kelly fled into the Wombat Ranges to avoid gaol. On 25 October 1878, at Stringybark Creek, they ambushed four police officers who had been sent to arrest them. Three of the officers were killed. Ned, Dan, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart now turned to bank robbery.

With their mother in prison and their brothers on the run, Kate Kelly and her sister Margaret looked after the younger children.

Mistaken for Margaret Kelly and Steve Hart[edit]

J. J. Kenneally writes that the police mistook Kate for Steven when the latter would cross-dress and demonstrate his horsemanship. They also mistook Mrs Skillion (Margaret Kelly), with whom they were not acquainted, who had considerable horsemanship skills, for Kate.[1]

Ned Kelly's capture[edit]

Following Ned's arrest, Kate would often attempt to visit him in prison, as well as raising money for legal fees, she joined the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, which campaigned for Ned's death sentence to be changed. Despite Kate pleading on her knees in front of the Governor, His Excellency the Marquis of Normanby, Ned was hanged on 11 November 1880.

Life after Ned[edit]

Following Ned's hanging, Kate disappeared from Victoria, she was spotted performing as "Ada" in a Sydney "Wild West Show" run by Lance Skuthorpe, and then in Adelaide under the names Ada Hennessey and Kate Ambrose. She eventually ceased performing due to ill health, she worked briefly as a barmaid at Hill Scott's Hotel in southern Adelaide, before her waning health forced her to return home. She worked as a domestic servant in Wangaratta, and a housemaid in Laceby, followed by a series of domestic service jobs around the area.

On 25 November 1888 she married William Henry Foster, a respected blacksmith, and settled down in the town of Forbes; the couple had six children, though three died in infancy.

On 6 October 1898 Kate was reported missing, her drowned body was found eight days later in a lagoon on Condobolin Road nears Forbes. It is believed she drowned in Lake Forbes, a small pond situated in the middle of Forbes, while saving an aboriginal child who was in trouble during a flood of the lake, she was buried in Forbes Cemetery, aged 35. The female drowned in Forbes was Catherine Foster last seen on 6 October 1898 in Forbes; the autopsy records showed no evidence of how or why she drowned, she was found in Forbes Lagoon.[2] At the time of her death Catherine was 39 years old, making her birth date 1859, her death was thought to have been a suicide and left a husband and 4 children.[3]

Kate Kelly in popular culture[edit]

The folk song "Ye Sons of Australia" includes an (erroneous) passage about Kate's role in the Kelly Gang;[4]

The daring Kate Kelly how noble her mien
As she sat on her horse like an Amazon queen,
She rode through the forest revolver at hand
Regardless of danger, who dare bid her stand.

Kate Kelly is mentioned again later in the song, taking a role in the siege at Glenrowan;

The daring Kate Kelly came forth from the crowd
And on her poor brother she called out aloud,
"Come forth my dear brother, and fight while you can"
But a ball had just taken the life of poor Dan[citation needed]

Kate is the main character in Jean Bedford's first novel, Sister Kate (1982).
In the 2003 film Ned Kelly, starring Heath Ledger, Kate is played by Irish actor Kerry Condon.
The Whitlams' song "Kate Kelly" is about Kate Kelly.[5]

Kate Kelly revolver[edit]

In October 2006, Sydney-based auctioneer Tom Thompson exhibited a revolver that he claimed had belonged to Kate Kelly, it was further stated that it was the very revolver with which Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick had entered the Kelly house on the night of 15 April 1878, and which was wrestled off him by Kate's brother, Ned. In the ensuing struggle, Fitzpatrick was shot through the wrist; the revolver was purported to have been found preserved in lard and wrapped in leather, concealed in a wall cavity of a house in Forbes, in central NSW, where Kate Kelly had lived between 1888 and 1898.[6]

The revolver was described as a .32 Henckler & Co., carrying the markings of the Royal Constabulary in the form of R*C marked on the right hand side of the frame. It was exhibited at the State Library of NSW prior to a proposed auction to be held on 5 November 2006, where it was estimated to fetch $400–450,000AU; the gun authenticated by having it scanned under ultraviolet and infra-red light by the University of NSW.[7]

It reappeared for sale by Thompson through Melbourne auction house Mossgreen Auctions in November 2007. In the days leading up to the auction, the item received considerable press coverage, with Mossgreen director Paul Sumner describing the revolver's discovery as "a rare and exciting find". "In America, it would be equivalent to finding Jesse James' gun," he said.[8] The revolver was auctioned on Tuesday, 13 November 2007, where it sold to an absentee bidder for $72,870AU.[7]

The following day, controversy began to surround the sale when several antique firearm experts claimed to have informed Mossgreen director Paul Sumner prior to the Tuesday night auction that the revolver was incorrectly described, and dated too late to have been associated with Constable Fitzpatrick or the Kelly Gang during the years 1878–80. One expert explained that Henckell & Co., Solingen, was most likely the name of the German retailer who had sold the firearm, and not the actual manufacturer. The alleged Royal Constabulary markings of R*C had also been misread, it was claimed; the full marking depicted a crown over R*C all stamped in a vertical line. A crown over R was a common Belgian proof mark, R standing for rayé – the French term to indicate the barrel was rifled.[9]

However, all experts as part of the Age's claims did not view the revolver, nor speak with Mr Thompson nor Mossgreen before the auction, as noted by Mr Thompson in his claim against the Age's false reporting to the Australian Press Council in December 2007.

It was further suggested that the revolver was in fact a Belgian imitation of the highly popular British Webley "Bulldog" revolver, of which numerous imitations were made in Belgium and America in the years following the model's introduction in 1879, they were initially produced in .450, .442 and .380 calibres, however in July 1884 the smallest calibre version appeared listed in the Army and Navy Stores catalogue produced in .32 calibre. The photograph of the gun in the auction catalogue clearly shows the numerals "32" inscribed on the gun's left hand side just in front of the chamber, it was argued that, as a Belgian copy of the Webley, the earliest date of manufacture for the purported Kate Kelly gun would be late 1884 onwards: four years after Ned Kelly's execution, and six years after the Fitzpatrick Incident. This claim did not however refute the possibility that the revolver had belonged to Kate Kelly in later life.

Three days after the auction, on Friday, 16 November 2007, Age journalist Carolyn Webb noted that "since the auction, neither the auctioneer, Paul Sumner, nor the vendor's agent, Tom Thompson, has been able to provide documentary proof of the discovery."[9] Mossgreen reacted by announcing they would launch an inquiry into the provenance of the revolver. Sumner stated that Mossgreen "will do its due diligence to protect the buyer, and we would immediately cancel a sale and refund purchase price if the sworn provenance was proven incorrect".[9]

Thompson suggested that the Age article raising questions about the item's provenance was "aimed at tainting the sale of the item for the sake of making a good yarn".[10] However, by Friday, 16 November 2007, it had been established that a source Thompson had cited as "a researcher for Victorian Police" to support his claims of the gun's provenance was an amateur historian from Yass, New South Wales, who had never been a researcher for the Victorian police.[9]

Thompson noted to Deborah Kirkmam at the Australian Press Council on 17 December 2007, that "Indeed the only issue of "authenticity" raised within the original article and continued by Ms Webb in further articles in the Age – concerned their anonymous source, who hadn't sighted the item, yet claimed it was a gun c.1884. This issue was easily dispatched and disproved by a variety of specialists, including the buyer of the Kate Kelly pistol."

All the anonymous "experts" for the Age failed to offer a single photograph to substantiate their claims against a revolver they all refused to view.[11]


  1. ^ Kenneally, J.J. (1929). Inner History of the Kelly Gang. Dandenong, Victoria: The Kelly Gang Publishing Company, p. 28
  2. ^ http://interactive.ancestry.com.au/1785/32090_223298-00296?pid=136666&backurl=http://search.Ancestry.com.au//cgi-bin/sse.dll?_phsrc%3DjXi26%26_phstart%3DsuccessSource%26usePUBJs%3Dtrue%26gss%3Dangs-g%26new%3D1%26rank%3D1%26gsfn%3Dcatherine%2520%26gsfn_x%3D0%26gsln%3Dfoster%26gsln_x%3D0%26MSAV%3D1%26msddy%3D1898%26msddy_x%3D1%26msdpn__ftp%3Dforbes%26cpxt%3D1%26cp%3D2%26catbucket%3Dr%26uidh%3Dbp5%26pcat%3DROOT_CAT.
  3. ^ http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/101873215?searchTerm=%22mrs%20william%20foster%22&searchLimits=l-decade=189
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 April 2006. Retrieved 21 March 2006.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ http://lyrics.duble.com/lyrics/W/the-whitlams-lyrics/the-whitlams-kate-kelly-lyrics.htm
  6. ^ "Gun stolen by Kellys up for auction", The Age, 12 November 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2007
  7. ^ a b "Kelly gang gun goes for $70,000, but it is the real thing?", The Age, 13 November 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2007
  8. ^ "Kelly gang gun to go under the hammer", ABC News Online, 9 November 2007. Retrieved 18 November 2007 [1]
  9. ^ a b c d "Auction house to probe Kelly gun", The Age, 15 November 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2007
  10. ^ "Kelly gang gun is a fake, say firearms experts", The Age, 14 November 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2007
  11. ^ http://www.katekelly.biz

Further reading[edit]

  • Gall, Jennifer (June 2015). "Kate Kelly in story and song" (PDF). The National Library of Australia Magazine. 7 (2): 24–27. Retrieved 8 November 2015.

External links[edit]