How an Armagh man who was transported to New South Wales for stealing clothes had a Sydney suburb named in his honour
When my daughter first went to live in Australia and I went to visit her, I used to roam the roads and side streets around her two-bedroom apartment, searching for the edge of Sydney.
The western suburbs of the city seemed alien to me – many of the more appealing side roads didn’t have footpaths: what was that about? – so I often tramped along the busy artery known as Windsor Road. Which was about as restful as a stroll along the M50; but at least I wasn’t clumping through people’s front gardens.
Eventually, I came to an area where the houses stopped and scrubby tangles of gum trees, grevillea and golden wattle began. Where, I inquired when I got back, was this place? “Kellyville”, came the answer. In my mind Kellyville became a “here be dragons” sort of place, at – or just off – the edge of the map.
That was 12 years ago. Much has changed in the meantime: Kellyville is now one of the fastest-growing suburbs in an exploding metropolitan area; in 2011 its population was recorded at 20,000, a whopping 50 per cent increase in a decade.
Despite being located 40 kilometres west of Sydney’s central business district and suffering from a chronic shortage of public transport for city-bound commuters, it is the suburb of choice for many young people struggling to get a secure foothold on Sydney’s dizzying housing ladder. And that includes my Aussie family.
So I began to wander a new set of roads. Scrubby wasteland, I discovered, was disappearing fast, swallowed by Kellyville’s ever-expanding estates and even – to my delight: something affordable – an Aldi. But why, I wondered, was the area called “Kellyville”?
In 1800, Kellyville was known by the Heaney- esque name of “There and Nowhere”. For a time it was known as “Irishtown”, which suggests that plenty of Irish families fetched up there (in contrast to “Blacktown”, just down the road). It was finally named “Kellyville” after Hugh Kelly, an Armagh man who had been transported to New South Wales in 1806 for stealing some clothes from an outhouse. Convict records
Kelly was assigned to work for an English couple, Humphrey and Mary Evans, who had been given 135 acres of land in the hilly countryside west of Sydney. When Evans was killed by a falling tree soon afterwards, the 21-year-old Kelly promptly “took up”, as the convict records put it, with his widow. They set up an inn, the Half Way House, on Windsor Road. It may not have been a four-lane highway in those days, but it bustling with a constant stream of traffic between Sydney and the productive farmlands of Windsor, to the west.
Kelly must have been quite a character – and quite a charmer. After Mary died, he “took up” with his neighbour’s daughter, Esther Harley. By February 1831, he was married to Eliza Purcell.
She was, the Sydney Gazette reported, drawing some spirits from the inn’s store-room when a candle ignited and she was badly burned. “She was the third wife whom Mr Kelly has had to follow to the grave. Her funeral took place Wednesday, and was most numerously attended,” the reporter observed.
Kelly wasn’t broken-hearted for long; he acquired a fourth wife, Mary Ann Moran. We don’t know what age he was when he arrived in New South Wales but he lived until 1884, so he must have been tipping the 100 mark. After his death his land was divided into smaller farms which were known as “the Kellyville estate”.
What would he make of today’s Kellyville? He’d probably be quite impressed by its sheer fecundity. And with all those kids of his, he might enjoy the daily pilgrimage to the playground, where Irish grannies and Chinese grannies beam and nod at each other as their pre-school charges clamber happily from slide to climbing frame and back again.
I know I do. And from now on, I’ll tip my supermarket sunhat to the spirit of Mr Hugh Kelly of the Windsor Road.
Left: bus outside Kellyville Post Office on corner of Acres and Windsor Roads, Kellyville, in the 1930s; above: Kellyville today.