How an Ar­magh man who was trans­ported to New South Wales for steal­ing clothes had a Sydney sub­urb named in his hon­our

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS&BOOKS - Ir­ish Con­nec­tions Hugh Kelly, busi­ness­man ARMINTA WAL­LACE

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.

Scrub waste­land

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.


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