James McKinley

Janet Mitchel McKinley (c1849-1919)

Patriot & Local Identity

The wife of James McKinley (q.v.), Janet Mitchel McKinley nee Smith was featured in the Brighton Southern Cross:

“When the Victorian chapters of the part – the great and worthy part – Australia has played in the present terrible war comes to be written, many pages will be necessary in which to give in detail the noble work done by the womenfolk of the State. These have been drawn from all phases and sections of the community. Elderly, middle-aged and young women alike have done their full share in the prosecution of the war to a righteous end, and in ameliorating the conditions of trench life and alleviating the sufferings of the legions of brave, patriotic Anzacs who have bled for king and country. The noble dead we may not recall. The vacant chairs at hundreds of firesides can never again be filled by their old occupants. These can only be kept green in the memory of the community. What can be done, and what is still being done by the women of Victoria is to endeavour to rob war of some of its miseries and suffering.

Mrs J McKinley, of “Ibwiri,” New-street, is one of those citizenesses [sic] who are devoting the greater part of their lives to the betterment of war conditions. From the day war was declared, nearly three years ago, she realised that it was her duty to do everything in her power to aid the State in which she lived to bear itself honourably in, and to a victorious end of, the great struggle for liberty and a universal, enduring and honourable peace. Though born in Ayrshire, Scotland, Mrs McKinley came to Victoria with her parents as Janet Mitchel Smith when only four years old. Her father was veterinary surgeon with the Marquis of Bute, and it was on the death of the marquis that Mr Mitchel Smith came out to Victoria to practice his profession. The family lived first in East Melbourne, where Miss Janet received her earlier education at Miss Stone’s school. Then followed two years at a training college. She entered on married life as the wife of Mr James McKinley, who for many years was connected with Melbourne newspaper enterprise. He was one of a syndicate that acquired first the “Daily Telegraph” and “Weekly Times,: and later on “The Herald.” Mr McKinley was also one of the proprietors of “Punch.” More than twenty years have passed since Mrs McKinley entered on her public activities. It was this lady, too, who initiated the first gymnastic class in connection with Sunday schools throughout Victoria. The first class was held in Wilson-street. The Brighton Ladies’ Swimming Club, the first association of its kind in Victoria, owes its establishment to Mrs McKinley. As a delegate from the Brighton club, Mrs McKinley took a stand for the exclusion of men folk from displays by the girls, but the Victorian and New South Wales Associations declined to support that principle. The Brighton club, however, owes much of its success to its endorsement of Mrs McKinley’s suggestion, which is a distinctinctive [sic] feature of the club displays. That was 21 years ago, and she has been its secretary ever since. Mrs McKinley frequently travels as matron in charge of nurses on the special elaborately fitted hospital trains which take the SA and NSW wounded soldiers home on the arrival of hospital shops in Melbourne. She is a member of the committee of the Rest Home for Soldiers on the St. Kilda-road, and commandant of the Voluntary Air Detachment of the Brighton Red Cross Society. Mrs McKinley must here find plenty of work to her hand. Her demonstrations of ambulance work must make no small demand on her time and energies. “I am out every night demonstrating. Even during the few hours I spend at home, there come frequent calls on the telephone.” That is the calm, quiet way in which she sums up that phase of her patriotic and useful activities. As divisional superintendent of nursing this lady has charge of 40 girls of the Brighton district. A group picture taken during the recent Brighton Carnival shows Mrs McKinley in the centre in her nursing costume, and with the bodice of her apron bearing the symbolical Red Cross. Possessed of that “soft low voice” – concerning which there is the Shakespearian assurance that it is “an excellent thing in woman” – with a quiet, gentle manner, yet withal self-contained, in the truest womanly interpretation of the term, it is easy to understand how acceptable an acquisition Mrs McKinley must be to a nursing association.

“I am a strong Liberal and an uncompromising Imperialist,” replies this lady when asked regarding her politics. It is somewhat in the nature of surplusage to put such a query, in view of the knowledge that Mrs McKinley had all along done so much to assist the Win-the-War Party, and this not alone on the political side, but from the higher altitude of maintenance of Empire.

Mrs McKinley, who has been a widow for some years, has also had the misfortune to lose her eldest son, Lieut James Gordon McKinley, who, directly the war broke out, enlisted in England with the Flying Corps, and was subsequently transferred to the Royal Artillery, and lost his life when rescuing a brother officer [ed-Ypres on 4 June 1915 aged 31]. Lieut Harry McKinley was selected to go to Cambridge, and succeeded in securing his commission whilst Sergeant Gilbert McKinley, who left Australia with the West Australian 11th Battalion, won his commission and a military medal for services in the field. Though three sons have gone from “Ibwiri” to help to uphold the honour of the land of the Southern Cross, yet, withal, she does not show any public regret for the loss of absence of her dear ones. She has realised, in common with so many other Australian wives and mothers, what she needs of the Empire are, as also that a man cannot die better than when fighting for King and Country”.

Janet McKinley lived to see the Empire victorious, but not for long. She died on 10 August 1919 aged 70 years and is buried with her husband.

Brighton Southern Cross 30 June 1917 p2.

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