The Kennedys

Robert Henry (1826-95) and Mary Hume Kennedy (d 1915)

By Prue Grieve

The four people buried in the Kennedy family grave at the Brighton General Cemetery (CofE*A*113-114) are a husband and wife and two of their eleven children. Robert Henry Kennedy (1826-95) was born in New South Wales in 1826, the sixth of the twelve children of John Kennedy and his wife Caroline née Katopodi. Robert’s father, John, arrived in the colony of New South Wales with his uncle Matthew Pearce aboard the Surprize in 1794 and was followed the following year by his widowed father, James Raworth Kennedy and sisters Jane, Eliza Charlotte and Louisa in the care of their aunt Elizabeth More Kennedy sailing aboard the Sovereign. Aunt Elizabeth married Andrew Hamilton Hume and their surviving children were the explorer Hamilton Hume, Isabella (later Barber), John (murdered in 1840 by the Whitton gang of bushrangers) and Francis Rawdon, known as Rawdon.

Andrew Hamilton Hume was the son of a Scottish clerical family living in Ireland. He left a military career to come, in 1790, to Norfolk Island as advisor on the use of the native flax, which ultimately proved inappropriate for the making of linen. Andrew, who had undoubtedly been encouraged to the colony after a duel and a dalliance with his commanding officer’s daughter, was aboard the ill-fated Guardianand completed his journey, from South Africa, on the Lady Julian, the so-called ‘floating brothel’. From Norfolk Island, Andrew was transferred to Sydney Cove and continued his tiresome behaviour while in the employ of the Colonial Government.

Rawdon Hume, son of Andrew and Elizabeth née Kennedy, was father to the Mary buried here, so the husband and wife were cousins, the grandmother of one being the great-aunt of the other and the grandfather of one being the great-uncle of the other and the widower James Raworth Kennedy their great-grandfather in common.

Mary’s maternal grandmother was Elizabeth Huon, born in the colony in 1797 the eldest child of Count Gabriel Marie Louis Huon de Kerrilleau, a middle rank Breton aristocrat, in flight from the terrors of the French Revolution. Gabriel, released from the New South Wales Corps to tutor John MacArthur’s younger boys, eventually married Louisa Lesage, a French woman tried and transported for theft in London, on the evidence of a woman who would appear to be a wronged and aggrieved wife. Louisa’s convict past was well hidden until latter years and there are yet members of the family still very reluctant to believe that she was anything but the self-styled attendant upon Marie Antoinette at Versailles she had described to her grandchildren. And perhaps she was, but more likely as some Lady’s maid, otherwise why keep her true identity such a secret from her own children who might have wished to meet the noble French relatives?

Robert’s mother, Caroline, was the child of a Greek-born forger, Peter Katopodi, though that information was – undoubtedly quite deliberately – not common knowledge until later generations, and she arrived in New South Wales as a small child with her convict mother in 1798 aboard Britannia. The mother, Sarah Best was probably the widow of Colin Reculist, hanged for passing bank bills forged by Peter Katopodi. The name ‘Reculist’ is otherwise unknown in English and is nowadays presumed to be a version of the common Greek name ‘Rekalis’. Having then taken up with Peter Katopodi, the widow Sarah was transported for theft with little Caroline who was baptised and had the banns called as ‘Catapodia’. Continuing use of such an unusual name leads us to assume that Sarah was quite sure that Peter Katopodi was the father. Sarah was married and widowed twice more in the colony, so there is a wide network of Byrne and Sykes half-siblings all connected to Caroline and John’s descendants.

(above) Monumental Headstone (1895)

The Kennedy sons were pioneer landholders on the Billabong Creek at Jerilderie, New South Wales in company with their sisters’ husbands Brougham, Brodribb and Desailly. Robert Kennedy and Mary Hume were married in 1858 and Robert made enthusiastic attempts to irrigate his ‘back block’, Wunnamurra, from channels which were first hand excavated, then dug with a new fangled horse drawn scoop brought back from the California goldfields by George Desailly. Nowadays that district is crisscrossed with irrigation channels, the fall of the land calculated by laser and computer, but in Robert’s homemade ditches, judged by eye, the water refused to run despite frantic efforts at bailing in order to encourage the flow. Babies were born to Mary and Robert at Wunnamurra, at Roto near Hillston when the family moved on at the introduction of the Robertson Land Act and later at Collingwood, Gunning which had been vacated in fear in 1840 by the widow of Mary’s murdered uncle, John Hume. 

In 1879, the family minus the eldest daughter Emma who was married and settled elsewhere, moved to Wonnaminta in the Broken Hill-Wilcannia area, to land which Robert was pioneering, as was his habit. Mary had put off the move until the youngest child was a suitable age to take “into the wilderness” so they did not leave until little Millie was 18 months old. Travelling for six weeks, the troupe of wagons, hacks, spare horses and stock camped near homesteads when possible; but Mary has described how self-sufficient they were and accustomed to eating, sleeping and being furnished with clean clothing wherever they might find themselves. She comments in her memoir “Mr Kennedy and the young people enjoyed the journey but I was often very tired I think”. On arrival at Wonnaminta. Mary as was her custom, had her signature cool-room built, partially underground and chilled by the breeze extracting any warm air from a small louvred tower in the roof. She established a garden, taught school to the young, including aboriginal children, practised homoeopathy, collected botanical specimens for Baron von Mueller (St. Kilda Cemetery), wrote copious correspondence and organised picnic races and dances. While the girls hand sewed long and boring seams – bed sheets or petticoat frills – one read aloud from a suitable book or from the dictionary. During the first and prosperous years there was an annual trip to Adelaide to stay in the family refuge from the summer heat, Wonnaminta House at Crafers in the Adelaide Hills. Then the rains did not come but the rabbits did, bringing financial ruin upon Robert and Mary and several other members of the family who had settled in the same area. The Pastoral Company which had encouraged Robert to take on more and more debt foreclosed, evicted the family and, to compound the insult, installed the inexperienced young husband of one of Robert’s nieces as manager. Within a few weeks of enforced exile in suburban Melbourne, Robert collapsed and died on 16 January 1895 at his son’s house Nundorah – Emily Street, Murrumbeena.

The widow Mary and her unmarried girls took part in Melbourne’s social life on meagre rations, though invited everywhere by more prosperous relatives and friends. Ostentation was considered vulgar during these hard times, and to offer more than one kind of cake at tea was not refined behaviour. Of the three boys, Frank was employed by his wife’s father, a stock agent in Bowral, New South Wales. Bob junior tried his hand at small farming, but his experimental crop failed and he took to prospecting for minerals. Gilbert went off to the Western Australian goldfields with some cousins, but rather than chase the dream of gold, established a smart livery stable catering to the successful miners. And it was often possible to buy the flashy rigs back at reduced prices when the miners went broke. Gilbert subsequently fathered, among other children, Buzz Kennedy, a ubiquitous print journalist with a weekly column, for many years, in the Sydney Morning Herald. As a television presenter on “Good Morning Australia” and “Beauty and the Beast”, he was famed for large and colourful bow-ties and an ego to match.

Jessie Annie Cotter née Kennedy (d 1 July 1941) and Edith married pastoralists, Effie a New South Wales doctor, Millicent Stawell, the son of noted chief justice Sir William Stawell (1815-89), and Hilda the heir of a Scottish textile manufacturer and importer, “D & W Murray”. Mary Kennedy died on 12 December 1915 at The Terrace, Armadale mercifully spared much of the First World War and the pain of so many of her descendants and relatives maimed or killed therein. The two offspring buried with Robert and Mary are the daughters who remained unmarried; Amy Ida, a nurse who died in early middle age of pernicious anaemia on 1 February 1928; and Mabel Constance (d 5 September 1955), always called ‘Barboo’ by her great nieces and nephews thanks to the baby attempts to say ‘Mabel’ by one of that generation. Mary’s motto in life was – “Whatever thy hand find then to do, do it with all thy might”, and it would seem she still does. A calm [and transparent] figure with smooth parted hair and a long rustling grey skirt has been seen at both Wonnaminta and at the Crafers house, described by people who have known nothing of the Kennedy history. Mary is always seen busily straightening quilts, smoothing pillows and sitting up by sick-beds so clearly she has not yet finished doing practical things, as she had promised, with all her considerable might.

Research undertaken by Prue Grieve.

(Image courtesy of Prue Grieve)