John Kelly Real Estate
Properties Bought and Sold
When we read the story of Ned Kelly and his family, which I believe to be a rather tragic one, we really don’t get the opportunity to learn all that much about the patriarch, John (Red) Kelly. All we know is; he was born in 1820, came out to the colony as an Irish convict for the theft of two pigs, married 18 year old Ellen Quinn, had eight children (one deceased), and died of dropsy in 1866 at the age of just 46. I don’t know about you, but I believe if John had lived to a ripe old age, things would have turned out very differently for the Kelly family.
From the little I’ve read on John, he was known by many to be a quiet man who avoided violence whenever he could. He was not scared of hard work, liked a drink, and was more prone to stop a fight than to start one, unlike his future brother- in- law, Jimmy Quinn. On the 18th of November 1850 at St. Francis Church Melbourne, John Kelly and Ellen Quinn married and moved into a hut John had built on his Father in Law’s property at Wallan. In the February of 1851 their first child was born, whom they named Mary Jane. Baby Mary passed away not long after, but at what age we are unsure. The loss of their first born child must have been devastating, and the effect it had on their lives one can only imagine.
In February 1853 Ellen falls pregnant with their second child Anne. If their current financial situation was poor, this could have been the influencing factor that motivated John to find a solution on the now prosperous goldfields. With his young and beautiful wife pregnant, it must have been heartbreaking for him to leave her, not knowing if his efforts some 70 miles away on the Bendigo diggings will be rewarded or not. I believe it would have taken an enormous amount of courage and a deep love for his wife and future family to attempt such a venture, after all, he could have quite easily stayed and continued doing odd jobs around the district like he had been doing, but how would that have improved their financial situation?
I'm now sitting here reading Ian Jones’s classic ‘A Short Life’, and it's taken me back to 1853 when John Kelly returns from the goldfields to a waiting Ellen and baby Anne. He hadn’t struck it rich, but it was evidently enough to fork out 615 pounds or the equivalent to what I'm told is around $154,000 in today’s currency for 41 acres of land with buildings in the town of Beveridge. (John, what are you doing? That’s a hell of a lot of money to gamble on your family’s future, especially at a price of 15 quid an acre. Are you sure somebody hasn’t taken advantage of your gullible nature?) We can’t be sure of how much money John actually brought back with him from the diggings, but I would take a guess and hope he didn’t spend it all on property, taking into consideration the birth of his daughter Anne.
With building confidence in the future prosperity of Beveridge, John later buys another half acre block (price unknown) and builds a house to rent. (Way to go John! Now you’re thinking like a true speculator). Let us assume that the half acre property is worth about $6,000 or 24 pounds. In mid 1855 Ellen gives birth to her first son, Edward, and in 1856 when times get a bit tough, he takes out a mortgage on his farm for 200 pounds or $50,000. (Red, I hope you know what you’re doing taking a mortgage out for a third of the original price of your property, especially if times are getting tough. I just hope you’ve got a plan in mind to cover it, and just as a matter of interest; who the hell gave you the 50 grand?) A year later John’s forced to sell his farm to Alexander Frazer. After paying out the principal and back payments, John receives just 252 pounds10 shillings or $63,125. At the same time, he also sells half of his town block that included a house. (Couldn’t you have tried at least renting out some of the land John?)
Now I don’t know what happened, but someone’s got done and it wasn’t the buyer. This transaction leaves him left with a quarter acre block where he has to knock up a shack (value unknown) so that he, his wife Ellen, Anne, Ned, and possibly baby Maggie at least had somewhere to live. 1857 brought the arrival of John’s brothers and sisters from Ireland, and possibly with their support, John got his act together and was able to buy another half acre block in 1858. (Things are starting to look up John)
Later in 1859, John forks out 70 pounds or $17500 for 21 acres in Beveridge with a couple of town blocks thrown in for good measure. (There’s one thing you can say about John Kelly, he’s not one to give up easily. Good onya Red! With a growing family it looks like you’ve made a good investment compared to the outrageous price you paid for that first bugger.) On this block, he builds a house with a bluestone chimney, shingled roof and paling walls that you can still visit to this day. It’s now slightly the worse for wear, but worth a hell of a lot more now than what John paid for it back then. During this time three more children are born to John and Ellen; James in 1859, Daniel in 1861, and Catherine in 1863.
Just five years after buying the property, John flogs off the house he has built and the 21 acres of farmland for 80 quid to local farmer James Stewart. (What the hell is going on Red? Now I’m feeling almost sorry for you. After five bloody years and building a ripper of a house on it, the property has only grown in value by 10 quid? It’s outrageous. Please don’t tell me it was sold to that miserable bugger who bought your first property.) John had evidently disposed of his town blocks for an unknown amount (I still don't know what happened to the quarter acre he threw the shack up on.) and moved his family to Avenel.
Here he rents a 40 acre property at 14 pounds or $3500 per a year. ( John me ol’ son, now I do feel sorry for you. What a kick in the guts for a bloke who only wanted to do the right thing for his family’s future. I s’pose the missus has been on your back? Oh well, at least you gave it your best shot mate. You’ve got the love of your family to see you through, and who knows, maybe things will improve.) Things didn’t improve, and it’s here that John Kelly finally draws his last breath in December of 1866, leaving his family to continue their lives without him, alone and penniless.
In the rather short time of approx. sixteen years that John and Ellen were together, I believe that John had nothing but the best interests in mind for his family. I also believe he had a plan since 1853 to increase his holdings and secure a stable future for his family. Unfortunately, fate stepped in for whatever reasons, and his dreams for the future were so cruelly shattered. In 1867, and with even more trouble, Ellen decided she had had enough of Avenel, and at the age of just thirty five, moved her seven children to the North East to live with her two sisters in Greta. In 1868, more trouble followed with the burning down of her sisters’ home by her brother in law, James Kelly. It would be more than six months later that Ellen would eventually have earned enough money for a payment on her own selection of 88 acres on the Eleven Mile Creek at Greta. For the dream that John had started, it now seems that Ellen will at last see that dream come to fruition.
Did Ned remember his father’s plans so many years ago for a bright future for his family? Did he remember the tears of despair when all was falling apart? Did he also now look to the squatters insatiable greed, monopolising almost all of the rich land in Victoria, while people like his father end up with nothing and rotting in a pauper’s grave?
When the Duffy Lands Act was passed in 1862, of the four million acres released for selection, two million acres fell into the hands of a small group of squatters. It was later thought the Act was a failure and leaving the squatters with an even greater proportion of Victoria, and driving selectors onto poorer lands.
A week after Duffy’s Land Act, a letter was published in the Age newspaper by the “Squatter of Hamilton” This is an example of their arrogance.
My Dear Mister Duffy,
The land Act has worked admirably. It is true that the Oi Polloi have secured some small hopes and farms, but we have mopped up some 150000 acres of the best land in Victoria.
When you look at John’s property portfolio, it kind of runs hot and cold and then eventually evaporates before your eyes. Now don’t get me wrong; I think John’s only mistake was that he was slightly gullible and born a hundred years too early. You’ve got to give it to him, when he returned from the goldfields he whacked most of his dough into real estate, unlike a lot of married men who simply disappeared after they had struck it rich. If he’d done the same thing in 1956 he would have come out of it a wealthy man later down the track. The downside to that is; we’d have no Australian icon to read about. Our Ned would have most probably turned out to be a well heeled solicitor or politician or even worse, a bloody property developer.
John Kelly was born in 1820, not 1920, and I’m sure we’d have it no other way.
Alan Crichton web site Ned Kelly Tales