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BETTER KNOWN AS “KATE” OR “KITTIE”
SISTER OF NED KELLY (1863 = 1898)
Compiled and written by Gary Dean & Dagmar Balcarek.
Catherine Ada Foster, better known as Kate Kelly, the legendary sister of Ned Kelly. There were many newspaper articles, books, bush-songs and ballads written about Ned's sister Kate, and even more hear’says spread about her, but unfortunately, as often seems to happen, not all were correct, often to her detriment. So what was Kate Kelly really like?
Catherine Ada Kelly was born in, Beveridge on 12th July, 1863. Her parents were John Kelly and Ellen, nee Quinn. There are some mistakes in her birth certificate, like the age of her father and mother and the date of their marriage, probably because their neighbour, and brother-in-law John Ryan, who duly registered the birth of Kate in Donnybrook three days later, couldn't supply the exact data. She was the seventh child to her parents; their first girl, Mary, having died in infancy, the others being, Anne, Edward (Ned), Margaret, James and Daniel. The family moved later to Avenel, where in 1866 little Grace was born, and John Kelly, their father, died of dropsy. Kate was four years old, when her widowed mother moved with the children to live with her sisters at Greta. Then, twelve months later, Ellen Kelly took up her own selection on the Eleven-Mile-Creek, and moved her family into a two-roomed hut, which had been erected on the block.
Kate attended school at Greta and after finishing her schooling, helped her mother with the younger children, for Mrs. Kelly had remarried in 1874, and there were three more children by her second husband, George King, who were named Ellen, John and Alice. Kate grew into a beautiful young lady, who, like the rest of the family, was an exceptional horsewoman. Legend has it that her first suitor was Aaron Sherritt, whose tragic end has been fully described in the books dealing with the Kelly outbreak.
There was, however, another man, who became an importunate suitor of the young, vivacious girl despite the aversion of the whole family and Kate herself. He was the one who had triggered off the prelude to the Kelly tragedy. His name was Alexander Fitzpatrick. A former boundary rider, he later joined the police force, and at 21 he became a police constable. Although young, he had a lot of experience with women, and his attitude towards them was one of a merciless hunter. As a result of this, at 19, he already had to pay maintenance to a certain Jessie McKay of Meredith for the child he fathered. Jessie was not his only victim, there was another girl named Anne Savage, who lived at Frankston, and who by the end of 1877 was also pregnant to the indefatigable Alexander. He promised to marry her but it was not until the intervention of Jessie's father, Theodore Savage, a solicitor, who wrote to Captain Standish complaining about the Constable's honourable intentions, that they were finally joined in holy matrimony. But before this had taken place, he had already set his sights on his next victim, the 15 year old Kate Kelly.
Alexander, however, this time over-estimated himself. He first tried to pose as a friend of Ned's, but Ned and his family were not fools to be reckoned with, and they did not trust the young Constable. But fate destined that on the 15th April, 1878, an incident would occur at the Kelly home that would have dire consequences for the whole Kelly family. What really happened on that day at the Kelly Homestead, will never be entirely known, as reports given by those present conflict each other. However, Fitzpatrick did visit the homestead stating that he was acting on a warrant for the arrest of Dan for horse stealing. He was unquestionably under the influence of alcohol at the time, and he did make a pass at Kate that required her mother and her brothers to go to her assistance. Following the incident he returned to the Benalla police station where he made false statements. He maintained that Mrs. Kelly had stricken him with a fire shovel, Dan Kelly had beaten him and Ned Kelly had shot him and wounded him. He also incriminated William Williamson and William Skillion who he insisted were there when the incident took place. The outcome resulted in long harsh sentences for Mrs. Kelly, and her neighbours, Skillion and Williamson, based solemnly on Fitzpatrick's evidence, but believed by the police and Judge Barry. The Kelly boys, who were also wanted, hadn't waited around for their arrest as having not trusted him, they had already fled into the Wombat Ranges. The fact that even the doctor who had attended Fitzpatrick's wounds, did not confirm that his wounds were caused by a revolver bullet, and also that he reported a strong smell of liquor on the constable, or later, the fact that Fitzpatrick had been expelled from the police force for being a liar and a larrikin who never did his duty, didn't help Mrs. Kelly and her neighbours in mitigating their sentences - by then it was too late.
Following the sentence of their mother, the Kelly girls took the responsibility for looking after the children and for maintaining their mother's selection. They also helped to look after their brothers, who were by then outlawed because of the shooting of the police at stringybark Creek, in the Wombat Ranges. Kate often risked her life riding as a decoy for the police to follow. She frequently rode out to her brothers hideouts with food, clothes, ammunition and valuable information, She co-operated with her sister Margaret in everything that could have been done for their unfortunate brothers. Without the assistance of their sisters, the outlaws couldn't have remained at large for any length of time. Kate went with her sister, Tom Lloyd and Joseph Ryan to Melbourne to obtain the cartridges of the calibre of the weapons the Kelly gang were using. The police always kept a pretty close watch upon the movements of the family, nevertheless, they managed to purchase what they needed. Kate was carrying a large portmanteau and on their return journey two detectives accosted them at Winton railway siding and took the portmanteau away to search it. It contained only ladies clothes, but no sooner had they gone, Kate opened the window on the other side of the carriage and whistling to the man waiting on the platform she slipped him a parcel containing the ammunition. Nobody noticed it and the man quickly disappeared into the bush, while Kate returned to her seat, and remained absolutely calm as if nothing had happened.
Kate visited her mother in gaol as often as she could. After the final siege of Glenrowan, where her brother Dan died and Ned was captured and imprisoned, she also visited Ned when permitted, but was turned away on several occasions. As much as anyone in the family, she also tried desperately to raise money for Ned's trial to get him a good lawyer, but they could manage only a feeble fee.
After Ned was sentenced to death, Kate with her sister Maggie and Tom Lloyd, applied for help through the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment. Their last hopes were lost, when four members of this Society were allowed to see the Governor to beg for a prerogative mercy for Ned. Kate was received with them. She went to her knees begging for her brother's life, but His Excellency the Marquis of Normanby refused to listen. Kate and the family could now only bid him the last painful farewell. Ned Kelly was hanged on 11-11-1880 at 10 o'clock in the morning.
A newspaper report made shortly before Kate's last visit to her brother reads:
"Miss Kelly appears well in health, though pale. She was tending a child, which she, however, consigned to its mother and conversed pretty freely. A habit of cautious reticence seemed, however, to have become her nature, and while her eyes would gleem with intelligence, they had a certain shy sense of pleasure she felt in baffling inquiry.... with regard of either herself or any other member of her family. She denied that there was ever any offence to be laid to her charge, unless it was that of sympathising with her brother, and said that the way the whole family had been harassed for years made her wish 'she had never been born'."
The very evening that Ned was hanged, some posters appeared around Melbourne, announcing:
KATE KELLY AND HER BROTHER WILL INTERVIEW ALL COMERS
THIS EVENING THURSDAY NOVEMBER 11 APOLLO HALL
BOURKE STREET EAST
MISS ETTIE HART WILL ALSO APPEAR
ADMISSION - ONE SHILLING COMMENCE AT 8 O'CLOCK
Kate and her brother Jim were duped by a smart showman to appear on the stage "to thank their supporters in person", but it didn't work out that way. Instead, a crowd of loiterers gazed tactlessly at the grief-stricken family members. Kate's sister Margaret disapproved of this and refused to be photographed.
Grief remained for the Kelly family, but life went on. A report made by Detective Ward in 1880 described Kate as follows; Victorian, aged about 18 years, five feet four inches high, slender build, dark complexion and hair - thin features, dark piercing eyes, very small chin, fairly good looking and a reserved manner, when in Victoria generally dressed in dark clothes.
The police wouldn't leave them alone even now! Kate suddenly disappeared from Eleven Mile Creek - and from Victoria. She appeared briefly in a Wild West Show in Sydney and adopted the name of "Ada". She was recognised nevertheless. To retain her incognito, she accepted an offer to appear in a show in Adelaide and performed under an assumed name of Ada Hennessey, and later Kate Ambrose. She managed to keep her incognito, but had to stop performing, because she became seriously ill.
At that time, a strange advertisement appeared in Adelaide. Professor Lance Skuthorpe introduced in his show an excellent equestrienne, Nora Kelly, the niece of Kate Kelly. This Nora Kelly has remained a mystery till these days. There was neither a flora found among the Kelly family, nor was found any evidence as to this Nora's further performances with Lance Skuthorpe, although that particular show was performed in front of the Duke and Duchess of York while they were visiting Adelaide. A bit of a coincidence, however, strikes every reader of J. J Kenneally's "The Inner History of the Kelly Gang". At page 11, Mr. Kenneally challenges an impostor who he had insisted on being Dan Kelly, and this imposter wrote in the Brisbane "TRUTH":
(He said that): “Flora was the oldest, then brother Jim, Ned, myself and Kate the youngest". Everybody knows that there was no Flora who'd have been Ned's sister.
Lance Skuthorpe, of course, was a famous performer who astounded the audience with riding buckjumpers in a lions cage, and with his horsemanship and sharp shooting. To add to the mysteries and coincidences, an historian has to struggle with. The name of his second wife was Violet King, also a circus performer.
It took some time and headache to establish that this lady had nothing to do with Vi, the wife of Jack Kelly - King, also an outstanding performer. Kate recuperated from her illness very slowly, she was yet not well enough when she started her new job as a barmaid at Hill Scott's Hotel in South Adelaide and eventually she had to give it up. She then decided to return home and after a while regained her strength. When she felt better, she worked as a domestic at Dr. Henderson's household in Wangaratta, and later as a housemaid at Mundarra Station in Laceby for Mrs. Henderson's parents, the Smiths. Her next job was at Mrs. Ponter's Promenade Hotel in Albury, then she was employed by Mrs. Prow at Glendore as a domestic, being recommended for the position by Mr McDougall of Waroo Station. She continued as a domestic at Cadow Station, where she was highly recommended by Mr. Prow. The reputation of a hard worker gained her another job for Mr. J. Gunn, butcher, and another one for Mr. Luthie & Son, undertakers. Finally, she was in the employ of Mr. C. Prow (the proprieter of the family general store) at his private residence in Lachlan St. Forbes.
On 25th November 1888, the 25 year old Kate married William Henry Foster of Forbes, the son of Frederick Foster and Mary May Ann, (née Davis). The couple married at the Church of England in Forbes. The Fosters were well respected and quite well off. Kate still used her alias "Ada" and was so known to all at Forbes. This is why the name Ada appears on the marriage certificate and birth registrations of her children. There were six of them: Frederick Arthur, Gertrude Eileen Ada (later Mrs. Cavanagh), Arthur Douglas, Ethel Maude (later Mrs. Hibbert), Ruby Ellen and Catherine. Three of those children, Arthur Douglas, Ruby Ellen and Catherine died in infancy and were buried in the grave at the Forbes Cemetery with their mother. During her married life in Forbes she on many occasions showed her skills in horsewomanship, and helped her husband in breaking in horses around South Circle Park.
Kate died relatively young at the age of 35, and in what could only be described as tragic circumstances. After being reported missing on the 6th of October 1898, her body was found eight days later in a lagoon at Condobolin Road near Forbes, where she drowned. The Magisterial inquiry was held on 15th October, but didn't throw any light as to how and why it happened. According to the death certificate, there was no evidence. However, it is known that following the death of her sister Maggie, some two years earlier, Kate had become very depressed.
Kate was buried in the Church of England section of the Forbes Cemetery. The headstone on her grave was erected by Mr. McDoughall of Waroo Station, who was very fond of Kate - Ned Kelly's sister.
When Kate died, her children Frederick, Gertrude and Maude were taken by their uncle, Jim Kelly, to their grandmother, Ellen Kelly at Eleven Mile Creek. This was done after much persuasion, because the Foster family in Forbes wanted to keep them. Their widowed father visited his children on several occasions and contact was maintained between them for many years. William Henry Foster was a blacksmith in Forbes, he was often called "Harry" or "Bricky" by his friends.
His son Frederick Arthur became a beekeeper at Myrrhee and remained unmarried. He was killed in action in World War 1 in Vouzière in France in 1917. In his army records he gave his father's current address (in Sydney) as his next of kin. It was to his father that the telegram was sent regarding Fred's death.
Gertrude (Mrs. Cavanagh) was often registered as Ada, Gertrude Ada or Ada Gertrude, and on her marriage certificate she gave the name as Gertrude Eileen. She married Douglas Arthur Cavanagh, a building contractor. The couple had two children. Mr. Cavanagh was a soldier in World War 1, but luckily, returned home. He was the one who built the wheelchair for the old Mrs. Kelly. The family lived in Green Street in Wangaratta, and Gertrude nursed her grandmother Ellen in her last years, and paid the old, sick grandmother frequent visits. Gertrude died in Wangaratta in 1924, her husband also in Wangaratta in 1955.
Gertrude's sister, Ethel Maude, married Albert Hibbert, who also fought in World War 1 and happily returned home. Ethel Maude was very fond of her grandmother, Ellen Kelly, and should also be credited for the care and support shown to the old lady.
In September 1911, a reporter from "Sydney Sun", named William Cookson, interviewed some people in Glenrowan, trying to find out more about the Kelly family. An old resident told him:
"I don't think you know that Kate Kelly's oldest son is still at Glenrowan. But he is, and he's a most exemplary citizen generally. He started on scratch with nothing. Now he's got a bee farm, he's got money in the bank, and he's going to be married to a nice young lady belonging to a respected family. He works hard. He doesn't smoke or drink, and in many respects he's a good practical lesson in quiet citizenship to a lot of people down there. There was not much the matter with Kate, except affection for her brothers, who had been outlawed for protecting her."
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