Almanac Poetry: Kate Kelly (1863-1898)


Kate Kelly, sister of Ned. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)



Kate Kelly (1863-1898)


After ‘the outbreak’ was over –
two brothers dead,
her mother
and another brother
in and out of jail –
she moved to New South Wales,
married, had six kids,
and was found floating
face down in a lagoon
in the backwaters of the Lachlan,
while still in her mid-thirties.


What a colossal shit it can be
when other members of the family
become notorious household names.



Grave and headstone of Kate Foster, nee Kelly, Forbes cemetery. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)



Read more from Kevin Densley HERE


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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose. He laments the extinction of Cascade Pale Ale and Kiwi Lager.


  1. Kevin, i think Kate is/was a notorious household name. Her sister Margaret who pretty much ran the family during the period of the outbreak is almost totally forgotten. Margaret’s husband was incarcerated in this time along with her ( & Kate’s) mother and a brother, while the other two brothers were outlawed .

    Kate supported Margaret, but Margaret as the oldest family member who was ‘free’ took responsibility for providing for the family. Kate, like Margaret, undertook activities to support/supply the outlaws. Such was the ability of these sisters to outsmart the police the police made up BS that Steve Hart was riding around dressed as a woman, rather than the public question the capabilities of the police.

    Kate, being buried at Forbes Cemetery, lies close to Ben Hall. I visited the grave yard there when I was a kid; surely time to return to again, paying my respects. These pair buried in the same graveyard permanently links the two great names of Australian outlawry.


  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your comments, Glen. It’s always good to get your your take on the work I post in relation to the Kelly clan in particular and bushrangers in general.

    Maggie Kelly certainly deserves a poem in her own right, on account of her major role in the Kelly story, as do Ellen Kelly, George King (now there’s a particularly fascinating figure), Tom Lloyd and so many others connected to Ned and the gang.

    I do like the Forbes cemetery bushranging link you mentioned, too.

  3. Ta Kevin.

    George King was like a shooting star. A ‘traveller’ from America who fathered a child with Ellen, stole horses with Ned, then disappeared into history.

    Of course Tom and Maggie are pivotal to the outlaws during the outbreak. Like so much of this period we know only smatterings as their behaviours were criminal, by the time of Glenrowan it was seditious. Once the hopes and dreams went up in smoke at Glenrowan, people involved quite sensibly went silent. Over 140 years later those tongues are long silent, with so much we will never know. However one lives in hope of knowing more. Perhaps the hand written, ‘Declaration of the Republic of North Eastern Victoria’ may one day turn up. It was apparently seen in the 1960′, since then………………………………………..


  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your further input Glen.

    Re George King, here’s the central question: what happened to him? A person can’t vanish into thin air, of course. Theories abound, I assume, and I’ve read a few – but detailed discussion of this matter is for another time. Perhaps I’ll try to write something about him at some stage.

  5. What a striking photo of her!!

    Thanks Kevin.

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your response, Dips.

    I always take considerable care in finding the right images to accompany my pieces, so I’m particularly pleased you liked the photo.

    Always good to hear from you!

    And I’ve just been looking via TROVE this morning for contemporary newspaper pieces on Kate, too – I’ve found many without any difficulty. She really was quite a celebrity while the Kellys in general were in the news.

  7. Kevin, you’ve got my old mind working.

    The George King mystery has never been properly solved. There’s an understanding he was Californian born, was only 5 years older than Ned, was a protestant, and had three children with Ellen: Alice, Ellen & John. But then the plot thickens.

    A lot is mentioned of he being involved with Ned on large scale horse theft. In Victoria no man bearing that name was charged, let alone convicted of horse theft. There was one in NSW but he was incarcerated during the time George King was linked to the Kelly clan. There was stories he used a nom de plume, George Stuckey, but this needs more investigation.

    Kevin if you put pen to paper re George King, maybe a stanza or two on Bill Frost. He fathered a child with Ellen Kelly, left her with her launching a subsequent maintenance case against him. Oh by the way he survived an attempt on his life by male person(s) unknown after leaving Ellen Kelly.

    The plot thickens.


  8. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks again, Glen.

    The “George King matter” deserves a book in its own right, really – so much is not known, as well as the apparently “known” being disputed by many.

    And yes, Bill Frost … another figure in the constellation (for want of a better word) of individuals who are part of the wider Kelly story.

  9. matt watson says

    Kevin, I really like these Kelly poems.
    George King…
    The stories he could’ve told. I seem to recall reading in a book somewhere that he may have gone back home by boat.
    I read that book a long time ago and can’t recall the title.
    Never heard of Bill Frost.
    Always good to learn something.

  10. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Matt, for your kind feedback on my Kelly stuff.

    As I’ve indicated before, I believe George King is one of the most fascinating figures in the whole Kelly saga. Theories certainly abound about his activities and ultimate disappearance.

    Bill Frost … a difficult, sad later life … he survived an attempt upon his life not that long after leaving Ellen Kelly and suicided about a decade later.

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