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Michael Kelly – convicted whiteboy from Galway

The Whiteboys – or Buachaillí Bána – were a secret Irish agrarian organisation in 18th-century Ireland; their name derives from the white shirts they wore on their nightly raids.

This was during a period where many tenants were in arrears and there was a lot of unrest.

By Paula Kennedy

Michael Kelly was born around 1803 in Ballinderreen and lived through an era of discontent, poverty, and possible hunger. He was just one of many men that joined the secret society which sought to address the issues of that time as there was no other way to right the wrongs!

In March 1832, at the Galway Assizes he was found guilty of the crime of whiteboyism and sentenced to transportation to Australia. His brother John Kelly was also transported for the same offense on the ship Eliza.

Prior to his trial he was employed in 1830 by Francis Hynds as a servant boy, as this was reported in the Morning Post in April 31st 1832.

“Francis Hynds states – Michael Kelly has lived with the witness for twenty-one months as a servant boy, at yearly wages. His house is twelve miles from Lysters house. Michael Kelly was with him in September last. Always was well liked, and a good boy”.

The Freemans Journal (Dublin) March 1832, states “They were capitally indicted for having appeared in arms, entering the gatehouse of Mark Browne, of Rockvile, Esq., and others in the neighbourhood of Athenry and Cloughballymore, taking arms and administering unlawful oaths. The names of the persons convicted are Michael Kelly, John Kelly, Patrick Cannen, and John Mulville. At the termination of this trial the court adjourned. These unfortunate and misguided wretches are from the neighbourhood of Kinvara, and we apprehend with forfeit their liberties, if not their lives for the offense of which they have been found guilty.”

The prisoners of the ship Eliza that departed May 10 1832 to New South Wales, Australia were petty criminals convicted of stealing, and petty theft; however there were also 26 men from Galway who had been convicted of White Boy crimes.

Michael Kelly’s granddaughter Ethel Kirkman. Elizabeth Kelly was her mother born 1857. Image courtesy of Dave Watson OLY.

One can only imagine the squalid conditions on these hulks the men had to endure before they embarked on their sea voyage. The voyage took 119 days with two deaths recorded. They arrived in Port Jackson Australia on September 6 1832.

Michael Kelly is listed on the male convicts by the ship Eliza, John Samuel Groves, Master, New South Wales, 1832. The following record describes Michael Kelly as being 5 foot 10 inches tall; of ruddy complexion; with brown hair and hazel eyes and with a scar on the back of left little finger.

In returns of assigned convicts for 1832 these convicts were noted as having been sent to Thomas Evernden :- John Gately, Asia (9), ostler; Alexander Isaac, “Minerva,” soldier; John Baker, “Dromedary,” saddler and Michael Kelly, “Eliza (6),” labourer. Convicts were always identified by the ship in which they had been transported to Australia.

As Bartlett’s Farm was primarily stocked with sheep, Evernden’s male convicts would have been put to work as shepherds or hut-keepers, which was lonely work. The convict would be out with stock all day and night and based in a rough hut near the flock’s pasturage.

It seems as though Michael spent the years of his assignment on Bartlett’s Farm. An entry in the Entrance Book for Bathurst Gaol (1837- 1844) records Michael Kelly as being resident there for a time, however, this may have been after Evernden’s death in 1839, when he and other convicts would have had to be re-assigned.

As he was due for his Ticket-of-Leave the next year (1840) and with a satisfactory record, he may not have been re-assigned. Whatever happened, his ticket, when it was granted, stipulated that he had to remain in the Bathurst area. 

From then on Michael Kelly appears to have found itinerant work around the area, particularly as the number of landholdings and settlers was gradually increasing in Bathurst county.

During this period he met Irish-born, Elizabeth Megaw and he was given permission to marry 14/2/1843 but did not get married until March 1 1844 by Rev. K.D Smythe.

From his marriage in 1843 to the birth of his third child in 1846, life events are recorded at Bathurst, which indicates that he was working in fairly close proximity to the settlement, but the exact place is unknown.  Michael was granted his Conditional Pardon on 19/1/1850.

The same year, another son was born to Michael and Elizabeth, this time at George’s Plains, a small village between Bathurst and Bartlett’s Farm.

After William Golsby took on the lease of Bartlett’s Farm in 1850 it could be that Michael began working for him, as by the time their fifth child was born at Caloola in 1852, William Golsby was well established in that area.

The birth of their sixth child was also recorded there. Another child, the seventh, was born at Bathurst in 1857 and the eighth, Samuel, at Three Brothers (1859), which was a small location south of Caloola near Golsby portions of land in the Parish of Bringellet.

Samuel Kelly with his daughter Annie (Toohey) and her daughter Leah standing at the back. Date unknown. Photo Image courtesy of great granddaughter C Hawkins

It would seem that Michael and family resided at Caloola throughout this period of about eight years.

Their sixth daughter was born at Bathurst three years later in 1864. By 1866 Michael and Elizabeth had moved back up to the range to the vicinity of Teapot Swamp along with their ten children, when another son’s birth was recorded there. After a five year gap their last child (twelfth), a boy, was born in 1871, this time noted as being at Caloola.

By 1874, they had moved to Evans Swamp on the south-eastern side, situated on the present-day road from Moorilda to the village of Barry.

From 1874 to 1879, various impounding notices for the Blayney pound were published in Government Gazettes of the day. All notices were for various kinds of horses, impounded by M. Kelly or Michael Kelly of Evan’s Swamp.

By 1867, Michael Kelly is living in Teapot Swamp, near Bathurst – but an article from the NSW Government Gazette, dated June 14 1867, reveals that he had been placed in Insolvency and that a meeting of his creditors was to be held to determine the payment of his debts.

Michael had owned approximately 700 acres of land in three parcels of land in the Teapot Swamp area that he had mortgaged prior to voluntarily becoming declared bankrupt. He stated that his bankruptcy was due to the failure of crops and the death of three teams of bullocks.

Michael Kelly died at Evans Swamp in the district of Carcoar, NSW on January 30 1879 and was buried in St Peters Churchyard, Hobby’s yard, Carcoar, NSW. Elizabeth Kelly passed away in December 24 1883.

The next step is to try and reconnect the descendants in Australia with their Irish cousins! If you believe you could be related, email

(Main photo: Samuel Kelly, son of Michael Kelly born in Three Brothers in 1859, died in Blayney in 1942. Note on the back of the photo says “dad 1926”. Image courtesy of great granddaughter C Hawkins).

■ Paula Kennedy of Galway Ancestors is an independent genealogy researcher.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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