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Captain Arthur Edward Kennedy
(1810 - 1883)

By George Harratt

Arthur Edward Kennedy was born on April 9th, 1810, the fourth son of Hugh Kennedy and his wife Grace Dorothea nee Hughes. The family seat was at Cultra, Co. Down. The Kennedy's of Cultra were of Scot's origin. The first of the family to settle at Ballycultra was Hugh, a cadet of the Earl of Cassilis. His son, John, purchased Cultra estate from the Earl of Clanbrassil in 1671. Arthur's father, Hugh, was a great grandson of John's. Arthur's father married twice, first to Grace Hughes, daughter of Thomas Hughes of Tipperary, secondly to Sophia Lowe, daughter of William John Lowe.

We know very little of Arthur's early life at Cultra. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and after his term of studies he was gazetted an ensign in the 27th Foot 11th Regiment on August 15th, 1827. His military career saw him posted to Corfu after he bought a commission, he next spent three years in Canada as a captain in the 68th Regiment. Arthur returned to Ireland in 1846 and took up an appointment with the Poor Law Commission. In 1848 during his time in Co. Clare at the height of the famine he sold his commission.

Captain Kennedy arrived in November 1847 and what he encountered shocked him. He said that there were 6,000 notices to quit and he felt that many would not last until Christmas. On November 25th, 1847, Kennedy said that the "whole district seemed swept of food and he believed a third of the population would be without food at Christmas, two thirds starving before February and by May 1848, there would be a total starvation". This was the daunting task that he faced in the Kilrush Union of 1847.

One of the first things that Kennedy had to deal with was the overcrowding in the Workhouse. There was room for 800 inmates in the workhouse, this had swelled as the evictions carried on during the Summer and Autumn of 1847. By November 1,100 persons were inmates, many of these were weakened by disease. Kennedy set about to procure additional houses to deal with the influx, for a finish he had opened 6 Auxiliary Units which helped save many many lives in West Clare.

Kennedy was a professional, a government official carrying out his instruction to the letter of the law. But he did not conform to the non-caring officialdom of the era. He was deeply upset by the events he witnessed every day, and he involved himself in all aspects of the fight to combat the hunger, disease, and death that was rampant during the famine.

Kennedy loathed the Landlords in the area, and made some powerful enemies in the process, most notably Colonel Crofton Moore Vandeleur. It was due to Kennedy's reports that Kilrush's plight was highlighted; most notably by Poulett Scrope M.P., his pleadings lead to the investigation of the Union in May 1850. As already stated, Kennedy had a hate of Landlords and he was involved in an incident with Vandeleur in which he challenged him to duel. When Kennedy realised that he had been given bad information the original cause of the incident, he went to apologize to Vandeleur who would not accept it, but resorted to having his name cleared at Court. The case came up at the Cork Assizes in August 1851… Kennedy's defence was conducted by Isaac Butt and Sir Colman O'Loughlin. Vandeleur's action failed when the jury failed to reach a verdict seven for acquittal and five for a conviction.

Arthur Kennedy had made powerful enemies, (Vandeleur and the guardian of the Poor Law), and it would be safe to say that they may have had a hand in Kennedy's transfer from Kilrush to Kilkenny shortly after he returned from giving evidence at the Parliamentary Inquiry in London. He left Kilrush with his wife and family on September 3rd, 1850. A great crowd gathered to wish them well and it was reported that the area was in deep mourning after the noble-minded man. Before he left he made donations of clothes and other items to the local clergy for distribution to the poor. Indeed one of the most striking images of the famine is that of his younger daughter giving out clothes, a feature captured by the Illustrated London News (See image below). He and his family did much for the suffering of Kilrush and West Clare.

He had sold his Commission in 1848 and when he left the Poor Law Office his talent took him on a long diplomatic career. In 1851 he was appointed Governor of Cambia, and in 1852 he was appointed head in Sierra Leone; in 1854 he served in addition as Consul-General for the Sherbro district. In a report of the Limerick Chronicle 15/11/1854 "Capt. Kennedy (formerly of Kilrush) returning from his Governorship at Sierra Leone, was fortunately saved from the wreck of the West India mail steamer "Forerunner", and has landed at Southampton, whence he well proceed to Australia where he is appointed Governor".

His appointment in 1855 was to Western Australia where he was Governor from July 23rd, 1855 to February 19th, 1862. He was responsible for the great developments in Perth and the clearing of large areas of swamplands. He was regarded as a tough man, but a fair man in Western Australia. From 1863 to 1867 he was stationed in Vancouver Island, 1867-1872 West Africa and 1872-1877 Hong Kong. Kennedy returned to Australia in 1877 as Governor of Queensland. His letters of appointment were late in arriving in Queensland so from April 11th to July 20th he was only administrator of the Queensland Government. Kennedy served his term without many eventful happenings; but one of his last acts to acquiesce (unofficially) in Sir Thomas McIlwrath's daring and illegal annexation of Eastern New Guinea. This was to stop the Germans from taking it.

He left Brisbane in May 1883 to return to England, but died at Aden on June the 3rd. He was survived by two daughters and a son. His wife, whom he married in 1839, Georgina MacCartney, died in 1874.

Arthur Edward Kennedy was created:
C.B., 1862;
Kt. Bach., 1867,
K.C.M.G., 1871;
G.C.M.G., 1881

He never forgot his time in Kilrush and at a dinner one evening it is reported that he said during his time in that Western Country, there were times when after returning home and reflecting on the events he had witnessed, that should he have met a Landlord, he would have reached for his gun and shot him. We also see him in another light when he sends money from Western Australia to Fr. Moran C.C. for the poor of Kilrush in 1858.

Kennedy was a remarkable man and one hundred and fifty years after he first arrived in Kilrush, his memory will be perpetuated when a plaque will be erected on the site of the Old Workhouse at St. Patrick's Terrace - a joint venture by Kilrush U.D.C. and the Irish Community of Perth, Western Australia. The Kennedy estate at Cultra, Hollywood, Co. Down is today the home of the world famous Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. The collection of Railway rolling stock is regarded as the finest in the world.

Other Clare Vol. 3 Capt. A.E. Kennedy, Poor Law
Inspector and Great Famine in Kilrush Union 1847-1850 by Fr. Ignatius Murphy
Australia Dictionary of Biography Vol. 5 by Peter Boyce (Source Pro. Jean Harrison)
Limerick Chronicle 15/11/1854 (Source James A. McMahon)
Royal Western Australia Historical Society (Inc.) Mrs. J.A. Campbe

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