Convict Histories

Neil Kelly (1818 – ?) (Reg. No.4785)

By Irma Walter, 2021.

On 2 May 1856 at the Perth (Scotland) Circuit Court, Neil Kelly was charged with the murder of Andrew Philp (aged 35), son of Robert Philp, of North Inglis Street in Dunfermline, Scotland. Evidence was given that on the 13 or 14 November 1855, Kelly struck Philp with a poker and fractured his skull, causing his death.[1] The verdict was guilty, but for some reason Kelly was convicted of culpable homicide, rather than murder. He was sentenced to 21 years’ transportation.[2]

This was not his first charge. In April 1852 Neil Kelly, an Irish hawker, was charged with violating the person of a five-year-old girl, in his own room in New Row, Dunfermline, causing her to contract a ‘loathsome disease’. The girl’s parents did not want to press charges over the matter, but the girl’s doctor reported the case to the authorities. It was said that Kelly had previously attempted the same crime against the girl’s eight year old sister, but had been deterred by the cries and resistance of the girl.[3] The charge of rape may have been withdrawn, as no further details have been found.

Neil Kelly was sent from Dunfermline Gaol in Scotland to Millbank Prison in London, received on 10 July 1856. He was listed as a hawker, aged 44, married with three children. His wife’s address was Dunfermline in Scotland. His religion was listed as both Roman Catholic and C of E. He suffered from Bronchitis while at Millbank. He was transferred to Dartmoor Prison on 24 November 1856, with a good record. He went from there to Chatham Prison. He had spent a total of six months and 20 days in Separate Confinement.[4]

On receival at Fremantle from the convict ship Lord Raglan, Kelly was described variously as a farmer or hawker, aged 40, married with three children (or four?), height 5’5”, with dark brown hair, grey eyes, a round face, pale complexion and middling stout in build. He was freckled, with the initials M.K. tattoed onto his right arm.[5] He was able to read and write a little. His conduct from Chatham Prison was recorded as ‘Indifferent’, but ‘Good’ while in Separate Confinement and afterwards at Public Works.[6]

His Record in WA

While in Fremantle Prison Neil Kelly was frequently on the Casual Sick Registers, complaining of minor ailments such as a cough. At times he was discharged with no medication administered. He was recommended for Licence twelve months before expiration of sentence, for having rendered assistance to P.W. (Prison Warden) Noyes when assaulted.[7]

30/8/58 – Bread & Water for two days.[8]

20/1/59 – Petition refused.[9]

14/10/59 – To Rottnest.

24/12/59 – To CE (Convict Establishment).[10]

14/7/60 – Ticket of Leave issued. Received from Resident Magistrate at Bunbury.[11]

16/11/60 – Discharged by JW Hardy. Passed to York for 14 days.[12]

19/3/61 – Before Mr Cowan, RM at York – refusing to work. Sent to Depot.

3/2/62 – Mr Cowan, RM at York – refusing to work. Seven days in Lock-up.

31/12/62 – Labourer, £1 per month at York, employer SE Burges, Tipperary.

3/3/63 – Charged by RM at York, with assault on Mrs Grundle (Grindell ?) of York. Sentenced to two months at CE (Convict Establishment).

2/3/63 – Discharged to Murray District.[13]

14/5/63 – To Bunbury.

5/10/63 – RM at Bunbury charged Kelly with absconding. Seven days’ Bread & Water in


31/12/63 – Labourer, 30/- per month, Wellington District, G Flaherty.

14/5/64 – Labourer, 30/- per month, Wellington District, at Harvey.

30/6/64 – Ditto.

9/7/64 – Labourer, 20/- per month, G Saw, Australind.

26/9/64 – Labourer, 30/-, R Clifton, Australind.

11/10/64 – Drunk. Fined 5/-.

31/12/64 – Herdsman, Clifton, Australind.[14]

14/7/65 – Awarded his Conditional Pardon.[15]

20/6/66 – G Eliot, RM at Bunbury – convicted of supplying several natives with spirituous liquors. Fined £5, with one month Hard Labour. Received on 20/6/66 at Fremantle Prison, discharged on 16/7/66.[16]

Neil Kelly successfully applied to have his wife and children brought to Western Australia. Mary Kelly (neé O’Bryan), and their son Michael (9), embarked from London for WA on the Palestine, on 1 May 1866.[17]

In the late 1860s and early ‘70s Kelly was in the Greenough area, involved in court cases over trespass of stock onto property where he was employed.[18] In 1875 he was convicted of selling sly grog near the lead mines near Northampton, a common crime in those days.[19]

Kelly several times pressed charges against others. The following case was listed in the WA Police Gazette in 1877 –

MARK KELLY, free, at Nooka Mine, Northampton, on search warrant, by L.C. Houlahan, on 29th ult.; charged with stealing a quantity of clothing, boots, razors, knives, &c., the property of Neil Kelly. Dismissed on 30th ult. The articles recovered to be returned to Mark Kelly.[20]

At Northampton in 1881, Robert Wright, and James Wright were brought up at the Police Court, before Mr EH Wittenoom, charged with the larceny of £4 15s., from the person of Neil Kelly. They were remanded for eight days.[21]

The WA Almanacks have Neil Kelly listed in the 1880s –

1880 – 1888 – Labourer, Northampton.

1881 – Teamster, Northampton.

1882/1884 – Entries for an ‘N. Kelly’, possibly Neil, employed as a store assistant in Geraldton.[22]

[See Midwest Convict Register for further details.[23] No record of Neil Kelly’s death has been found in WA.]


[1] Edinburgh Evening Courier, 8 May 1856.

[2] Scottish High Court of Judiciary processes, Reference JC26/1856/37, Related Record AD14/56/226.

[3] Fife Herald, 15 April 1852.

[4] UK Prison Commission Records, Millbank Prison Register of Prisoners, 1882 – 1885.

[5] Convict Departments, Estimates and Convict Lists, (128/1-32)

[6] Convict Department Registers, Convicts Transported per Lord Raglan.

[7] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8)

[8] Ibid.

[9] Convict Department, Convict Lists (128/33-37)

[10] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8)

[11] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R21B)

[12] Miscellaneous, Tickets of Leave, Swan District, 1859-66.

[13] Convict Department, Receipts & Discharges, (RD3-RD4)

[14] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R1)

[15] Fremantle Prison Convict Database, https://fremantle

[16] Convict Establishment, Miscellaneous, Local Prisoners (V16)

[17] WA Convict Records, Miscellaneous, Passenger Lists of Assisted Emigrants, 1851-1868.

[18] See details on the Midwest Convict Register,

[19] WA Times, 3 September 1875.

[20] WA Police Gazette, 12 September 1877, p.147.

[21] Victorian Express, Geraldton, 17 Aug 1881.

[22] Caranamah & Historical Society website,

[23] Midwest Convict Register