Edmund Kennedy bigraphy, stories - Australian explorer

Edmund Kennedy : biography

5 September 1818 - 23 December 1848

Edmund Besley Court Kennedy J. P. (5 September 1818 – December 1848) was an explorer in Australia in the mid nineteenth century. He was the Assistant-Surveyor of New South Wales, working with Sir Thomas Mitchell. Kennedy explored the interior of Queensland and northern New South Wales, including the Thomson River, the Barcoo River, Cooper Creek, and Cape York Peninsula.

Kennedy was born on 5 September 1818 on Guernsey in the Channel Islands to Colonel Thomas Kennedy (British Army) and Mary Ann (Smith) Kennedy. He was the sixth born of nine children, comprising four girls and five boys. Kennedy died in December 1848 after being speared by Aborigines in far north Queensland near Cape York.


  • The former Electoral district of Kennedy in the Queensland Legislative Assembly and the Division of Kennedy in the Parliament of Australia are named after Kennedy.
  • Edmund Kennedy National Park - established 1977
  • Kennedy Highway

Prelude to Exploration

Kennedy was educated at Elizabeth College Guernsey, and expressed an early interest in surveying. In 1837 he went to Rio de Janeiro, returning to England in 1838 when the business house in which he worked closed down. A naval officer friend of the family, Captain Charles James Tyers, suggested that if Kennedy obtained the necessary qualifications, he would arrange employment for him in Australia. During 1839 Kennedy attended lectures in surveying at King's College London, obtaining a certificate from his tutor.

In November 1839 Kennedy sailed for Sydney in the barque Globe which arrived in March 1840. Another family contact Captain Perry, who was deputy to Sir Thomas Mitchell, arranged a position for Kennedy as assistant surveyor in the New South Wales Survey Department after he had passed an examination. In August Kennedy was assigned to join Tyers on an overland journey to Melbourne, thence to Portland Bay for survey duties.

Whilst there, he met an Irish immigrant Margaret Murphy with whom he had a daughter, although they remained unmarried. Their daughter Eliza died at age five. During this period, Kennedy developed his professional skills, however a disagreement with the local port magistrate James Blair resulted in his recall to Sydney in May 1843. Nevertheless his work at Portland Bay was praised, and he was looked upon favourably by Mitchell, who subsequently selected him for the next expedition at very short notice.

First expedition

In 1845, Mitchell received authority from London for an expedition from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria terminating at Port Essington. He was convinced that a major river must run in a north-westerly direction to the gulf, and that he would be the one to discover it. His initial choice for second in command was the surveyor Townsend, but shortly before setting off, Edmund Kennedy was appointed to replace him. On 5 November Kennedy was sworn in as a Justice of the Peace at the Supreme Court, and the expedition set off from Sydney in mid November. The party trekked via Parramatta and Bathurst to a rendezvous point at Boree. Kennedy in a letter to his father noted that the party consisted of 30 men, 12 months supplies plus "8 drays, 3 carts, 102 bullocks, 255 sheep, [and]17 horses." The large size of the expedition was to be detrimental to the rate of progress.

Mitchell tracked north along the Bogan River, east to the Macquarie, north to the Narran, then along the Balonne. Here Mitchell found a natural rocky causeway and named it St George Bridge, near the present town of St George, Queensland. To allow time for stock to refresh, he left Kennedy at a depot camp for three weeks, thereafter to follow slowly while Mitchell probed northwards with a small party. Mitchell continued to follow the Balonne, which took him too far north-east, so he veered west until coming across the Maranoa River where Kennedy and the main party caught up on 1 June 1846. By now Mitchell realised that their equipment was a cumbersome impediment to progress, so he decided to leave Kennedy behind again, near the present town of Mitchell. He was gone for four and a half months.

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