Topic: John Bell Kelly (1869-1901)

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Lieutenant John Bell Kelly was killed during the Battle of Bakenlaagte in Transvaal whilst fighting in the South African War (Boer War) (1899-1902). He was my second great uncle - Debbie McCauley (2012).

John Bell Kelly (c1869-1901)

John Bell Kelly was born in Cloonbur, Galway, Ireland on 28 December 1869. His father, Richard Kelly, was born in Wicklow, Ireland, in 1835 to Thomas and Elizabeth Kelly (nee Taylor). His mother was Bridget Jane Bell, daughter of Joshua Bell.

Richard Kelly, in addition to being a farmer, was head game-keeper to Lord Ardilaun in County Galway, Ireland. Arthur Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Ardilaun, 2nd Baronet (1840-1915), known as Sir Arthur Guinness, Bt, between 1868 and 1880, was an Irish businessman, politician, and philanthropist.  

Richard died prior to 1879. His eldest children, Elizabeth Annie and Thomas Henry Kelly appear to have immigrated to New Zealand aboard the Glenlora in 1880. Bridget and some of their other children, including John, immigrated to Australia eleven years later, aboard the Oroya, arriving in October 1891. Bridget died in Australia on 4 August 1923.

According to the Australian War Memorial Commemorative Roll, John held the rank of Lieutenant in the 2nd Scottish Horse, The Marquis of Tullibardine (Regimental Number: 31643). He served in the  South African War (Boer War) (1899-1902), but was killed on 30 October 1901 at the Battle of Bakenlaagte in Transvaal, South Africa, the last major battle of the war. This battle occurred during the guerrilla phase of the war. The battle saw the Eastern Transvaal Boer commandos of Generals Grobler, Brits, Viljoen and Louis Botha attack and defeat the rear guard of Colonel Benson’s much feared No 3 Flying Column while it was in marching formation to its base camp. The troops were outnumbered four to one. John’s remains were buried in the Germiston (Primrose) Cemetery, South Africa.

Ballarat Boer War Memorial  Traveler DC 140

Ballarat Boer War Memorial (Australia)

The following article appeared in the Barrier Miner:

SEVERAL VICTORIANS KILLED IN ACTION. LIEUTENANT WOODMAN DANGEROUSLY WOUNDED. MELBOURNE, Saturday. The Federal Defence Department has been advised that the following Victorians have been killed in South Africa:- Lieutenant J, B. Kelly, Second Scottish Horse; Lieutenant Chrisp, Fifth Victorian Contingent; Trooper Hanson, Fifth Victorian Contingent; Trooper Cangbey. Amongst the dangerously wounded is Lieutenant C. Woodman, of the Second Scottish Horse, a son of Mr. A. J. Woodman, of Broken Hill. [Lieutenant Woodman left for the war as a private, and won his commission by efficiency in the field. His letters to his father have frequently been published by the MINER.] (Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW: 1888-1954) 9 November 1901, p. 4, source: Trove)

Ballarat Boer War Memorial (Victorians who died for the Empire)

Ballarat Boer War Memorial (Australia)

On 11 November 1905 (p. 5) The Argus carried the following notice:

THE LATE LIEUTENANT KELLY. BALLARAT, Sunday. Lieutenant Kelly, whose death in South Africa as announced on Saturday, was for some time stationed as a member of the police force at Ballarat East, and subsequently at Pitfield. In company with Constable Rankin, he resigned from the force, and went to South Africa, joint Tullibardine's Scottish Horse as a sergeant. He shortly afterwards received a commission. Deceased was a single man, and his mother lives in Melbourne (courtesy of Trevor Kelly - Australia).

The Melbourne Argus carried John’s death notice:

KELLY. - On the 29th October, at Brakenlaagte, South Africa, killed in action, Lieutenant J.B.  Kelly, of the Scottish Horse, third youngest son of Mrs. J. Kelly, 552 Canning street, North Carlton (Home papers please copy) (Melbourne Argus, 23 November 1901, p. 9 source:

And this article appeared the following month in The Register:

THE AUSTRALIANS. A HERO OF BRAKENLAAGTE. London, December 7. The “Morning Post” correspondent at the front, in describing the terrible battle at Brakenlaagte, near Bethel, in which Col. George Elliot Benson and Lieut.-Col. Eustace Guinness were killed, states that the late Lieut. A. [J] Kelly, an Australian volunteer, of the Scottish Horse, exhibited great heroism. At a most critical juncture, when exposed to a hail of bullets, he fearlessly rallied his men to outflank the enemy. After the engagement his dead body was found riddled with bullets. Pte. A. Brown, of the 2nd New South Wales Mounted Infantry, has succumbed to enterie fever at Rustenbunr (The Register (Adelaide, SA: 1901-1929) 9 December 1901, p. 7, source: /55673146).

John's younger sister was Staff Nurse Alicia Mary Kelly who during World War I nursed hundreds of wounded from Gallipoli. While nursing at the No. 3 Australian Casualty Clearing Station (3ACCS) in Ypres she refused to leave her patients during heavy shelling. Alicia was awarded the Military Medal ‘for gallantry displayed on the occasion of hostile air raids on casualty clearing stations’. She also received the French Croix de Guerre (War Cross) and in January 1918 the Royal Red Cross.



Australian Commemorative Roll.

Australian Military History.

The Kelly and Crawford Families: Pioneers of the Waikato District, New Zealand by Debbie McCauley [unpublished manuscript].


How to cite this page: McCauley, Debbie (2012). John Bell Kelly (1869-1901). Retrieved from (Tauranga Memories, last updated: *insert date*). In-text citation: (McCauley, 2012).

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John Bell Kelly (1869-1901)

Note:Regimental Number: 31643
First Names:John Bell
Last Name:Kelly
Date of Birth:28 December 1869
Place of Birth:Cloonbur, Galway
Country of birth:Ireland
Date of death:30 October 1901
Place of death:South Africa
Place of burial:Germiston (Primrose) Cemetery, South Africa
Family Surname:Kelly
Fathers name:Richard Kelly
Fathers date of birth:c1836
Fathers place of birth:Wicklow, County Wicklow, Ireland
Fathers date of death:23 March 1879
Fathers place of death:Wicklow, Ireland
Fathers nationality:Ballykine, County Mayo, Ireland
Mothers name:Bridget Jane Bell
Mothers date of birth:1839
Mothers place of birth:Wicklow, County Wicklow, Ireland
Mothers date of death:4 August 1923
Mothers place of death:East Melbourne, Australia
Name of sibilings:Charles Edward Kelly, Alicia Mary Kelly, George Arthur Kelly, Elizabeth Annie Kelly, Thomas Henry Kelly, William Kelly, Robert Taylor Kelly, and Sarah Jane Kelly
Military Service:South African Conflict (Boer War 1899-1902)

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