John Kessey

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John Kessey 1837 - 1902

John Kessey was born in about 1837, the second son for Thomas Kessey and Judith Grady. He lived all his life on farms near the village of Black Springs in the Bathurst district of NSW. He would have had only elementary schooling and would have been required to work hard in helping his parents run the farm.

By the time his older brother Thomas married Sarah Ann Grose in 1856, nineteen year old John had three bothers and five sisters. Two more sisters were born during the following three years. John married Mary Ann Hanrahan on 27 August 1857 at Bathurst and their first child was born ten months later. By that time, John also had a couple of nieces.

It is apparent that he and his brothers started stealing their neighbours livestock. Perhaps their father led them astray with some of the tricks that had led to his own conviction for sheep stealing two decades earlier. The family's reputation was probably the reason why Patrick Hanrahan insisted on a pre-nuptial agreement before consenting to the marriage between John and his daughter, Mary Ann. This agreement was designed to ensure that Mary Ann, not her future husband, would retain ownership of the land given by her parents as a wedding gift.

Eight years after the marriage, John's brothers, Thomas and James, were convicted of robbery under arms in relation to two separate hold ups. Both hold ups involved three masked men, with Thomas Kessey convicted in relation to the robbery of two stage coaches between Bathurst and Orange in June and James convicted in relation to the subsequent robbery of a well known grazier on the Limekilns Road (near Bathurst). Each brother was sentenced to ten years hard labour, served at Darlinghurst Gaol and Cockatoo Island.

John's father, Thomas senior, was 66 years old and was supporting three young children, three unmarried daughters and two grandchildren whose father was in gaol for ten years. With two of three older sons in gaol, he would have relied heavily on his remaining son, John, to help support the extended family. It seems that the struggle to provide for this extended family resulted in further crime.

In February 1870, John was convicted of cattle stealing and sentenced to 3 years hard labour. Those three years would have been very hard on his wife and five children (James b.1858, Phillip b.1860, John b.1865, Thomas b.1865, Elizabeth b.1867). Emily was born a few months after her father went to gaol and the last child, Ethel, was born in 1877.

After serving his sentence, John returned to farming. It seems that he also returned to his criminal activities for he was convicted, in May 1894, of pig stealing. The portrait taken on his admission to Bathurst gaol for another nine months hard labour has him looking every one of his 57 years. His hair and beard are quite grey and we learn that he has a scar on the palm of his hand.

Five years later, he was convicted again, this time for cattle theft. He was sentenced to 1 year and 8 months in Bathurst Gaol from August 1899. Hist portrait shows him as an old man although he was but 62. He was deaf and the little finger on his right hand was contracted.

Bathurst Gaol's 1899 Photograph Description Sheet for John Kessey

John contracted cholera and died on 9 March 1902 aged 65. He is buried in the old Black Springs cemetery.

My essay Criminal or victim? is about John Kessey's life.