Kate Kelly’s Bed

Tucked away in one of the upstairs rooms in the museum at the Mount Victoria Railway Station is a double bed. It has a dark wooden frame with a crocheted lace cover on a mattress. There is a neatly printed handwritten sign, noting the following:

Kate Kelly’s Bed (sister of Ned, the bushranger). Originally a four poster, this bed was purchased by Mr Geo. T Palmer of Ginmuderra Station, near Yass, NSW, about 1880, from Kate Kelly, (who at that time was Mrs White) on whose property Kate was employed. Kate later left the property and re-married a William Foster, who is reputed to have made the armour for Ned Kelly. Kate Foster died in 1898, aged 36 years and is buried in the Forbes Cemetery.

I first spotted this a couple of years ago and thought it was interesting but filed it away in my mind. Then recently I heard ‘Kate Kelly‘ by The Whitlams. It made me wonder – just how did this bed end up in Mount Victoria, after Kate had died over a century ago in the central west gold town of Forbes, New South Wales?

There is a fictionalised account of Kate’s life written by Jean Bedford called Sister Kate. This had lurked on my bookshelves for quite some time and reading it provided some insight into what life might have been like for the sister of the infamous Ned Kelly. Her relationship with Joe Hart was explored, along with the exploitation of the family’s notoriety following the capture and execution of Ned in 1880. Kate moved around, living and working in different country towns before marrying and having several children in Forbes.

The portrayal of the last years of Kate’s life in Bedford’s novel is one of grief, misery, madness and addiction. Her early death – she was found drowned on the outskirts of town – was the tragic conclusion of her life. There is an interesting post on Kate’s life here, part of a project by Merrill Findlay.

Kate stands apart in my mind as one of the women linked to bushrangers in Australian history. Of course, there are many more who were affected, positively and otherwise, by familial connections with outlaws. Her life has been documented by various historians, and there are links to a recent art exhibition based on her life here.

As for her bed, it was a material possession in an age before items were largely disposable.

Have you ever come across a snippet of history that has taken you on a journey of sorts?

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