13th December 1848

Explorer Edmund Kennedy is speared to death

Edmund Besley Court Kennedy came to a very unfortunate end. Born in Guernsey on 5 September 1818, he could never have imagined that he would have been speared to death on the opposite side of the world barely 31 years later.

Kennedy was employed as the assistant surveyor of New South Wales when much of Australia was still unknown. It had taken him four months to sail there, from November 1839 until March 1840, after passing the necessary exams to secure his position.

At the time, Australia was still seen as British property, so Kennedy had to wait for permission from London before he could set out from Sydney. This, he did, in 1845, with an extraordinary entourage consisting of 30 other men and enough supplies to see them through a full year in the wilderness. Nobody knew what they would find as it had not yet been mapped.

It was as well that they had taken so much with them, as they didn’t return to Sydney until early 1847. Within two months he set off again, initially retracing his previous steps and, when he reached the limit of what had already been discovered, following the paths of several rivers to see where they would lead.

Kennedy had been lucky so far. Although some of his supplies had been tampered with when they’d been discovered by some indigenous Australians, he hadn’t had any trouble himself – but that was about to change.

A fateful final expedition

In April 1848 (spring in Europe, but autumn in Australia), he sailed from Sydney to Rockingham Bay. Not knowing what they would find there, nobody could have predicted that the land leading back from the bay was almost impassable. They covered only a few dozen miles in several weeks before the party had to split up. Kennedy, as the leader, went ahead with four companions, leaving eight others behind.

One of Kennedy’s party was injured and had to be looked after by two others. Now only Kennedy and his indigenous Australian guide, Jackey Jackey, carried on.

By now they had attracted the attention of several other indigenous Australians who had started tracking them through the bush. When they saw their opportinity, they attacked, and caught Kennedy with several spears. He died in Jakey Jakey’s arms.

Jakey Jakey had to continue alone, and eventually made it to the agreed rendezvous with a supply vessel. A search party was sent out, but only two others of the original party of 12 were found to still be alive.

St James’ Church in Sydney features a memorial to Kennedy and his work.


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