As Brave as a Bushranger

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No one knew young Ada Foster when she arrived in the Forbes, New South Wales district in 1886. She was just twenty-three years old, but was attractive and hardworking, and had no trouble finding a position.

Working as a domestic at Cadow Station, she was soon showing off her talents as a horsewoman. An expert horse breaker and rough rider, she spent every spare minute at the yards, and few of the station workers could best her on a horse. A visiting stockman claimed to have seen her trick riding for a Wild West show in Sydney, and this led to questions about her past.

Ada moved on, taking on a position with the Prow family, then a butcher called Gunn. At one stage she even worked as a home helper with the town’s undertakers.

Despite whispers that she was hiding a secret, it wasn’t long before Ada was being pursued by a bunch of suitors, and she chose William ‘Bricky’ Foster, a blacksmith and horse trainer. The pair were married in November 1888, and things went well for a while.

Unwilling to be a genteel housewife, Ada spent her time breaking horses and riding. The first two children, Frederick and Gertrude, were born healthy, but three of their next four children died in infancy. It was the death of little Catherine in 1898 that sent Ada over the edge. She was diagnosed with ‘milk fever’, as post-natal-depression was called in those days, and things went bad. Bricky was away most of the time, blacksmithing or training horses in distant towns.

Ada found solace in the bottle, and the townspeople turned on her. A lost and tragic figure, she was hounded by rumours of her youth and memories of the destruction of her family.

Ada’s real name was Kate – Catherine Ada Kelly – the sister of Australia’s most infamous outlaw, Ned Kelly. It was she who had fought hardest to save Ned’s life, even going down on her knees to the Victorian Governor to plead that he be spared the rope.

After Ned’s death, Kate found it impossible to live, unmolested, under her real name. She took her middle name, Ada, then left home and travelled, looking for a new life. After a few months with Lance Skuthorpe’s travelling Wild West show, performing as a trick rider, Kate ended up in Forbes.

Now, the loss of three children, along with memories of her brother Dan’s burned body, and Joe Byrne’s corpse hanging from the door of the Benalla Lock-up, sent her to the edge. What happened next is folklore, not solid fact, but if there’s a grain of truth in this tale, Kate Kelly deserves far more adulation than that piled on her brother Ned.

Ravaged by alcohol and depression, one day Kate was walking by the Forbes Lagoon, opposite the racecourse, when she saw a local Aboriginal child out of his depth and in trouble. Despite being burdened by the heavy dresses of the day, she did not hesitate, charging through the water to save him.

After delivering the child safely to the bank, Kate was not seen alive again. Eight days later, they found her body floating face down in the water. Her brother Jim Kelly hitched up his wagon and drove all the way from Victoria to fetch Kate’s three children and take them home to live with their Grandmother, Ellen. Bricky wanted to raise them, but the Kellies insisted. And another page turned in the history of the troubled, wild, but undoubtedly talented Kelly family.

Written and researched by Greg Barron

Click here to view the sources page.

2 thoughts on “As Brave as a Bushranger”

  1. That’s an amazing story Greg, thanks for sharing. I have been watching with great interest as history about the other half of humanity, women, has been unfolding in recent years. Who knew that women were interesting and awesome too?

    1. Thanks Sara, thanks for saying that. So often the courage of women wasn’t as ostentatious as that of the men, but the stories are so interesting … and often so sad.

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