OUT OF THE FOOTNOTES OF CELEBRITY – WHO WAS MELINDA KENDALL?
Who was Melinda Kendall, the woman who appears so briefly yet significantly throughout the life story of her more famous son, Henry? Any reconstruction will encounter the initial problem that her biographical details as Henry Kendall’s mother are confused and contradictory, while her life story before she became Henry’s mother, and after his death, is virtually invisible. The most easily retrievable clues are her published works, which started appearing after Henry died.
What is known from surviving archival evidence is that she was born Melinda McNally at Pitt Town NSW, on the shores of the Hawkesbury River north west of Sydney, in 1815, only twenty seven years after the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay. How Melinda’s father Patrick McNally and her mother Judith McDermott came to be at Pitt Town in 1815 is still open to investigation, though the General Muster of New South Wales from 1814 shows Patrick arriving in Australia as a (possible) ticket-of-leave convict and Judith as a free settler (on different boats). More than one researcher believes Patrick was assigned to his own wife as a servant. (For those readers not familiar with Australian colonial history: Convicts in those times could be given a
ticket-of-leave after serving some of their sentence, and, though technically still under servitude, be assigned to free settlers. This usually preceded a pardon, unless some offence returned them to ‘convict’ status.)
Many of Henry’s earlier biographers perpetuated the myth that Melinda was the granddaughter of Leonard McNally, infamous eighteenth-century Irish playwright and British Government informer. A search of genealogical records proves this not to be the case.
There are no surviving records to show when Melinda’s mother Judith McDermott died, but, as was fairly common after the death of a mother, by 1828 she was in the foster care of the Reverend Richard Hill and his family, living in Castlereagh Street, Sydney. Henry believed his mother’s maiden
name to be Hill, as that’s how she appears on his marriage certificate.
Other available archival material includes her marriage certificate, dated August 1, 1835, when she became Mrs Basil O Kendall, after supposedly meeting her future husband at a dance in Sussex Street Sydney the night before. The string of fictitious names she produced for the occasion has created confusion ever since, and her reasons for doing so are open to conjecture. (See the BASIL & MELINDA MARRIAGE page).
On April 18, 1839 at Milton near Ulladulla in the southern reaches of the Illawarra region of New South Wales, 165 kilometres south of Sydney, Melinda gave birth to twin boys: Edward Basil and Thomas Henry Kenda
ll. Both of them, like all of Melinda’s children, were called by their middle names.
Between the time of his first published poem in 1859 and his death in 1882, Henry Kendall became a celebrated Australian poet, and Melinda Kendall was relegated to the margins of his story. She became simply Henry Kendall’s mother, and is portrayed in his biographies as everything from a drunken embarrassment to her celebrated son, to a colourful, unconventional eccentric. Henry himself alluded to her “sickness” in his letters.