AC Kelly - THE HISTORY OF MCLAREN VALE WINE #2

AC Kelly: Original Wine Hero

AC Kelly: Original Wine Hero

Stephen Pannell. Current custodian of the the old vineyards Dr A. C. Kelly sold to Thomas Hardy in 1876, bits of old buildings and the remnants of an orchard. Photo Philip White; DRINKSTER

Stephen Pannell. Current custodian of the the old vineyards Dr A. C. Kelly sold to Thomas Hardy in 1876, bits of old buildings and the remnants of an orchard. Photo Philip White; DRINKSTER

To quote Dr A C Kelly from Winegrowing in Australia published in 1867 -

'The time has come when the winegrowers of this colony must bestir themselves and boldly face the difficulties before them. They must be prepared to take their stand on the ground already occupied by the experienced winegrowers of Europe. 

'All have a direct interest in each other's success, for according to the quality of wine produced for export will be our status as a winegrowing country. 

'No petty jealousies need stand in the way of that friendly rivalry to produce the best wine which ought to be the endeavour of each winegrower.'

Now here was a pioneer...

Alexander Charles Kelly (1811-1877), winegrower and medical practitioner, was born on 5 June 1811 at Leith, Scotland, son of John Kelly, agent of the British Linen Co.'s Bank, and his wife Margaret, née Porteus. Alexander was educated in France and Scotland, and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh (M.D., 1832). After practicing briefly in Scotland, he became a surgeon aboard the East India Co. ship Kellie Castle; he kept a vividly written and illustrated journal of the voyage from England to Bengal in 1833.

Later, Kelly visited Canada, where he became interested in the problems of popular education, then returned to Scotland and practiced medicine at or near Dunbar. Perhaps inspired by his brother Thomas Bell Kelly, who had migrated to South Australia in 1839, he followed, arriving in the Baboo on 11 March 1840. Kelly was enrolled as the twelfth name in the medical register of South Australia and set up at Port Adelaide. In June 1842 he was made resident dispenser at Adelaide Hospital. He bought 80 acres (32.4 ha) of land west of Morphett Vale, south of Adelaide; the official title was dated 21 August 1843, although he probably occupied the land earlier. Here he built his home, Trinity, and planted his first vineyard, about 1845.

On 1 November 1854 Kelly married Annie Frances Worthington, in the Church of Scotland, Morphett Vale. He drew on the writings of French and other European authorities, which he translated and commented on, for his first book, The Vine in Australia (Melbourne, 1861); it introduced wine chemistry and modern science to Australian winegrowers and was so popular that it was reprinted next year. His Wine-Growing in Australia (Adelaide, 1867) followed. Kelly's two influential books did much to establish Australian technical expertise in viniculture.

In November 1862 he and five of Adelaide's businessmen—(Sir) Thomas and Alexander Lang Elder(Sir) Samuel DavenportRobert Barr Smith and (Sir) Edward Stirling—formed the Tintara Vineyard Co., with Kelly as manager. Next year he sold Trinity to concentrate on clearing the 213 acres (86.3 ha) of heavily-timbered country near McLaren Vale which the trustees had bought in December 1862, and on planting vines, building cellars and, eventually, making mainly table wine. In 1871 Tintara shareholders sent him to London to search for new markets. The difficulties of an English market more accustomed to the strong, coarse wines of Spain and Portugal, financial depression in the colony and intercolonial tariffs that disadvantaged South Australian wines contributed to the demise of the company. In September 1877 it was announced that Thomas Hardy had purchased the vineyard, with 27,000 gallons (122,742 litres) of wine. The land was not transferred to Hardy until June 1878.

In 1868 Kelly had given articulate evidence before a parliamentary select committee on education reflecting his long-standing interest in the subject. A photographic portrait of him later in life showed a clear, kindly, open face with silvery hair and a full white beard. In 1876 he retired to his home at Norwood, where he died of bronchitis on 9 October 1877. He was buried in Clayton Chapel cemetery, Kensington, survived by his wife, three daughters and two sons, one of whom (John) was involved in the wine industry. An obituarist noted Kelly's 'obliging disposition . . . his kindness to people in straitened circumstances . . . high character, benevolence, and kindly genial manner'.

McLAren Vale Wine. Family Friendly.