Edmund Kennedy (1818-1848) was born on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands of the English channel. His father was a colonel in the British army. Kennedy was a surveyor and also a talented artist. He arrived in Sydney in 1840 where he joined the Surveyor-General's Department as an assistant to Sir Thomas Mitchell. Kennedy was to meet his death at the hands of hostile natives while trying to open up a route to the tip of the Cape York Peninsula.
Kennedy made many expeditions into unexplored areas of Queensland opening up many new areas. In 1845, he was second-in-command of an expedition led by Thomas Mitchell, when they discovered the Victoria River and rich grasslands in central Queensland. On another expedition in 1847, Kennedy discovered that the Victoria River did not flow into the Gulf as Mitchell thought, but was part of Coopers Creek. He renamed it the Barcoo River.
In 1848, Edmund Kennedy, together with 12 other men left Rockingham Bay north of Townsville to travel to Cape York. They planned to map the eastern coast of northern Queensland. The expedition was well planned. As an extra precaution, The HMS 'Rambler" was asked to cruise along the Cape York coast. Finally, after they had reached Cape York, they were to return aboard a ship called the 'Ariel". They took with them 28 horses, 3 carts and a flock of 100 sheep. They were well equipped and took with them pistols and double barrelled shotguns. Their supplies consisted of a tonne of flour to make damper. This was washed down by tea, sweetened by sugar. They also ate salted pork. The sheep would also provide meat during the journey. The expedition faced the problem of thick rainforest and a high barrier of mountains, the Great Dividing Range. The animals and carts were a problem in the dense scrub of the rainforest through which they had to travel.
At first they went along the beach but this was very difficult with the carts. As they had no boats, they unloaded the carts and wrapped tarpaulins around them. These makeshift boats were used to ferry the sheep across the crocodile infested waters. When they came across creek banks 7 metres high, the carts had to be lowered with ropes.
They had to struggle through thick jungle and hack their way through dense scrub and creepers. It was a battle to travel 2 kilometres a day. In addition the country was not suitable for the heavy carts. Late tropical rains weakened both the men and their animals and they were covered with leech bites. To add to their problems, hostile aborigines trailed the party for hundreds of miles.
It was now obvious that they should have stayed close to the coast. If they had, they would have been shocked to see their supply ship, "Rambler", turn south for home. It had been ordered to patrol the coast only until August. Eventually they were forced to abandon their carts and some of their equipment that was too heavy to carry. Horses were dying under the strain of carrying what supplies were left. When they set off, they had hoped to catch animals for extra food. But during the 3 months they had been travelling they had only managed to shoot 1 kangaroo, 2 emus and 5 wallabies. They caught a few fish and had eaten duck and pigeon once. They tried eating goanna and seeds from the trees. Figs that they ate, made them very ill. The horses were becoming weaker because there was no good grass and when they became too weak, they were shot and used for meat. After 5 months in the rainforest, they had covered only 500 direct kilometres, although they had covered twice that many in their wanderings. By the time they reached Princess Charlotte Bay, they were sick and weary and looked in vain for the 'Rambler".
It took them 6 months to reach Weymouth Bay. Here Kennedy left behind 8 of his men because they were too sick to go any further, while he and 4 men went on to Shelburne Bay. Before setting off, they killed the last of the sheep. Kennedy also left behind 2 horses, which were too weak to be used for anything else but food. They shared up what was left of the dried meat, flour and tea. Kennedy took the rest of the horses, promising the eight sick men they would soon sail back on the 'Ariel".
When they reached Shelburne Bay, two of the men, Luff and Dunn decided they could go no further. Also, one of the party accidentally shot himself, so Kennedy decided leave him with the other two. Kennedy decided to make a fast dash to the Cape with the aboriginal called Jacky Jacky as his only companion.
At one time Kennedy became bogged up to his shoulders and had to be rescued by Jacky Jacky. Kennedy's feet were very swollen and he became ill, so they had to rest. Jacky Jacky would carry Kennedy on his back for a kilometre at a time. All their meat was now gone and Jacky Jacky tried to catch some fish.
The aborigines who had been following them had watched the party become smaller and now decided to attack. When they were just 20 kilometres from Cape York, Kennedy was speared. Jacky Jacky cut the spear out of Kennedy's back and carried him to the creek to bathe his wounds. Kennedy asked for pen and paper and tried to write, but died in Jacky Jacky's arms. Jacky Jacky stayed with Kennedy until he died. Though wounded himself, Jacky Jacky managed to meet the rescue ship which was waiting for them at Albany Bay. The crew of the ship were amazed to see Jacky Jacky run down the beach, more dead than alive. Wasting no time, the crew of the 'Ariel" headed south to rescue the men who had been left behind. However, the 3 men who had been left at Shelburne Bay were missing and 6 of the the 8 men at Weymouth Bay had died of hunger. Only 2 survived.
Now all that remained was to take Kennedy's body back to Sydney for burial. Jacky Jacky led the sailors to the spot where he had buried Kennedy, but the grave was empty. Kennedy's body was never found. Jacky Jacky was given a breast plate in recognition of his bravery by Governor Fitzroy. He returned to the Muswellbrook area to his tribe, but unfortunately, while drunk, fell into a campfire and was burned.