Putting Isabella on stage

A NEW play about pioneer Isabella Mary Kelly will debut in Wingham later in the year.

Maggie Young, a playwright who moved to the area last year was so inspired by local author Maurie Garland's book The Trials of Isabella Mary Kelly that she simply had to take pen to paper.

She hopes her work will give a voice to Isabella whose story has often been inaccurately told. Maurie was able to shed light on the true story of Isabella in his well researched book and now Maggie hopes to bring the community together to celebrate this remarkable woman. 

When Maggie was first reading about Isabella and her settlement locally in the late 1830s she was curious to know why Isabella had chosen such a remote location.

But having moved here herself from Newcastle only recently, she was able to relate.

"It is just so beautiful here," she said and unlike Isabella, who received harsh treatment from many locals and had few friends, Maggie's experience has been completely different.

"I love it here," she said. "It certainly is a friendly town." 

Maggie is now on the lookout for actors for her play and is of course looking for her Isabella.

There will also be two other female roles and possibly five male.

Maggie is still finalising her work but at this stage she can confirm it will be a one-night-only show at the Wingham Town Hall tentatively booked for June. Maggie has experience working on similar projects across the country including Newcastle and Tasmania.

The play will be lively and will include audience involvement - acting may not be confined to the stage alone and Isabella could suddenly appear right next to members of the audience.

"It will be fun," said Maggie who is currently typing up the play. The idea has of course occurred to Maggie to take the play to Mount George next.

Isabella's property was called Mount George and Maggie hopes that there is sufficient interest in the play to hold a special performance in the School of Arts Hall.

All money raised from the production will be donated to the Wingham Museum.

Maggie would like to hear from any person interested in auditioning for the play, you can call her on 6557 0929.

Who was Isabella Mary Kelly?

From the Manning Valley Historical Society website: 

MISS Isabella Mary Kelly sailed into Sydney Harbour on November 17, 1834, on board the Barque James. She said she came because of health reasons. She was a wealthy woman. 

Isabella Kelly was born in Dublin, probably between 1802 and 1806. When she was eight years old she became an orphan. Her brother took her to London and there, Sir William Crowder, a Justice of the High Court, became her guardian. 

On August 8, 1838, Kelly attended a Crown Land Sale held at The Treasury in Sydney, purchasing 895 acres of land "near Mt. Kangat" on the northern bank of the Manning River for £223. Isabella called her property "Mount George." 

Isabella Mary Kelly is unique in the history of New South Wales – she was the only single female who was a settler in her own right. She was entirely without any bond of marriage, nor was there a male companion in her life. She chose a life as a settler in a remote district of the colony. Isabella Kelly ran the station herself and was not afraid to get her hands dirty. 

Isabella Mary Kelly had very ambitious plans for Mount George. At the eastern end of the Mount George estate, on rather hilly ground, a new township was surveyed, which she called Georgetown. On March 3, 1842, an auction was held for blocks of land in Georgetown, but unfortunately the auction was a dismal failure - not one block sold. Probably the main reason for the failure was its isolation. 

Many stories have been published about the "notorious" Isabella Kelly, suggesting she cruelly whipped the convicts in her charge; that she rode around the countryside with guns on hips, and chased bushrangers. All are completely false. Isabella Kelly finally left the valley in 1865, after 27 years' residence. 

She was a female pioneer who never received the credit she deserved.

Wrongfully jailed

The main story of Isabella Mary Kelly began in 1854 when she sub-let the Brimbin property to Charles Skerrett, who turned out to be a con man.  

It is a story of stolen cattle and forged documents which resulted in Isabella Kelly's wrongful imprisonment in Darlinghurst Gaol

It is a story of colonial injustice which reached from the lowest rung of the justice ladder, the local untrained Magistrates, to the highest rung, the office of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Go to Manning Valley Historical Society website

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