Frederick Septimus Kelly: A Musical Sportsman
Dr Brian Wimborne PhD ’92, reflects on the life, sporting prowess and musical works of wartime hero Fredrick Septimus Kelly.
One morning during the Gallipoli campaign an Australian soldier sat in a trench composing a piece of music that he called the Gallipoli Sonata. He was thirty-four year old Frederick Septimus Kelly who at the time was known as a champion rower, composer and concert pianist.
Kelly was born in Sydney in 1881, the fourth son of Irish-born Thomas Hussey Kelly and his Australian-born wife, Mary Anne née Dick. After an early education at Sydney Grammar School, Frederick went to Eton and then to Oxford where he won a Lewis Nettleship scholarship to read music at Balliol College (BA, 1903; MA, 1912).
His rowing career began at Eton and continued at Balliol. At the Henley Regatta he won the Diamond Sculls in 1902, 1903 and 1905,– the last setting a record that stood until 1938. He was also a member of the coxless-four that was awarded the Steward’s Cup in 1904 and four years later rowed in the eight that won
a gold medal at the London Olympic games. Contemporary reports of his oarsmanship were glowing. ‘Kelly’s successes have been phenomenal,’ reported the Australian Star (20 July 1903, 6).
He had begun piano lessons as a child and showed early promise, to the delight of his father who hoped his son would become a famous composer. Lessons continued at Eton and Oxford, where he studied under Dr. Charles Lloyd and (Sir) Donald Tovey, respectively.
After graduating, he continued his musical studies at the Dr. Hoch's Konservatorium, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. He then returned to London where he made his public debut as a pianist.
Back in Sydney in 1911, Kelly gave solo recitals to wide acclaim. His repertoire ranged from the music of Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven and Liszt to more contemporary composers, including Debussy and Scriabin. He also introduced Australian audiences to his own works, Serenade for Flute and Small Orchestra, and Cycle of Lyrics. In the following year in London, he performed with Pablo Casals and met Maurice Ravel.
Having settled in England, he lived with his sister, Mary (Maisie), at Bisham Grange, near Marlowe, Buckinghamshire. His elder brother, William Henry, held the seat of Wentworth in the House of Representatives (1903-1919) and another brother, Thomas, was a colonel in the Military Intelligence Department.
Kelly was commissioned in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in December 1914 and, together with his friends, Rupert Brooke and William Brown, was attached to the Royal Naval Division. In April 1915, following the death of Brooke, whom he helped to bury on Skyros, he composed Elegy for String Orchestra: In Memoriam for Rupert Brooke.
As a member of the Hood Battalion, Kelly took part in the Gallipoli landings in April and was wounded in June. Promoted to lieutenant, he returned to duty in July and was among the last to leave Gallipoli, being awarded the DSO for ‘conspicuous gallantry.’
He went with the Hood Battalion to France, in command of 'B' Company, in May 1916, and became director of the regimental band. Maintaining high standards of discipline, he was widely respected for fearlessness and a sense of justice. He was killed on 13 November 1916 during the Battle of the Somme,
while leading an attack on a machine-gun emplacement at Beaucourt-sur-Ancre. He was buried in Martinsart's British Cemetery not far away.
Following his death, memorial concerts were held in Sydney and London, where his Elegy for String Orchestra was performed. Some of his music has been recorded on CDs and is occasionally played on ABC radio.
Kelly never married. A memorial to him is in the village of Bisham, near where he had lived.