Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Kelly-Kenny, Thomas

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KELLY-KENNY, Sir THOMAS (1840–1914), general, son of Mathew Kelly, of Tuanmanagh, Kilrush, county Clare, was born at Tuanmanagh 27 February 1840. In 1874 he took the additional surname of Kenny. In 1858 he received a commission in the 2nd Foot, and in 1860 took part in the China War, was present at the capture of the Taku forts, and was mentioned in dispatches. In 1866 he took part as a captain in the Abyssinian expedition and was again mentioned in dispatches. After twenty-four years of regimental service, he was promoted in 1882 to the command of the 2nd battalion of the Queen's regiment, as the 2nd Foot had become, and he first attracted notice in consequence of the very high state of efficiency to which he brought this battalion. On giving up this command he was employed in a succession of staff appointments, in which he made a name for himself as an administrator.

In 1896 Kelly-Kenny was promoted major-general and given command of an infantry brigade at Aldershot, and in the following year he was made inspector-general of auxiliary forces at the War Office. He was holding this position when the Boer War broke out (1899), and, after the first five divisions had left for South Africa under the command of Sir Redvers Buller, he was chosen to organize and command the 6th division at Aldershot. After the ‘black week’ (December 1899) of Magersfontein, Stormberg, and Colenso, and after the appointment of Lord Roberts [q.v.] to the supreme command, Kelly-Kenny took this division out to South Africa and led it during the operations for the relief of Kimberley. After a night march (14–15 February 1900) the 6th division arrived at Klip Drift on the Modder river and relieved Major-General (afterwards Earl) French's cavalry division, which was thus enabled to gallop through the Boer lines towards Kimberley. On discovering General Piet Cronje's movement eastwards from Magersfontein, Kelly-Kenny followed him up, engaged his rearguard at Klip Kraal Drift (16 February), and by hampering the Boer retreat enabled Lord Roberts two days later to bring up the 9th division to join the 6th, while French's cavalry returned from Kimberley and prevented Cronje from escaping by the right bank of the Modder. Cronje had entrenched himself in a laager at Vendutie Drift, just east of Paardeberg. During the first attack on the laager (18 February) Kelly-Kenny was the senior general on the spot, but Lord Roberts had sent forward his chief of staff, Lord Kitchener [q.v.], to co-ordinate the movements of the various divisions, a measure which placed Kelly-Kenny in a difficult position, particularly as he did not agree with Kitchener's radical methods. After Cronje's surrender (27 February) Kelly-Kenny led his division in the action of Poplar Grove (7 March), but the Boers, finding their flank turned by the British cavalry, did not await the attack of the infantry. Three days later (10 March) they made a determined stand at Driefontein and there the brunt of the fighting fell on the 6th division, which Kelly-Kenny handled with such skill that the Boers never again accepted a pitched battle. After the occupation of Bloemfontein and Lord Roberts's advance to Pretoria, Kelly-Kenny was left in command in the Free State, where his chief business was to protect the long railway communications against General Christian De Wet's numerous raids. In the autumn of 1900 he came home with Lord Roberts.

Kelly-Kenny had been promoted lieutenant-general in 1899, and in 1902 he received the K.C.B. for his services in the war. He was adjutant-general of the forces from 1901 to 1904. In 1904 he received the G.C.B., and he was promoted general in 1905. In the latter year he accompanied Prince Arthur of Connaught on the mission sent to confer the order of the Garter on the Mikado. He retired in 1907 and died 26 December 1914 at Brighton. He was unmarried.

[Sir J. F. Maurice, History of the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, vols. i, ii, 1906–1908; personal knowledge.]

F. M.