Born on the Isle of Man, William Kelly came to Kiama in the late nineteenth century and set up business as a tailor. The 1890s advertisements for W. Kelly & Co list them as tailors, men’s mercers and general outfitters – selling hats, ties, shirts, silk handkerchiefs. His wife (born Florence E. Purdue) ‘assisted him most capably in business’. While he was connected with Kiama’s business life for 40 of his 66 years, it was his non-business activities made him a well-known and prominent figure in the town.
At first, he was best known as an athlete and an organiser involved with most of Kiama’s sporting events including the sports meetings in which he took part as a runner. He is also credited with founding the Kiama Progress Association
Kelly had learnt to swim when he lived on the Isle of Man. Swimming, rather than running, eventually became his major sporting interest. He was a keen and speedy swimmer, specialising in under-water swimming (then known as distance diving) and breast stroke.
Kelly led the townspeople in improving the Baths at Kiama’s Blow Hole Point. He was nominated by the Council as one of the Baths Controlling Committee representing the citizen’s interest with that of Council. He is credited with founding the Kiama Swimming club. He was Club’s captain for many years, one of its most able instructors and captain of its water-polo team. He added interest to Kiama’s swimming carnivals by performing the popular Monte Cristo stunt (based on Edmond Dantes method of escaping from the Chateau D’If in the Alexandre Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo). Tied up in a sack and thrown into deep water, Kelly would surface after quickly disentangling himself from the sack. Kelly not only spent hours training and encouraging boys to swim and instilling a love of water in them, he also helped organise a carnival at the Kiama Ladies Baths at Pheasant Point in 1904. As well as sport, Kelly loved flowers, especially carnations. He was much in demand as a judge at Agricultural and Horticulture shows throughout New South Wales.
For the last 10 years of his life, ill-health meant Kelly had to relinquish most of the activities he had previously enjoyed. In 1924, he died after suffering a stroke.
William Kelly was remembered as ‘a kindly genial soul’, ‘generous to a degree’ with a witty tongue , a ‘sense of humour and enthusiastic nature’ that ‘sent him happily through life in which he never lost interest’. Kiama’s Masonic and the Oddfellows lodges attended his funeral and acted as pall bearers. His hearse was piled high with flowers. Family members at his funeral included his wife Florence, his son William and daughter Muriel from his first marriage to Sarah Pinkerton of Richmond River and his young grand-daughter. Sadly, Orry Kelly, the son of William’s second marriage, arrived back in Kiama from New York in time for his father’s funeral, but too late to see his father alive.
Orry, who may have shared some of his father’s tailoring and organisational skills, later won three Oscars for Costume Design awarded to him under his professional name of Orry-Kelly.