Moving from Hobart to Melbourne in July 1848, our audacious bankrupt set himself up as a civil engineer and surveyor with an office in Queen Street. He joined the Mechanic’s Institute, portraying himself as one who was well informed about colonial affairs. He was soon giving public lecturers on how to advance the new Colony’s development and create the ultimate ‘Australian Felix.’
Among many ideas he promoted was the formation of a Cattle and Sheep Insurance Company and also the erection of Public Bath House in the Yarra River. Unfortunately, it so happened that the proprietor of the Melbourne Morning Herald, George Cavanagh knew Kentish very well, having twelve years ago back in Sydney, been editor of an opposition newspaper to the one Kentish published. Cavanagh wrote a scathing article casting aspersions on Kentish’s character and his mania for writing about himself. Kentish immediately sued Cavanagh for £1000 damages for defamation of character but took it even further. As Cavanagh was leaving his newspaper office, an angry Kentish was waiting for him and struck him several times with the heavy handle end of his horse whip causing Cavanagh to fall into the mud. Of course, such an attack resulted in a court case, at which Kentish again physically assaulted Cavanagh. Kentish was fined £4 for the first assault, £5 for the second and bound over to keep the peace for six months. When Kentish failed to pay his fines, he was jailed.
Flushed with the success of his Bath House in Hobart, Kentish formed the Bathers Association of Melbourne. He designed another Public Bath House on the banks of the Yarra River and let the contract to two men to construct them. When completed, Kentish refused to pay the men, insisting their work was not up to standard. The builders angrily retained possession of the Bath House and threatened that if he didn’t pay them, they would ‘knock his block off.’ Kentish took them to court for threatening to murder him. The Baths were eventually opened 26 December 1849. While on an upcountry excursion in May 1850, Kentish became hopelessly lost for four days without food or water and his life was only saved by the arrival of two Aboriginals.
Self–styled Poet Laureate & Inventor
On 5 August 1850 Queen Victoria signed an Act of the British Parliament to separate the State of Victoria from New South Wales and the enabling legislation was passed by the New South Wales Government on 1 July 1851.
Between these dates Kentish composed three anthems to celebrate this auspicious occasion. They gained the distinction of being the first literary work published in the newly proclaimed State of Victoria. From his office now in Bourke Street, Melbourne, our self-styled ‘Australian Poet Laureate’ now proposed the launching of a new literary periodical to be known as ‘The Australasian Muse’. It would be under the patronage of the Governor-General Sir Charles Fitzroy and distributed throughout Australia and New Zealand. As its editor, Kentish’s promotion for this proposed periodical drew from him the most extravagant self-compliments including his claim it would contain ‘the phalanx of poetic talent.’ But it all came to nothing.
On 29 January 1851 Kentish also announced his discovery of a new form of motive power, by which he claimed he could propel ships without the aid of steam or sails. It was an entirely new means of propulsion adaptable to every purpose of locomotion on land or water, mill work and machinery, as a substitute for steam. He had made this discovery in March 1850 and by August had patented it in London. His so-called invention appeared to be based on an early form of hydraulics but being destitute of funds he was unable to give it a full and fair test. He felt this had deprived him of the honour of competing for the prize to be awarded by Her Majesty Queen Victoria at the 1851 World Exhibition in London. For much of the 1850s, Kentish continued his manic activity building different models and seeking financial backers for his invention, while at the same time often embroiled in public controversy.
Last Years in Sydney May 1858 –Oct 1867
In May 1858 Kentish moved to Sydney believing that city may offer him better prospects for obtaining sponsorship. But in the end his so-called revolutionary invention fizzled out. Once he gained employment in a legal position, but when his past caught up with him, he was immediately dismissed. In August 1861 Kentish wrote another song entitled “The Captured Lady – an answer to Ever of Thee I’m Fondly Dreaming.” He respectfully dedicated it to Miss Read and the Young Ladies of the Australian College, one of early privately-owned academic colleges in Sydney. Some one claimed it was the worst trash that was ever spawned in their district. Kentish had a composer put it to music, but then sued him for £25.
Once while riding along a street, Kentish had his horse seized by a William Bourke who demanded from him the money he owed. When Kentish finally paid his bill, the animal was quickly returned. Nevertheless, Kentish took Bourke to court for illegally taking his horse. Both were ordered to pay half the costs, where once again Kentish failed to comply. On 19 April 1865 Kentish wrote a letter addressed to the Honourable Members of the Legislative Assembly of NSW entitled Diabolism in NSW in which he appealed against his dismissal from the office of Clerk of Petty Sessions some years earlier. Over the last nine years of his life, the belligerent Kentish kept up defamatory actions against various people until within a few months of his death.
Nathaniel Lipscomb Kentish died at Ashfield on 11 Oct 1867 aged 70 and was buried in a Sydney cemetery. Of his four sons, only one Henry (often known as Harry) Kentish survived childhood. When Henry married, he established his family as exemplary residents of Castlemaine, Victoria, where he served as local Law Clerk for over 20 years. Interestingly, Henry’s gravestone in the Campbell’s Creek Cemetery, Castlemaine also records the name of his mother Anna Maria Kentish who died 10 Dec 1882 aged 75. Plus, his two unmarried sisters; Marie Elizabeth Woolls Kentish who died 24 March 1873 aged 42 and Emelia Valentina Sweeper Kentish who died 15 June 1914 aged 73 at Collingwood (Melbourne), but also buried at Castlemaine. No mention of Nathaniel!
The calamitous career and bizarre behavior of Nathaniel Lipscomb Kentish ended with him fading into oblivion. Survey-General Robert Power, who was in charge of all nomenclature during Kentish’s time, desperately hoped it would end that way. Yet over time, it is fascinating to find the reverse has happened. Power’s name has been completely forgotten, while Kentish’s name is now perpetuated in a very prominent manner.
Kentish’s Name Rises from the Ashes
During Field Bros’ 15-year lease (1843-1858) of the open plains beneath Mt Roland, their cattlemen first began to dub the district Kentish’s New Country or Kentish’s Plains. However, it wasn’t until Field’s lease expired and this Crown land put up for sale that the new Surveyor-General James Erskine Calder officially recognized the district as Kentish Plains. All of the surveyor’s contemporary with Kentish had their names given to small rural districts along the North West Coast. Also included were the names of two friendly State Governors that Kentish bestowed on the two rivers he discovered. So today we have locations such as Kentish, Wilmot, Gawler, Sprent and Calder – all except the truculent Survey-General Power.
Fifty years on, in 1908 when Northern Tasmania was divided into local government regions, the Municipality of Kentish was created. So, the shambolic character of Nathaniel Lipscomb Kentish has risen from the ashes like Phoenix to take the most prominent place of all in our district’s local history.