Sarah Kay (nee Catcheside) was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England in 1829.
On Christmas day 1849, at the age of twenty Sarah took passage on the migrant ship Sea Queen , a 108 foot long, three masted barque bound for the new colony of Adelaide, South Australia. William Kay just so happened to also be on board. They both arrived in Adelaide on 25th March 1850. At this time, Adelaide was only 13 years old with a population of 55,000.
Three years later in November 1853 William and Sarah married. In March of the same year Robert Kay had married Sarah’s sister Anne Catcheside so two brothers married two sisters.
During her adult life Sarah painted many watercolours of plants and flowers. Although she had no formal training as an artist or botanist her work was beautifully composed, carefully detailed and scientifically accurate.
She won prizes for her work as recorded in this quote from the report on the South Australian Society’s of Art Exhibition in the South Australian Register, 1 January 1884 ”With Loquats Mrs. William Kay deservedly wins the five-guinea prize for fruit and flower pieces in watercolour” . She was also frequently requested to Port Adelaide by customs officials to record and identify unusual plant specimens as they arrived by ship.
Sarah would leave a jar of water on her front veranda outside her studio so that people could leave flowers for her without disturbing her painting. As a child Marjorie Hayward, Bert Kay’s future wife, would ask Sarah if she could watch her paint. Sarah, who was somewhat severe in her later years would say ”yes, you may come in but you musn’t move or talk”.
Sarah bound several hundred of her paintings in eight volumes, one of which she gave to each of her surviving children. One of these, containing 29 paintings from a trip to England and the Continent in 1878, is kept in the Amery vineyard residence at Kay Brothers winery. Another, along with several paintings is held in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Sarah and William lived in Adelaide for the rest of their lives and had eleven children, three of whom died very young. Of the eight surviving there were four boys and four girls. The two youngest were the Amery Kay brothers - Herbert (Bert) and Frederick (Fred), born in 1867 and 1871 respectively. They established Kay Brothers Amery vineyard and winery in 1891.
William died relatively young and unexpectedly in March 1889, he was only 59. He bequeathed his entire estate valued at £32, 000 (about $7,000,0000 today) to his ”dear wife Sarah Kay”. Sarah outlived him by 17 years and died aged 77 in 1906.