Category Archives: Transportation

The greatest propaganda coup in Fenian history

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The Catalpa Memorial Rockingham Western Australia (Image Thesilvervoice)

It is still billed as the most daring escape ever undertaken, yet it happened over 140 years ago! Years in the planning, and months in the execution, the rescue of six Irish Fenians from Fremantle’s Convict Establishment remains a breathtaking and exciting story, and has been called the ‘greatest propaganda coup in Fenian history’. Yet I wonder how many Irish people have ever heard of it!

John Boyle O’Reilly (see previous post here) was one of  62 Fenian Political prisoners aboard the Hougoumont, the last ship to transport convicts from England to Australia in 1867. Some 17 of these, like Boyle O’Reilly, were military personnel who were charged with recruiting Fenians from within the ranks of the British army.
During the voyage of the Hougoumont the Fenians produced seven weekly hand written newspapers entitled ‘The Wild Goose: A Collection of Ocean Waifs’. The title of the publication was inspired by ‘The Wild Geese’ a name given to Irish soldiers who had gone into exile and who had served in European armies from the 17th century.
The_Wild_Goose,_Number_1_page_1

The first page of The Wild Goose, handwritten by Fenian Convicts while being transported to Western Australia. (Image Wikipedia)

Boyle O’Reilly escaped Western Australia in 1869 and went to live in Boston. Over time some of the other convicts were released or given Tickets of Leave, but about 12 of the military convicts were still held. Meanwhile another Fenian John Devoy, a Kildare man, who had been pardoned in England on condition that he go into exile, made his way to America. It was he who received a letter from convict James Wilson, smuggled out of  the Fremantle Establishment, pleading for help to escape.
Boyle O’Reilly and Devoy were instrumental in producing a plan to effect the escape of their comrades still languishing in Western Australia. Devoy attended a Clan na Gael meeting in New York at which he read Wilson’s letter which ended with ‘We think if you forsake us, then we are friendless indeed.

Wilson wrote that his was ‘a voice from the tomb,..For is not this a living tomb’ and said they were facing ‘the death of a felon in a British dungeon.‘ Devoy read the letter at a meeting of Clan na Gael and shouted. ‘These men are our brothers!

In 1875 with financial assistance from thousands of Irishmen via Clan na Gael (an Irish independence support group) the Catalpa, a three masted whaling bark was purchased for $5,550. The plan was for the ship to appear legitimate and to undertake whaling while making its way to Western Australia. Captain George Smith Anthony, an American sympathetic to the cause of the patriotic Irishmen was the trusted whaling captain who skippered the Catalpa that pulled out of New Bedford, Massachusetts on April 29, 1875.

catalpa

The Whaling Bark Catalpa (Image Library of Congress)

The Catalpa made her way to the Azores, hunting whales along the way. She dropped off a cargo of whale oil but most of her crew deserted and three got sick. A new crew was recruited.

Meanwhile in September 1875, two Fenian agents, John Breslin and Thomas Desmond arrived in Western Australia. Breslin was a native of Drogheda County Louth and already had credentials in assisting escapes as he had sprung James Stephens the leader of the Fenians from Richmond Prison in 1865. Thomas Desmond was born in Cobh County Cork and emigrated to America at the age of 16. He fought on the Union side of the American Civil War after which he became Deputy Sheriff in San Francisco.

In Western Australia Breslin assumed the identity of a wealthy American Businessman, James Collins. He had a letter of introduction that enabled him to become acquainted with the Governor of Western Australia, who very conveniently took him to the Convict Establishment on a guided tour! Desmond found work as a wheelwright and got to know local Irishmen who agreed to help with the plan. The Catalpa voyage took longer than anticipated as she lost a mast in a storm, but she eventually dropped anchor off Bunbury in Western Australia on March 29, 1876.
Captain Anthony and Breslin met and finalized their plans.  The original escape was scheduled for early April but had to be abandoned due to the arrival of customs officials and Royal Navy ships in the area. The event was reset for Easter Monday when most people, including the Establishment Garrison would be distracted by the annual boating regatta on the Swan river.
On Monday morning April 16 1876, the Catalpa was anchored in International waters. Captain Anthony and a crew rowed a whaleboat ashore to Rockingham, about 20 miles from the prison at Fremantle, and there awaited the arrival of the prisoners.
Breslin and Desmond arrived near the prison with horses and wagons and the 6 prisoners who had all been working outside the walls on that day made their escape. The local helpers cut telegraph wires to ensure that word of the escape could not be spread, and the horses took off at breakneck speed for Rockingham pier. On board the wagons were six Fenians
Robert Cranston, Thomas Darragh, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Martin Hogan and James Wilson.

The Fenians made it to the pier where Captain Anthony and his crew were waiting in the whaling boat. Because the Catalpa was so far out at sea, they would have to row for a number of hours to reach it. They were however spotted by a local man who raised the alarm. When they were about a half mile offshore they saw mounted police and trackers arriving on the shore. Soon after they saw a steamer and a coast guard cutter that had been appropriated by the Royal Navy to intercept them. They rowed like mad with the armed authorities chasing them. They could see the Catalpa in the distance but the steamer Georgette was closing on them. Darkness fell and a gale blew up causing crashing waves to almost submerge the boat. Captain Anthony ordered them to start bailing and they kept rowing for their lives. The Georgette was unable to locate them due to the heavy seas and the lack of light.

At first light the Georgette reappeared, headed alongside the Catalpa and demanded to go aboard. The 1st mate refused. The Georgette was running low on fuel and had to return to shore to refuel. Captain Anthony decided to make a run for it to the Catalpa so they rowed with all their might with a cutter in hot pursuit, but they made it and scrambled aboard. Captain Anthony immediately got the Catalpa under sail to get away, but the wind dropped and the Catalpa lay powerless. By the following morning, those on board the becalmed Catalpa were alarmed to see the Georgette with a 12 pound cannon and armed militia pull alongside. The Fenians and crew on the Catalpa armed themselves and stood ready to die.

SSGeorgette

The Georgette (Image Wikimedia Commons)

The Georgette fired a shot across the bow of the Catalpa and ordered them to stop, saying there had escaped prisoners on board. Captain Anthony’s response was that he only had free men on board and the Georgette responded with a threat to fire on the ship. Still becalmed and in danger of drifting back into Australian waters, Captain Anthony pointed to the American Flag and said : ‘This ship is sailing under the American flag and she is on the high seas. If you fire on me, I warn you that you are firing on the American flag’. The wind increased again and Anthony drove his ship towards the Georgette, narrowly missing its rigging!  The Catalpa headed to sea with the Georgette in pursuit but eventually the British retreated and headed back to the coast. The Fenians were free! They arrived back in the USA four months later to a heroes welcome and news of the astonishing rescue was spread worldwide. Devoy, Breslin and Anthony were hailed as heroes

In 2005 a very impressive memorial to these events was unveiled at Rockingham where the Fenians made their escape. The centerpiece of the memorial is 6 bronze Wild Geese flying out to sea to freedom. Perched on a polished local granite base, the Wild Geese Memorial as it is called, can be seen from some distance away on the Rockingham shoreline.

The entire pillar sits on a bed of ballast stones collected from the holds of many ships that transported people to Western Australia. An engraved image and short bio of each of the escapees is etched onto the granite pillar.

In 2014 the memorial was finally completed with the installation of pillars bearing transcribed pages from the onboard newspaper The Wild Goose, including  part of the the image of the actual page shown above.

The shiny surface makes for challenging photography!

Looking towards Garden Island and the horizon where the Catalpa made her way to freedom.
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Robert Cranston was a native of  Stewardstown, Co. Tyrone. He served in the 61st British Infantry. Very little is known about Robert after arriving in New York.

Thomas Darragh was a native of Wicklow. He was a Protestant member of an Orange Lodge and had been decorated for bravery in the British Army.

Michael Harrington was from Macroom, Co. Cork and had been decorated for bravery in the British Army.

Thomas Hassett was a native of Doneraile Co. Cork  and had served in the Papal Brigade in Rome. A previous attempted escape from the Fremantle Establishment failed.

Martin Hogan from Limerick deserted the British Army, was captured and tried. He lay in an unmarked paupers grave until 2014 when a marker was erected by the Fenian Memorial Committee of Chicago.

James Wilson was from Newry Co. Down. He served in the British Army in America, India and Syria he deserted in 1865 but was caught and transported. The last survivor of the Catalpa convicts, he died in 1921 at the age of 85.

In this year when we in Ireland recall the Fenian Rising, it is fitting to recall the events that happened beyond our shores for the same cause.

So come you screw warders and jailers

Remember Perth regatta day

Take care of the rest of your Fenians

Or the Yankees will steal them away 

(Folk song lyrics)

 

References

National Museum of Australia

Smithsonian Magazine

Wikipedia

San Francisco Sheriff’s Department

‘The Voyage of the Catalpa: A perilous journey and six Irish Rebels’ escape to freedom’ by Peter Stevens. 2003 Weidenfeld & Nicolson History

http://www.smithsculptors.com

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Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Convicts, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Transportation

John Boyle O’Reilly: Fenian, Convict, Poet

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John Boyle O’Reilly Information Point, Leschenault Conservation Park, near Bunbury (Image ©thesilvervoice)

As Ireland commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Fenian Rising of March 1867, it is fitting to note that thousands of miles away in Western Australia on this coming weekend of March 25th and 26th 2017, the John Boyle O’Reilly Association of Western Australia will once again pay homage to John Boyle O’Reilly, Irishman, Fenian, Poet, Journalist, Escaped Convict.

Although he was not active in the March 1867 Rising, it was Boyle O’Reilly’s Fenian membership that brought him to Australia as a convict in the first place. He was here for a relatively short time – from January 1868 to February 1869 – but nevertheless he is a hero in these parts and is remembered on an annual basis. The primary aims of the Association are to promote the life and literary works of John Boyle O’Reilly as well as his historical significance to Western Australia and the Bunbury area in particular.

I first encountered the John Boyle O’Reilly Association of Western Australia quite by chance when visiting the Leschenault Peninsula in Western Australia in 2014 with my friend Leith, who had wanted to show me where John Boyle O’Reilly ‘hung out’ while awaiting his escape from the penal colony. We arrived to discover that there was already a sizeable crowd there being addressed by various dignitaries. They had gathered at the John Boyle O ‘Reilly Memorial site to regale the gathered crowd with quotes and facts from his life and to celebrate his life and the work of the local community in raising awareness of their convict poet.

But who was John Boyle O’Reilly and why is he so revered  in Australia?

“The world is large, when its weary leagues two loving hearts divide;

But the world is small, when your enemy is loose on the other side”

These words were spoken on June 28 1963, by the United States President John F. Kennedy in his address to the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament). He was quoting from the extensive work of poet, author, journalist and Fenian, John Boyle O’Reilly, who in all likelihood was as little known in Ireland then as now, but not as widely known as he ought to be. Historians and history buffs among us would have been aware of him and of his Fenian Brotherhood activities; others may have vaguely recalled the name from some long forgotten school history book. For a considerable number of us however, the name meant and still means very little.

My first (conscious) encounter with Boyle O’Reilly happened in Fremantle Prison in Western Australia in 2012. Fremantle Prison was the ‘Establishment’ in which convicts transported from Britain to the Colony of Western Australia were held.

Fremantle Prison. Housed convicts transported between 1850 and 1868)

Fremantle Prison (The Establishment) Housed convicts transported to Western Australia between 1850 and 1868 (Image c.thesilvervoice)

Now a World Heritage listed  building, the ‘Establishment’ had at the time of my visit an exhibition that included a replica death mask of John Boyle O’Reilly that had been donated by the National Museum of Ireland.

Deathmask of John Boyle O'Reilly . A replica presented by the National Museum of Ireland

Deathmask of John Boyle O’Reilly. A replica presented by the National Museum of Ireland

Born in 1844 at Dowth Castle in County Meath, John Boyle O’Reilly began a career as a journalist at the age of 15. He moved to England for a while as an apprentice and on his return to Dublin in 1863 he signed up with the 10th Hussars. Soon afterwards he became a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or Fenians, who were rebelling against British rule. He actively recruited considerable numbers of new members from within his own regiment. When he was discovered, he was arrested. In June 1866 he was court martialled and on July 9, 1866 he was sentenced to death for his seditious activities. That sentence was immediately commuted to life imprisonment and subsequently to 20 years penal servitude. With other Fenian prisoners he was transferred to an English prison.

Boyle O'Reilly after his arrest.(Image Public Domain)

Boyle O’Reilly after his arrest.(Image Public Domain)

It was then decided that Fenian prisoners would be transported to Western Australia, and so in 1867, the Hougoumont left England with 62 Fenians among a consignment of 280 convicts on board. This historic voyage was to be the very last one transporting convicts to the penal Colonies of Australia.

During their time on the Hougoumont Boyle O’Reilly and others produced seven editions of a newspaper entitled ‘The Wild Goose’, containing poems, editorials and stories. Boyle O’Reilly later wrote “We published seven weekly numbers of it. Amid the dim glare of the lamp,the men at night would group strangely on extemporized seats. The yellow light fell down on the dark forms, throwing a ghastly glare on the pale faces of the men . .”

The Hougoumont arrived at Fremantle on January 9 1868 after a voyage lasting 89 days. Some weeks later, O’Reilly, prisoner number 9843, was assigned to works on the new road linking Bunbury and Vasse. He soon became an assistant to the head warder, Henry Woodman and he struck up a good friendship with the local Catholic priest, Fr.Patrick McCabe (a native of County Cavan) who offered to help him escape.

In the meantime, Boyle O’Reilly became romantically involved with Woodman’s daughter Jessie who became pregnant. The relationship ended unhappily and resulted in Boyle O’Reilly’s failed suicide attempt in December 1868, and subsequent depression. It was said that ”Boyle, poor Boyle, cried and cried in desperation for help.”  Jessie married a local man in March 1869, probably to preserve her reputation. The fact of her pregnancy has only been confirmed in a letter discovered in San Franscisco in recent years, a letter written in May 1870 by John Boyle O Reilly in which he writes:

“If Cashman, or any of them knows anything about Miss Woodman I wish they would write it or tell you what it is . Was the child born? That’s the principal thing I want to know‘”

Fr. McCabe made arrangements with the captain of the Vigilant, a visiting whaling ship, to take Boyle O’Reilly on board and spirit him away from the Penal Colony. So on a February night in 1869, Boyle O’Reilly slipped away from the convict camp near Bunbury and made his way on foot to a pre-arranged meeting place with two others. From there they rode northwards for an hour and, picking up a rowing boat, they made their way  out of the inlet and traveled northwards for about 12 miles. Here Boyle O’Reilly hid in the dunes, waiting for the Vigilant to leave port. When they spotted her, they rowed out to meet her but were devastated when the Vigilant sailed on, the captain apparently having reneged on the agreement he had made with Fr. McCabe. They had to return to shore and hide again while arrangements were made with another ship. After two weeks, they succeeded in making a deal with the captain of the American whaler Gazelle. O’Reilly and his friends met the Gazelle three miles out to sea on March 2 1869 and  made good their escape. Boyle O’Reilly arrived in Philadelphia on November 23, 1869, one of the very few convicts ever to have escaped from the Western Australian penitentiary.

He settled in Boston and was employed by The Pilot newspaper. He married in 1872, and he and his wife Mary (Murphy) had four daughters. Boyle O’Reilly worked tirelessly lecturing and writing on the Irish question. He became influential and highly respected in the Irish Boston community. Over the next number of years he published, among other works, several popular books of poetry and a novel, Moondyne, based on his life  as a convict.

His connection with Western Australia was not lost however as he was instrumental in planning the escape of 6 more Fenians in 1876. (This will be the subject of my next post).

On August 9 189o he was found dead, apparently having succumbed to an accidental overdose of sedative. He was only 46 years of age.

But his memory lives on in Western Australia where a dedicated band of admirers and scholars celebrate his life and his work, as they will do again this weekend. At the time of our visit in 2014, the Irish Ambassador Mr Noel White was in attendance together with the Irish Consul in Western Australia, Mr Marty Kavanagh.

The Irish Ambassador, The Irish Consul to WA , Ambassador’s son, and the author.

A memorial was unveiled to the late Dr Manea who did extraordinary work to raise awareness and appreciation of John Boyle O’Reilly in the area.

Memorial plaque in honour of Dr Manea. ‘This dreamer will live on forever’

Other West Australians dedicated to the cause are Fred Rea, Tony Costa and Peter Murphy who continue to promote all things John Boyle O’Reilly through their daily work.  It would make you very proud to be Irish when you witness the passion these people and others in the area  have for John Boyle O Reilly, their convict poet.

The Memorial to John Boyle O ‘Reilly at Leschenault

Image ©thesilvervoice

The inscription on the memorial reads:

 In Proud Memory of
FENIAN JOHN BOYLE O’REILLY

Humanitarian, author, poet and lecturer.
Born Ireland 28th June 1844.
Died U.S.A 10th August 1890.
Absconded from a convict
road party, Cokelup Swamp
18th February 1869
and escaped from this area
on the whaling ship Gazelle
3rd March 1869.
Also dedicated to all convicts
who built , sweated and toiled
in this district.

Then here’s to brave John Boyle O’Reilly
who first blazed a trail over the sea
By escaping from Bunbury to Boston
An vowing his comrades to be free

                                                     Catalpa Ballad

Erected by the South West Irish Club and local community

Unveiled by Ambassador Designate to Ireland
Mr Brian Burke, 13th March, 1988.

I am indebted to Ian Kenneally, author of ‘From the Earth a Cry’, a biography of John Boyle O’Reilly for the ‘heads up’ on the discovery of the letter confirming that Jessie was indeed expecting Boyle O’Reilly’s child. His book is an excellent read and is highly recommended.

BE1A17B0-C6D1-4CB7-AF32-8719D6B44E5B-10233-0000082781661F6F

 

Published works of John Boyle O’Reilly

 

References

Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaelogical Society, 1969, volume LXXIV

Convict Ship Newspaper, The Wild Goose, Re-discovered by  Walter McGrath quoted

 J. J. Roche, Life, Poems and Speeches of John Boyle O’Reilly, page 68

http://trove.nla.gov.au

http://www.fremantleprison.com.au

http://www.iankenneally.com/

https://jboreilly.org.au

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Flying Boats and River Boats at Foynes

Flying Boat. Full scale replica of Boeing 314

Flying Boat. Full scale replica of Boeing 314

On a beautiful sunny day, too hot to sit out, I headed 10 miles north to the cooling waters of the River Shannon and pulled in to the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum. What a serendipitous decision that was, with the Museum  about to celebrate 75 years of commercial transatlantic flight. Imagine!  ONLY  75 years since those flights began, and haven’t they come a long way as we now criss-cross the Atlantic without giving it a second thought!

imageAt Foynes, just 15 minutes  off the Wild Atlantic Way from Tarbert, Co Kerry,the only Flying Boat Museum in the world is in the original terminal building right on the main street on the N69 Tralee to Limerick road.

Rineanna had been selected as the location for an airport as the wide River Shannon estuary on Ireland’s west coast  made identification easy for pilots who had crossed the 2,000+ miles  of Atlantic Ocean. While the new airport at Rineanna – now Shannon Airport – was being built, it was decided that Foynes, further down the estuary,would be a good interim location for the European Terminal.  After some test flights in either direction, on 9 July 1939 the first commercial flight, the Yankee Clipper arrived.

The Museum is full of treasures for aviation enthusiasts as well for the non-expert like me. It is a techy-kids paradise as there are several interactive pieces of equipment on which they can have fun.

The Museum is in three main sections. The Aviation section  is devoted to the history of trans Atlantic flight, the focal point of which is a full-scale replica of the Yankee Clipper. This can be explored at leisure. Upstairs is the very spacious flight deck, relatively devoid of any high-tech banks of dials and gauges.

The B.314 could carry thirty-five passengers in relative luxury. The dining room could seat fourteen at a time for a seven-course meal, freshly prepared by cabin crew. The seats converted to bunk beds for sleeping. and there was even a honeymoon suite on board! There certainly were no leg-room issues here!

With tickets costing up to $600, only the very wealthy could afford to travel on these early flights. Posters advertising exotic destinations adorn the walls of the recreated waiting room

There is a good display of old radio and morse code equipment as well as flight simulators that can be tried out!

There were security issues back in those days too as can be on this notice.

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The new trans Atlantic service attracted a number of wealthy and high profile travellers.

imageAmong the high flyers on these first flights from  New York to Foynes, were Ernest Hemingway, Anthony Eden, John F. Kennedy, Lord Mountbatten, Yehudi Menuhin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope, Gracie Fields, Douglas Fairbanks Snr and Humphrey Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe.

Irish Coffee to warm up the frozen passengers

Irish Coffee to warm up the frozen passengers

Irish coffee was invented by chef Joe Sheridan at Foynes in 1943. A Hologram presentation tells the story of the first glass served in the B O’Regan Bar to cold and wet passengers!

On a more sober note, here too is part of the wreck of a BOAC Sunderland that was travelling from Lisbon to Foynes  and crashed into Mount Brandon in Kerry in foggy conditions. 10 crew and passengers, mostly military personnel, lost their lives on July 28 1943

More details of this tragedy can be seen here

Foynes was the centre of European Aviation for a brief time only and ended in 1945 when Shannon Airport opened. Passenger flights ceased at the onset of WW 2 in September 1939, although military traffic continued to use the facility throughout the war. In the 1940s style cinema the story of the ‘Atlantic Conquest’ is fascinating and will be enjoyed by all!

The recently extended Museum now includes a Maritime Section. The River Shannon on which Foynes is located has an impressive history, from Limerick City to Loop Head right at the end of the Estuary.

US Civil War  Confederate uniforms manufactured in Limerick at the Tait factory, were shipped from Foynes, breaking the Union Blockade.

Tate Confederate Uniforms shipped to USA during  Civil war

Tait Confederate Uniforms shipped to USA during Civil war

Not only goods, but people too were exported from the Shannon region. Many emigrants’ had their last glimpses of Ireland here. I was particularly taken with this poster from 1842 advertising passage to USA.

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A poster from 1842 – no fewer than 5 ships would be sailing to American within a few days of one another

Here at the Museum the hand-made weather charts drawn up at Shannon have been preserved in the Archives (miraculously saved from a skip!) Their Archive includes letters, diaries, postcards newspapers relating to Foynes as an air hub and about 200 years of records relating to Foynes as an important harbour, including bills of lading and correspondence between ship owners and others. In addition they hold an extensive collection of papers on Local History as there were a number of prominent and influential families living in this area.

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D-day Weather Chart

The original Control Tower has recently opened and provides great views across the river and is truly the pinnacle of the tour around this wonderful place. Foynes Harbour is Ireland’s premier deepwater bulk carrier port. On the day of my visit, there was no merchant shipping berthed, but the gantries used to load and unload the giant ships up to 250,000 tonnes, can be seen here.

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Sadly the rail station closed in the 1960s, but hopefully some project may be found to utilize this beautiful cut stone building

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Foynes railway station- now closed with Alumina plant in the background

The Celtic Cross peeping out from the trees on the hill was used as a marker by pilots flying into Foynes. This is a memorial to Edmund Spring Rice, a local landlord  and politician who was held in high esteem in the area

image

The Spring Rice Cross from the Control Tower

Some nice original feautures have been retained in the old terminal building

There is so much to see at this excellent little museum – surely one of the mid -west’s best kept secrets! It is so well worth a visit and has something for everyone.  It also boasts a coffee shop and restaurant serving up some delicious food and homemade cakes.

To celebrate the 75th Birthday, there will be a spectacular air display tomorrow, out over the wide River Shannon –  it should be a wonderful sight!  Happy Birthday to them!

My thanks to Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum for permission to take photographs  and for the guided tour of their extensive archive during Heritage week in 2013. The archive is accessible to researchers – see website for details.

Further reading:

Foynes Flying Boat Museum

Sunderland G-AGES Crash

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From the Fields of Athenry to Bondi Beach

In researching the Derryveagh Evictions for an earlier post, I happened on an exhibition entitled ‘Not Just Ned: A true story of the Irish in Australia‘, hosted by  the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. Australia has been a destination for the Irish diaspora for centuries. While the circumstances of the migrations have changed down the ages, Australia continues to absorb thousands of Irish emigrants.

A sign on a bridge in Dorset threatening transportation for life. Picture from Wiki Media Commons

Ned Kelly of the exhibition title, is regarded either as an outlaw or as a folk hero who defied the ruling class in colonial Australia. He perished at the end of a rope in 1880 at the age of 25. He was the son of an Irish convict father, John Kelly from Tipperary, who was sentenced to 7 years deportation either for stealing 2 pigs or for being a patriot, depending on which source appeals most, as his trial records have not survived from that time.

The transportation of convicts to Australia is something we in Ireland are familiar with – and why wouldn’t we be ?!  Don’t we sing our anthem, ‘The Fields of Athenry’ till our hearts almost burst, at soccer internationals and at rugby matches, to remind ourselves and our foes about poor fictional  ‘Michael’ , transported to Botany Bay because he…….” stole Trevelyan’s corn, so the young might see the morn? ”. However, not all convicts were male. Children as young as 12, and women were also sent into exile, and in addition, many young children were transported with their mothers. The receiving authorities in Australia complained that the women and female child convicts were arriving unskilled and they were of no use to the settler population. In response a facility was set up in Dublin whereby females were upskilled in needlework, laundry, cooking and knitting , so enabling them to become valuable servants on arrival in Australia. In all some 30,000 Irish men and 9,000 Irish women were sentenced to transportation  ‘across the seas’.

Australia was hungry for people to help it grow as a nation, and Ireland could offer many wretched groups who were in dire circumstances. Between 1848 and 1850 11 shiploads of ‘Famine orphans’ were sent over to Sydney. These girls were mostly teenagers, aged 14 to 19 and most ended up in service. Many were indeed orphans and one wonders what their thoughts were, having lost their parents to hunger, then finding themselves on a voyage across the sea that lasted for some 3 months. As mentioned in an earlier post, the Donegal Relief Fund had been set up in Australia in 1858 for the assistance of people from Donegal who were in dire circumstances and many, including the younger members of the Derryveagh evicted families, left these shores for new opportunities in Australia in the years to 1862.

Drawing of Migrants arriving in Australia about 1885 . From a digitized image by State Library of Queensland.

Voluntary emigration from Ireland increased in the middle of the 19th century when many went to make their fortune in the Australian Gold Rush.  There was an added bonus that it also helped them escape the oppression of  British rule at home. Assisted immigration schemes were then set up by the Australian government which resulted in a huge influx of settlers from all over the world, including Ireland.  By the mid 1940’s it is estimated that a third  of the population of Australia was Irish Australian.

Government assisted passages continued after World War 2 until  the mid 20th Century and were offered as a means of providing a labour force for Australia’s emerging industries as well as increasing the population.  This resulted in one of the largest mass migrations ever from Europe. The so-called  ‘ten pound poms’ were British subjects, including Irish  born prior to 1949, who paid a fare of £10 per adult with children travelling free. Employment, housing and a good lifestyle were promised upon arrival.

In the 2006 Australian census, 51,256 stated that they were born in the Republic of Ireland and 1.8 million claimed some Irish ancestry.

Australia continues to be a magnet for great numbers of young Irish – whether as backpackers on a gap year, in search of  the surf on Bondi Beach or regrettably, as economic migrants who are once again forced from these shores in search of a better life. While some are happy to go, many more would prefer to have options other than to have to go ‘across the seas’.

References

National Museum of Australia : Not Just Ned, a history of the Irish in Australia. See more here

The Fields of Athenry Lyrics

The Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition: Edward (Ned) Kelly 1855- 1880. See more here

Sources in the National Archives for research into the transportation of Irish convicts to Australia (1791-1853) by Rena Lohan. National Archives of Ireland 

Irish Famine Memorial website:   Famine Orphan Girl Ships to New South Wales. irishfaminememorial.org

Irish in Australia essay by Richard Reid, Curator National Museum of Australia accessed here

The Ten Pound Poms  article on Wikipedia accessed here

Wikipedia: The Irish Diaspora Census statistics 

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Filed under Family History, Irish Australian, Irish Convicts, Irish Diaspora, Transportation