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November 10, 2014

Mugshots of Irish Fenian Prisoners of the Famous Catalpa Rescue

The Catalpa rescue was the escape, in 1876, of six Irish Fenian prisoners from what was then the British penal colony of Western Australia.

From 1865 to 1867, British authorities rounded up supporters of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an Irish independence movement, and transported sixty-two of them to the penal colony of Western Australia. Among them was John Boyle O'Reilly, later to become the editor of the Boston newspaper The Pilot. They were sent on the convict ship Hougoumont and landed at Fremantle, in January 1868, after which they were moved to the Convict Establishment (now Fremantle Prison).

In 1869, O'Reilly escaped on the whaling ship Gazelle with assistance of the local Catholic priest, Father Patrick McCabe, and settled in Boston. Soon after his arrival, O'Reilly found work with The Pilot newspaper and eventually became editor. In 1871, another Fenian, John Devoy, was granted amnesty in England, among others, on condition that he settle outside Ireland, and he sailed to New York City. He also became a newspaperman, for the New York Herald. He joined the Clan na Gael, an organization that supported armed insurrection in Ireland.

This is a photograph of John Boyle O'Reilly (1844-1890) taken while he was in prison in 1866.

In 1869, pardons had been issued to many of the imprisoned Fenians. Another round of pardons were issued in 1871, after which only a small group of militant Fenians remained in Western Australia's penal system. In 1873, Devoy received a smuggled letter from imprisoned Fenian James Wilson, who was among those the British had not released. He asked them to aid the escape of the remaining Fenian prisoners. Devoy discussed the matter with O'Reilly and Thomas McCarthy Fennell, and Fennell suggested that a ship be purchased, laden with a legitimate cargo, and sailed to Western Australia, where it would not be expected to arouse suspicion. The Fenian prisoners would then be rescued by stealth rather than force of arms. Devoy approached the 1874 convention of the Clan na Gael and got the Clan to agree to fund a rescue of the men. He then approached whaling agent John T. Richardson, who told them to contact his son-in-law, whaling captain George Smith Anthony, who agreed to help.

James Reynolds, a member of the Clan and on the committee to rescue the prisoners, bought under his name for the Clan a three-masted whaling bark Catalpa for $5,200, and George Anthony recruited twenty-two sailors. On 29 April 1875, Catalpa sailed from New Bedford, Massachusetts. At first, most of the crew was unaware of their real mission. Anthony noticed too late that the ship's marine chronometer was broken, so he had to rely on his own skills for navigation. First they sailed to Faial Island in Azores, where they off-loaded 210 barrels of sperm whale oil. Unfortunately, much of the crew deserted the ship, and they had to leave three sick men behind. Anthony recruited replacement crew members and set sail for Western Australia.

At the same time, two Fenian agents, John Breslin and Tom Desmond, had arrived in Western Australia in September. Breslin masqueraded as an American businessman "James Collins", with suitable letter of introduction, and got acquainted with Sir William Cleaver Robinson, Governor of Western Australia. Robinson took Breslin on a tour of the Convict Establishment (now Fremantle Prison). Desmond took a job as a wheelwright and recruited five local Irishmen who were to cut the telegraph lines connecting Australia on the day of escape.

The first intended day for escape was 6 April, but the appearance of HMS Convict and other Royal Navy ships and customs officers quickly led to a postponement. The escape was rearranged for 17 April, when most of the Convict Establishment garrison was watching the Royal Perth Yacht Club regatta.

Catalpa dropped anchor in international waters off Rockingham and dispatched a whaleboat to the shore.

At 8.30 am, six Fenians who were working in work parties outside the prison walls, absconded - Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Robert Cranston and James Wilson – were met by Breslin and Desmond and picked up in carriages. A seventh Fenian, James Kiely, had been exposed as an informer by his fellow prisoners and left behind.

This is a photograph of James Wilson (1836-1921) taken in 1866.

This is a photograph of Martin Hogan, Fenian convict to Australia one of six to escape during the Catalpa rescue.

This is a photograph of Michael Harrington, Fenian convict to Australia one of six to escape during the Catalpa rescue.

This is a photograph of Robert Cranston, Fenian convict to australia one of six to escape during the Catalpa rescue.

This is a photograph of Thomas Darragh, Fenian convict to australia one of six to escape during the Catalpa rescue.

This is a photograph of, Thomas Hassett, Fenian convict to australia one of six to escape during the Catalpa rescue.

(via Wikipedia)


  1. I was in Berlin in 1968. The wall was the weakest point of the 'Iron curtain' and some tourists went
    on a bus tour across check Point Charlie to visit East Berlin. Me too. I was curious.
    Not an interesting place, at all.
    Spying was good bussiness, though, the best one.

  2. Perhaps you should have gotten off the tour bus.

    I traveled to East Berlin from the west numerous times and found it utterly fascinating.




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