Between 5th - 14th Jan 2018 a unique Irish cultural festival will happen in Fremantle, Western Australia, called “Fenians, Fremantle & Freedom Festival”.
What is the Fenians, Fremantle and Freedom Festival?
FFF is a 10 day festival in Fremantle Western Australia to remember the arrival 150 years ago of the last convict ship to Australia. On board were 62 Irish political prisoners known as Fenians (the term Fenian hales from ancient Ireland, where legend has it that a band of Celtic warriors known as Fianna defended the island from invaders).
When is it happening?
5 – 14 January 2018: Kidogo Arthouse on Bather’s Beach will be the coordinating centre and events will take place in various locations throughout Fremantle, including the Fremantle Prison.
How Can I Get Involved?
We welcome all contributions in cash or kind. Remember the daring escape of the 6 Fenians from Fremantle Prison in 1876 was funded by donations from the greater community – and they had to buy a whaling ship! Contact us at email@example.com and we’ll get you involved.
What is the Hougoumont?
The Hougoumont was the last convict ship to arrive in WA.
It left Portland, England on 12 October 1867. The voyage to Western Australia took 89 days and the Hougoumont arrived in Fremantle on 10 January 1868 with 108 passengers and 280 convicts, including 62 Fenians.
Who were the Fenians?
The Fenian were part of a huge movement beginning with the American Revolution in 1776, followed by the French Revolution in 1789 when the spirit of freedom swept through Europe inspiring common people to rise up and strive for freedom, social justice and the right to vote.
After several failed attempts to gain independence through parliamentary means, the Fenians realised they would only succeed if they attempted to defeat the British and drive them out of Ireland.
The Fenian movement or the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) flourished in Ireland during the 1860’s fighting for Ireland’s freedom from English rule. In March 1867 they planned a ‘rising’.
Why were they transported to WA?
The English defeated the Fenian rebellion and two groups were charged and convicted – civilians (45) and those who had served in the British military (17). The arrested civilians were treated as political prisoners while the military men were treated more harshly as traitors and criminals, and charged with treason for betraying the British army.
The military Fenians were sentenced to either life in an English prison or 20 years hard labour in the the Swan River Colony in Western Australia.
While the civilians were eventually able to become ‘ticket-of-leave’ men, the military Fenians were sentenced to prison for at least 20 years and some for life.
How do we know what happened on their Voyage?
One of the Fenians, Denis Cashman wrote a very detailed diary of their journey on the Hougoumont.
“We (the Fenians) had a separate compartment in the convict portion of the ship. We were glad of this, as the majority of the convicts were the greatest ruffians, and the most notorious robbers in England... A good many of them had a great respect for our men and endeavoured to show it by several acts of good nature, and being most respectful in their deportment.”
Two others, John Flood, a journalist and John Boyle O’Reilly, a poet - published 7 editions of a ‘newspaper’ on board the Hougoumont to ‘keep up the spirits’ of the Irish prisoners on board. They called it the Wild Goose and the original copy survives in the Mitchell Library, NSW. Another Fenian, Denis Cashman, wrote a diary during the voyage. A copy of this is in the Battye Library, Perth.
What Was Ireland like at that Time?
Ireland had been directly governed, under the Act of Union, as part of the United Kingdom since 1801. However the British Government failed to deal with the problems facing Ireland.
“Ireland was on the verge of starvation, her population rapidly increasing, three-quarters of her labourers unemployed, housing conditions appalling and the standard of living unbelievably low. "
Then Ireland’s potato crop failed during the years of the Great Famine (1846-51). Successive blasts of potato blight - caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans - robbed more than one-third of the population of their usual means of subsistence for four or five years in a row.
A million people died of starvation and disease and two million emigrated. The famine killed nearly one-eighth of the entire population of Ireland. It was proportionally a lot more destructive of human life than the vast majority of famines in modern times.
During these years potato was the only crop affected. At the same time, Ireland continued to produce corn, wheat, barley, and beef. However, the mostly English landlords made a bigger profit by selling these food products elsewhere.
So what happened to the Fenians when they got to Fremantle?
The Fenians, along with other convicts aboard the Hougoumont were taken to Fremantle prison where they were put to work building roads and undertaking other much needed construction in the colony.
John Boyle O’Reilly was sent to the Bunbury area, south of Fremantle. Assisted by a Catholic priest, Father McCabe and other Irish settlers, he escaped on a New Bedford whaling ship, the Gazelle, on 3 March 1869 – a little more than 1 year after he’d arrived in WA. He settled in Boston and worked on and eventually became the editor of the Boston Pilot newspaper.
In 1875, John Devoy (an Irish Fenian living in USA) and John Boyle O’Reilly devised a daring scheme to rescue six of their Fenians comrades still locked up in Fremantle Prison.
What was the Catalpa Escape?
It was a daring expedition to rescue the remaining military Fenians from Western Australia. The plot was hatched in the USA by John Devoy, John Boyle O’Reilly and others.
Funding was collected from Irish people all over the world to buy a 90 foot whaling ship, the Catalpa. Captain George Anthony (from New Bedford) agreed to sail her and only 3 people aboard knew her real mission.
Meantime, John Breslin a fearless American Fenian arrived in Fremantle. Posing as an American millionaire, James Collins who was looking for investment opportunities he lived at the Emerald Isle hotel, now the Orient Hotel, in High Street. Breslin visited ‘the Convict Establishment’ (Fremantle Prison) and conveyed a message to the Fenians that a rescue was at hand. Another Irish Fenian, a Capt Thomas Desmond, worked with him on the plot.
The escape was planned on the day of Perth Regatta, Easter Monday 1876, when the governor and officials were in Perth watching the boat race.
The Fenian prisoners escaped by horse and carriage with Breslin and Desmond to where Anthony was waiting with his crew in a small whaling boat near Rockingham, about 20 miles south of Fremantle. The Catalpa was far out at sea, in international waters and they needed to row for hours to reach it.
A coast guard cutter and a steamer, the Georgette, tried to intercept the rowboat. The men rowed desperately as the wind rose —the beginnings of a gale. Darkness fell and waves crashed down on the overloaded boat. Captain Anthony confidently gave orders to bail, but even he doubted they’d make it through that night.
By morning, the Georgette reappeared and went straight for the Catalpa but by then the steamer was running low on fuel from being out all night, and had to return to shore. Anthony saw his chance and made a dash to the Catalpa.
The Georgette, armed with 12-pound cannon, returned and pulled alongside the Catalpa. The Fenians, seeing the armed militia, grabbed rifles and revolvers and prepared for battle. Anthony turned the Catalpa away from Australia, but the wind went dead. The Catalpa was becalmed.
The Georgette then fired a shot across Catalpa’s bow and called, “You have escaped prisoners aboard that ship.”
“You’re mistaken,” Anthony replied, “There are no prisoners aboard this ship. They’re all free men.” The British gave Anthony 15 minutes to come to rest before they’d “blow his masts out.”
Anthony pointed to the Stars and Stripes. “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.”
Suddenly, the wind kicked up. Anthony ordered up the mainsail and swung the ship straight for the Georgette. The Catalpa’s just cleared the steamer’s rigging and headed out to sea.
The Georgette followed for an hour, till finally the commander peeled the steamer back toward the coast. The Fenians were free!
The Catalpa arrived in New York four months later, as a cheering crowd of thousands met the ship for a Fenian procession up Broadway. John Devoy, John Breslin and George Anthony were hailed as heroes and news of the Fremantle Six prison break quickly spread around the world.
To listen to the full story:
So why commemorate this event?
These men were arrested, imprisoned and transported for fighting for the freedom of Ireland. They were political prisoners and went on to make major contributions to the cultural and political life of Australia, Ireland and the USA. As the poem on the wall of the remembrance memorial in Dublin says...
O generation of freedom
The generation of the vision. Liam Mac Uistín
Celebrate with us!
So why not join us in celebrating both these monumental events that helped shape our history and heritage: the arrival of the 62 Fenians on the convict ship Hougoumont in 1868 + the escape of the 6 Fenians from Fremantle Prison in 1876!
For more information:
https://www.kidogo.com.au/fenians-festival/ and https://www.facebook.com/feniansfestival/
Or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0401333309
A 10 day Irish cultural festival to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Australia’s last convict ship -The Hougoumont with John Boyle O'Reilly & 61 other Irish freedom fighters - The Fenians.
Dates: 5th - 14th Jan 2018
The Heart of the Fenian Fremantle and Freedom Festival Wednesday 10 January 2018 marks the 150 year anniversary of the arrival of the convict ship Hougoumont in...