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Bark CATALPA of New Bedford

Date: 1876
Overall: 353 x 535 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00003575
Place Manufactured:New Bedford

User Terms

    This engraving shows the CATALPA fully rigged, with the ship's boat holding the escaped Fenians being rowed to the side, while the police boat and British ship GEORGETTE are bearing down.

    The CATALPA is flying a flag featuring J T R - the initials of John T Richardson, the ship's agent. A pennant with the letter C, and the Fenian flag are also flying.
    SignificanceThis engraving illustrates the daring escape of the Fenian convicts on the American whaler CATALPA. The significant event linked Ireland, England, Australia and the United States of America in one of only two sucessful escape attempts from Freemantle Prision.

    Produced in America, this engraving also exemplifies the importance of the event to communities of Americans who have continued to celebrate this legendary story.
    HistoryOn 12 October 1886, the last convicts to be transported to Australia departed Portland, England, on the HOUGOUMONT, arriving in Fremantle three months later. Of the 280 convicts on board, 62 were Fenians - civilian and military members of a secret society against the British rule of Ireland in the late 1850s and 1860s. The Fenian movement (or Irish Republican Brotherhood) flourished in Ireland during the 1860s until hundreds of members were arrested during an unsuccessful armed rebellion against the British in 1865.

    One of the Fenian convicts on board was journalist John Boyle O'Reilly, who was transferred to a convict work party near Bunbury. Desperate to escape, a local Irish settler arranged a passage for O'Reilly on the American whaler VIGILANT in February 1869. Unfortunately the ship didn't spot him in his small boat, and O'Reilly was forced into hiding until another vessel could be arranged. Several days later he managed to escape on the whaler GAZELLE, and miraculously arrived safely in Boston.

    By 1874 there were only 12 Fenian prisoners remaining at Fremantle - many of the civilian prisoners had been granted freedom over the years by the British government. In America, O'Reilly conspired with fellow American Fenians (known as Clan na Gael) to free the remaining Fenians in what would become the first and only transoceanic prison break. Supporters raised funds and bought the whaling ship CATALPA, and with the ship's agent John T Richardson and his son-in-law Captain George S Anthony, departed for Western Australia on 29 April 1875. Meanwhile, two Fenians - John Breslin and Thomas Desmond - had left America to assist in the rescue operation. Once in Fremantle, Breslin posed as a wealthy businessman, and was granted a full tour of the prison, which established lines of communication with prisoners to plot the getaway.

    Finally, on 29 March 1876 the CATALPA arrived just south of Fremantle, and on 17 April 1876 six Fenian prisoners - James Wilson, Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Robert Cranston and Thomas Hassett - managed to escape from their work parties in two horse drawn buggies. They fled to a whaleboat waiting for them on a beach near Rockingham, then rowed for the CATALPA. By this time, the guards at the Prison were aware that six men were unaccounted for during the morning muster, and had tracked them down - with the assistance of Aboriginal trackers - to the beach just in time to see them rowing out to sea. The whaleboat, however, did not reach the CATALPA in time, and the convicts spent the night in the boat.

    Having been informed of the CATAPLA's involvement in the escape, the water police and British steamer GEORGETTE found the vessel the next day and requested to board and search for the escapees. Once denied, the GEORGETTE returned to shore to refuel, during which time convicts left their whaleboat and boarded. The next day the GEORGETTE returned to the CATALPA - which had not moved far from land from lack of breeze - and fired a canon shot from its 1,059 kilogram Armstrong gun across CATALPA's bow, and demanded the vessel stop. Captain Anthony reminded the GEORGETTE that they were in international waters. Superintendant J F Stone, unsure if he should risk taking more aggressive action, reluctantly allowed the CATALPA to sail away, for fear of sparking another embarrassing and expensive international incident - the British government having recently lost 3 million pounds over damage to the US whaler SHENANDOAH.

    On 19 August 1876 the CATALPA arrived in New York to an enormous crowd, and a week later returned to New Bedford. An artillery salute was fired - one gun for every State in the Union and one for every county in Ireland. In Australia, however, the media quickly lost interest in the story of the escape, and apart from celebrations in the local Irish community, the incident became lost in public memory. The remaining Fenian prisoners at Fremantle were eventually pardoned.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Bark CATALPA of New Bedford

    Primary title: Bark CATALPA of New Bedford

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