Our Political Prisoners: The Catalpa Rescue

In 1865-1867 British authorities arrest supporters of the Fenian Brotherhood in Ireland and transport many to the penal colony in Australia.

The ‘Catalpa rescue’ is the 1876 escape of six Fenian prisoners from the Australian Fremantle penal colony.

Our Fenians buy a whaling bark ‘Catalpa’ for $5,200 and recruit 22 sailors. On April 29 1875 ‘Catalpa’ sails from New Bedford, Massachusetts.

‘Catalpa’ drops anchor and dispatches a whaleboat to the shore. Most of the Establishment garrison is watching the Royal Perth Yacht Club regatta.

Six Fenians – Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hasset, Robert Cranston and James Wilson – slip away and climb into the boat. They are half a mile off shore when they see the escape is detected as two policemen gallop onto the beach.

Due to cut telegraph cables, news of the escape does not reach London until June. The news sparks celebrations in USA and Ireland and anger in Britain and Australia. ‘Catalpa’ returns to New York harbour on August 19, 1876.

The incident has inspired a song, sung to an Irish folk tune, with the refrain:

So come all you screw warders and jailers

Remember Perth regatta day

Take care of the rest of your Fenians

Or the Yankees will steal them away…

Listen to the song about the escape of six Irish Fenian prisoners from Western Australia in 1876:

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