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The Daring Irish Escape from Notorious Fremantle Australian Prison

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The Harrowing Escape

The Harrowing Escape

Fremantle Prison, Australia

Fremantle Prison, Australia

For decades, the Irish had suffered outrage, enforced poverty, and bitter suffering under British rule. History is full of raids and battles and internal problems, while the Irish Brotherhood tried to defeat the British in their quest for independence. At the same time, the Fenians were a secret society working toward Irish freedom. Before long, the British began arresting Fenians and sentencing them to prisons.

Fremantle Prison, Australia, was one of the most brutal prisons where hundreds of prisons suffered untold misery, building roads, bridges, and breaking limestone. Food was scarce with little or no medical service. The prisoners of the Fenian group were treated the worse. There was an amnesty granted after U.S. pressure, but it would not be allowed for any of the Fenians who were prior soldiers.

John Devoy (1842-1928) who had been arrested in 1866 at Pilsworth Pub in Dublin for treason and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Under the amnesty, he was allowed to go to America. But, he never forgot his Fenian brothers still in prison. Devoy had served five years before he was released. After his return, he became a journalist for the New York Herald.

While attending a meeting for the Clan an Gael, a secret society of the Irish Fenians in America, he received a letter from James Wilson (1832-1921). Wilson was a former inmate with Devoy, and his letter told of the horrid conditions of the men and is quoted as saying, "...most of us are beginning to show symptoms of the disease and can't hold out much longer." Devoy read the letter to the crowd and finished by saying, "these men are our brothers."

It didn't take the guilt-ridden Devoy long to devise a plan to organize a plan to implement an escape for the men. Thousands of dollars were raised almost immediately to mount the rescue. And so, a daring and dangerous plan was begun to free the Fenian prisoners.

John Devoy

John Devoy

George Smith Anthony

George Smith Anthony

Memorial to Six Freed Fenigans

Memorial to Six Freed Fenigans

Escape Plan for Rescue

Devoy had convinced George Smith Anthony, a sea captain with whaling experience to take the ship, the Catalpa across 10,000 nautical miles to rescue the six Fenians still imprisoned in Fremantle Prison. Devoy realized he would need help on the ground, so he recruited John James Breslin, a Fenian secret agent to arrive ahead of the rescue ship and to pose as an American millionaire named James Collins. Breslin was so good at his role that he was invited by the prison's warden to tour the place. Breslin realized the prison was surrounded by unforgiven terrain to the east, desert to the west, and shark-infested waters in the sea.

Somehow, Breslin got a message to the Fenians about the intended rescue and cautioned them they had to be outside the walls or be left behind. He would have horses ready for the twenty-mile trip to a whaleboat to row out to the Catalpa.

Breslin had arranged for the telegraph wires to be cut the day of the escape. The prisoners had made different excuses to be outside the walls and ready. They made a mad dash for the rowboat and weren't gone an hour when prison officials realized the escape. The men made it to the whaleboat and, with sheer manpower, started rowing for the Catalpa. A storm had come from nowhere breaking the mast, making it even more treacherous to row.

A ship, the Georgette, was pursuing the whaleboat, but somehow the men made it to the Catalpa and climbed aboard. Captain Anthony was asked if he had any prisoners aboard, and he answered: no". And he yelled to them, "this ship is sailing under the American Flag and is in the high sea. If you fire, I warn you that you will be firing on the American Flag." It was apparent the problems that would surface if the Georgette fired. They had no choice but to return to shore.

So, the six Fenians were free! However, one Fenian, James Jeffrey Roche, was purposely left behind because he had tried to exchange information for a lesser sentence. Later, it was denied him, but the other Fenians would never forgive him of this even though it happened some ten years prior.

Four months later, the Catalpa arrived in New York with thousands lining the wharf cheering. They were hailed as heroes both in America and in Ireland. Britain however, were astonished and embarrassed bu this bold escape.



Breslin Memorial

Breslin Memorial

The Six Escaped Prisoners

The Six Fenians:

James Darragn (1834-1912)

Martin Hogan (1833-1901)

Michael Harrington (1825-1886)

Thomas Hassett (1841-1893)

Robert Cranston (1842-1914)

James Wilson (1832-1921)

The Free Six Fenians

The Free Six Fenians

The Six Fenian Prisons

The Six Fenian Prisons

Wild Geese Memorial, Australia

The Wild Geese Memorial was dedicated on 9 September 2005 and placed in Rockingham, Australia. The Fenian Memorial Committee of America has placed markers or monuments at the graves of James Wilson, Martin Hogan, Robert Cranston, Thomas Darragh, and Father McCabe, the "secret hero." The organization is seeking donations to place markers ob the graves of Thomas Hassett and Michael Harrington. They are located ay P.O. Box 10416, Cranston, Rhode Island, 02910.

Wild Geese Six Memorial

Wild Geese Six Memorial

Comments

MG Singh emge from Singapore on July 27, 2020:

Nice and interesting article. Jail breaks never fail to thrill.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on July 27, 2020:

Thank you so much. That helps.

Rosina S Khan on July 27, 2020:

There's flow in your article.That is what really matters. Other than that, if you want to increase your article score, you will have to remove typos here and there and also elaborate your article to more than 1000 words. Hope this helps.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on July 27, 2020:

I guess I should be doing better. I just thought I'm missing something.

Rosina S Khan on July 26, 2020:

Did you mean me about elaborating a little more so that you could learn a little? Now this seems strange because this is your article and you know more about it. I wonder if you meant your question to me.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on July 26, 2020:

Thank you so much. It would help if you would elaborate a little more. Perhaps I could learn a little.

Rosina S Khan on July 26, 2020:

Interesting historical account about how the six Fenian prisoners got freed from the Australian prison. Wonderful article, Fran.

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