Read Their Stories
"Only those who have stood within the bars and heard the din of devils and the appalling sounds of despair can imagine the horrors of the hold of a convict ship." - John Boyle O'Reilly
Some men overcome adversity. Others make an art of it. In 1867 John Boyle O'Reilly was given a sentence second only to death in its severity: transportation. O'Reilly, however, was no ordinary convict. He published poetry throughout the harrowing journey to Australia and, once there, outwitted prison guards to escape to America.
A British conscript turned infamous convict, Michael Harrington is perhaps best known for orchestrating one of the most daring escapes from Australia. In 1876, Harrington, along with six others, braved a massive typhoon in nothing more than a tiny rowboat to board an American whaling ship in what is now remembered as the "Catalpa Rescue."
"Remember this is a voice from the tomb. For is this not a living tomb?" - James Wilson
Though his early life is shrouded in mystery, James Wilson's time in Australia is immortalized in his letter "A Voice from the Tomb" which describes the penal colony experience in vivid detail. It was this letter that proved instrumental in setting in motion the great "Catalpa Rescue."
Cornelius Dwyer Kane (aka Keane) (1839-1891) had been a law clerk and cener from Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland. Transported aboard the Hougoumont, Kane was conditionally pardoned in 1871, but was forbidden from returning to Ireland, so he never reunited with his wife and children there. He did, however, settle in Queensland and became a civil servant.
She was caught and convicted for receiving stolen goods of cheese and bacon in Leicester, England. She trained and paid a group of teenage boys to steal the goods that she requested. In 1846 Jane left her husband and children behind and was transported for seven years to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) aboard the Sea Queen.
Moore, a blacksmith was probably from Dublin. He was a Fenian but not a member of the British army. He was arrested in 1865 and later transported to Western Australia aboard the Hougoumont. He was pardoned, along with other political prisoners in 1869. Moore arrived by ship at San Francisco in January 1870, along with Denis Cashman, one of JB O'Reilly's best friends.
James also played a part in the “Catalpa Rescue”, which obviously didn’t go to plan. He was convicted, sent to Western Australia “for life” imprisonment, however he was granted a pardon by the King in 1905. There’s a great article on Trove about this here.
Delaney was from Laois, Ireland. He joined the British army and also the Fenians. Arrested in Dublin in 1866 and later transported to Western Australia aboard the Hougoumont. Delaney was not included in the Catalpa escape since he had been sentenced to hard labour in 1875 and was under constant guard by the prison authorities. After his subsequent conditional pardon and release, Delaney emigrated to the USA in the 1880s.
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