seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Joseph Holt, United Irish General

joseph-holtJoseph Holt, United Irish general and leader of a large guerrilla force which fights against British troops in County Wicklow from June–October 1798, dies at Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire, near Dublin on May 16, 1826.

Holt is one of six sons of John Holt, a farmer in County Wicklow. He joins the Irish Volunteers in the 1780s and holds a number of minor public offices but becomes involved in law enforcement as a sub-constable, billet master for the militia and a bounty hunter. He is involved in the Battle of Vinegar Hill which is an engagement during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 on June 21, 1798 when over 15,000 British soldiers launch an attack on Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy, County Wexford.

Despite Holt’s apparent loyalism, he becomes a member of the Society of United Irishmen in 1797 and gradually begins to attract suspicion until finally in May 1798, his house is burned down by the militia of Fermanagh. He then takes to the Wicklow mountains, gradually assuming a position of prominence with the United Irish rebels. The defeat of the County Wexford rebels at Vinegar Hill on June 21 sees surviving rebel factions heading towards the Wicklow Mountains to link up with Holt’s forces.

Emerging to meet them, Holt is given much of the credit for the planning of the ambush and defeat of a pursuing force of 200 British cavalry in the Battle of Ballyellis on June 30, 1798. However, the subsequent Midlands campaign to revive the rebellion is a disaster, and he is lucky to escape with his life back to the safety of the Wicklow Mountains.

Holt largely holds out in expectation of the arrival of French aid but news of the defeat of the French in the Battle of Ballinamuck together with his ill-health brought about by the hardships of his fugitive life, age and family considerations prompt him to initiate contact with the Dublin Castle authorities with a view to a negotiated surrender. Dublin Castle is eager to end the rebellion in Wicklow and allows him exile after incarceration in the Bermingham Tower without trial in New South Wales.

Holt goes out on the Minerva and meets Captain William Cox who has been appointed paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The ship arrives at Sydney on January 11, 1800, and shortly afterwards Holt agrees to manage Captain Cox’s farm. He always claims in Australia that he is a political exile and not a convict. In 1804 when the Castle Hill uprising occurs Holt, who is not involved, has been warned that evening that it is about to happen. During the night he sets up a defense of Captain Cox’s house. He is nonetheless afterwards hounded by Governor Philip Gidley King and many false witnesses are brought against him. Although there is no plausible evidence at all against him, he is exiled by King to Norfolk Island in April 1804, and there put to hard labour.

Holt is officially pardoned on January 1, 1811 and in December 1812, with his wife and younger son, takes passage to Europe on the Isabella. The ship is wrecked by a reef so the passengers and crew are landed at Eagle Island, one of the Falkland Islands. He shows great resolution and ingenuity in making the best of the conditions on the island. He is rescued on April 4, 1813 but does not reach England until February 22, 1814 as he travels via the United States. He retires to Ireland where he lives for the rest of his life, but regrets he had left Australia.

Joseph Holt dies at Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire, near Dublin on May 16, 1826 and is buried in Carrickbrennan Churchyard at Monkstown.

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First Irish Convict Ship Arrives in Botany Bay

The Queen, the first ship delivering Irish convicts, arrives at the penal settlement of Botany Bay in New South Wales, Australia on September 26, 1791. About 30% of all Australians are of Irish birth or descent. Many emigrated freely but many are descended from convicts transported there in the early years of the colony.

Britain has a policy of transportation. Up until the American Revolution most are sent to the American colonies or the West Indies. By the 1780s, Britain badly needs prison space. Petty criminals are housed on overcrowded prison ships anchored on the River Thames. In 1786, the government decides to start a prison settlement in the new colony at Botany Bay.

The transportation is arranged by a private company and those convicts who arrive there are actually the lucky ones, as conditions on the journey are horrendous and many die en route. The organisers of the transportation ships operate on a contract basis. They are paid a certain amount per head and the less provisions they give the prisoners the more profit they make.

The first two fleets of convict ships sail from England. The first ship to sail directly from Ireland is the Queen, which leaves Cork in April 1791 and joins the third fleet sailing from England. On board are 133 male convicts, 22 females and three children. The youngest on the ship is two-week-old Margaret, daughter of convict Sarah Brennan. The youngest convicts are 11-year-old David Fay and 12-year-old James Blake, convicted for stealing a pair of buckles. The oldest convict is 64-year-old Patrick Fitzgerald from Dublin, who is sentenced to seven years for stealing clothes. Seven men and one woman die on the voyage and within a year, half the men who had sailed on the Queen are dead. Young James Blake dies within a few months of landing.

The last convict ship sails from Ireland to Australia in 1853 and over the course of 60 years, 30,000 men and 9,000 women are transported for a minimum of seven years. While a good number of them are patriots and rebels – United Irishmen and Young Irelanders – the majority are transported for petty crimes.

Transportation continues for more than 60 years and is followed by assisted emigration. More than 100,000 travel on assisted passage during the 1850s alone. Some are assisted on their journey by charitable organisations in an effort to relieve distress. The last transportation ship, the Phoebe Dunbar, sails from Dun Laoghaire in 1853, bound for Perth.


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Birth of Sir Frederick Matthew Darley, Chief Justice of New South Wales

Sir Frederick Matthew Darley, the sixth Chief Justice of New South Wales, an eminent barrister, a member of the Parliament of New South Wales, Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, and a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, is born in Bray, County Wicklow, on September 18, 1830.

Darley is educated at Dungannon College in County Tyrone. His uncle, the Reverend John Darley, is headmaster of the college. In July 1847 he commences studying at Trinity College, Dublin, and he graduates in July 1851 with a Bachelor of Arts (BA). He is called to the English bar at the King’s Inn in January 1853 but returns to Ireland and practises there for about nine years on the Munster circuit. He meets Sir Alfred Stephen when Stephen is on a visit to Europe, and is told that there are good prospects for him in Australia.

Darley marries Lucy Forest Browne at Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, on December 13, 1860. Lucy is the sister of novelist Rolf Boldrewood (Thomas Alexander Browne) who is best known for the book Robbery Under Arms. They have two sons and four daughters.

Darley decides to emigrate to Australia and arrives in Sydney in 1862. He is admitted to the NSW Bar on June 2, 1862 and is later appointed a Queens Counsel (QC) in 1878. In September 1868 he is nominated to the New South Wales Legislative Council. In November 1881 he becomes vice-president of the executive council in the third Henry Parkes ministry. In November 1886 Darley is offered the position of Chief Justice of New South Wales in succession to Sir James Martin. He does not desire the office and to accept it would mean a considerable monetary sacrifice. As a barrister, he is likely earning more than twice the amount of the salary offered. He declines the position and it is accepted by Julian Salomons who subsequently resigns a few days later.

Darley is again approached and this time he accepts the position. He is sworn in on December 7, 1886. He carries out his duties with great distinction, although he is not an exceptional jurist. On the retirement of Sir Alfred Stephen in November 1891, Darley is appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, and he administers the government seven times in that capacity. When the position of Governor of New South Wales becomes vacant in 1901, there are many suggestions that Darley should be given the post, but it is given to Sir Harry Rawson.

Darley’s longest period administering the government is from November 1, 1900 to May 27, 1902, a significant period in Australia’s political history with the lead up to and the aftermath of federation of the then Australian colonies. But his anxiety for New South Wales’s supremacy possibly contributes to the “Hopetoun Blunder.” Darley’s private assessment in 1902 is that “Australian Federation is so far a pronounced failure.”

Darley is knighted in 1887, created a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) in 1897, and receives the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG) on May 15, 1901, in preparation of the forthcoming royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary).

Darley visits England in 1902 and is appointed a member of the royal commission on the South African war. He is also appointed a member of the privy council in 1905. He dies in London on January 4, 1910.


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The Castle Hill Rebellion

castle-hill-rebellionThe Castle Hill Rebellion, a rebellion by convicts against the colonial forces of Australia in the Castle Hill area of the British colony of New South Wales, takes place on March 4, 1804. The rebellion culminates at Rouse Hill, dubbed the Second Battle of Vinegar Hill after the first Battle of Vinegar Hill which had taken place in 1798 in Ireland. It is the first and only major convict uprising in Australian history suppressed under martial law.

On March 4, according to the official accounts, 233 convicts led by Philip Cunningham, a veteran of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 as well as the mutiny on the convict transport ship Anne, escapes from a prison farm intent on “capturing ships to sail to Ireland,” In response, martial law is quickly declared in the Colony of New South Wales. The mostly Irish rebels, having gathered reinforcements, are hunted by the colonial forces until they are sequestered on March 5 on a hillock nicknamed Vinegar Hill. Under a flag of truce, Cunningham is arrested and troops charge and the rebellion is crushed by a raid.

According to the official records of the day, around 230 are eventually brought in over next few days. Of the convicts directly engaged in the battle, 15 are killed and nine, including the ringleaders Cunningham and William Johnston, are executed, with two subjected to gibbeting. Two men, John Burke and Bryan McCormack, are reprieved and detained at the Governor’s pleasure, seven are whipped with 200 or 500 lashes then allotted to the Coal River chain gang, while 23 others are sent to the Newcastle coal mines. Another 34 prisoners are placed in irons until they can be “disposed of.” It is not known whether some, or all of them, are sent to the Coal River. Of the remaining rebels, some are put on good behaviour orders against a trip to Norfolk Island, while the majority are pardoned and allowed to return to their places of employment as having been coerced into the uprising.

Cunningham, badly wounded but still alive, is court martialled under the martial law and hanged at the Commissariat Store at Windsor, which he had bragged he would burn down. Initially, military officers are intent on hanging a token number of those captured having convened a military court at the Whipping Green but this is quickly stopped by Governor Gidley King fearful of the repercussions.

Martial law is eventually lifted on March 10, 1804, but this does not end the insurgency. Irish plots continue to develop, keeping the Government and its informers vigilant, with military call out rehearsals continuing over the next three years. Governor King remains convinced that the real inspirers of revolt had kept out of sight. He had some suspects sent to Norfolk Island as a preventive measure.


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Birth of Irish-Australian Novelist Thomas Michael Keneally

thomas-michael-keneallyThomas Michael Keneally, Irish-Australian novelist, playwright, and author of non-fiction, is born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on October 7, 1935.

The son of Edmund Thomas and Elsie Margaret (Coyle) Keneally, he grows up in Kempsey and is educated at St. Patrick’s College, Strathfield where, subsequently, a writing prize has been named after him. Keneally enters St. Patrick’s Seminary, Manly to train as a Catholic priest. Although he is ordained as a deacon while at the seminary, he leaves without being ordained into the priesthood. He works as a Sydney schoolteacher before his success as a novelist and is a lecturer at the University of New England from 1968–1970.

Keneally is known as “Mick” until 1964 but, upon the advice of his publisher to use his real first name, begins using the name Thomas when he starts publishing. He is most famous for writing Man Booker Prize winner Schindler’s Ark (1982) which is later republished as Schindler’s List, and is later adapted to Steven Spielberg‘s Schindler’s List, which wins the Academy Award for Best Picture. Many of Keneally’s novels are reworkings of historical material, although modern in their psychology and style.

Keneally also acts in a handful of films. He has a small role in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, based on his novel, and plays Father Marshall in the award-winning Fred Schepisi film The Devil’s Playground (1976).

Keneally is a strong advocate of an Australian republic, meaning the abolition of the Australian monarchy, and publishes a book, Our Republic, on the subject in 1993. Several of his Republican essays appear on the web site of the Australian Republican Movement.

Keneally is a keen supporter of rugby league football, in particular the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles club of the National Rugby League. In 2004 he gives the sixth annual Tom Brock Lecture and makes an appearance in the 2007 rugby league drama film The Final Winter.

In March 2009, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, gives an autographed copy of Keneally’s biography Lincoln to President Barack Obama as a state gift. Recently Keneally has been a featured writer in the critically acclaimed Australian drama Our Sunburnt Country.