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


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The Navigation Act 1651

The Navigation Act 1651 is passed on October 9, 1651, by the Rump Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. It authorises the Commonwealth of England to regulate trade within the colonies. It reinforces a long-standing principle of government policy that English trade should be carried in English vessels. The Act is a reaction to the failure of the English diplomatic mission led by Oliver St. John and Walter Strickland to The Hague seeking a political union of the Commonwealth with the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, after the States of Holland had made some cautious overtures to Cromwell to counter the monarchical aspirations of stadtholder William II, Prince of Orange.

The stadtholder dies suddenly, however, and the States are now embarrassed by Cromwell taking the idea too seriously. The English propose the joint conquest of all remaining Spanish and Portuguese possessions. England would take America and the Dutch would take Africa and Asia. But the Dutch have just ended their war with Spain and already taken over most Portuguese colonies in Asia, so they see little advantage in this grandiose scheme and propose a free trade agreement as an alternative to a full political union. This again is unacceptable to the British, who would be unable to compete on such a level playing field, and is seen by them as a deliberate affront.

The Act bans foreign ships from transporting goods from outside Europe to England or its colonies, and bans third-party countries’ ships from transporting goods from a country elsewhere in Europe to England. These rules specifically target the Dutch, who control much of Europe’s international trade and even much of England’s coastal shipping. It excludes the Dutch from essentially all trade with England, as the Dutch economy is competitive with, not complementary to the English, and the two countries therefore exchange few commodities. This Anglo-Dutch trade, however, constitutes only a small fraction of total Dutch trade flows.

The Act is often mentioned as a major cause of the First Anglo-Dutch War, though it is only part of a larger British policy to engage in war after the negotiations have failed. The English naval victories in 1653 (the Battle of Portland, the Battle of the Gabbard and the Battle of Scheveningen) show the supremacy of the Commonwealth navy in home waters. However, farther afield the Dutch predominate and are able to close down English commerce in the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Both countries hold each other in a stifling embrace.

The Treaty of Westminster (1654) ends the impasse. The Dutch fail to have the Act repealed or amended, but it seems to have had relatively little influence on their trade. The Act offers England only limited solace. It cannot limit the deterioration of England’s overseas trading position, except in the cases where England herself is the principal consumer, such as the Canary Islands wine trade and the trade in Puglian olive oil. In the trade with the West Indies, the Dutch keep up a flourishing “smuggling” trade, thanks to the preference of English planters for Dutch import goods and the better deal the Dutch offer in the sugar trade. The Dutch colony of New Netherland offers a loophole through intercolonial trade wide enough to drive a shipload of Virginia tobacco through.

The 1651 Act, like other laws of the Commonwealth period, is declared void on the Restoration of Charles II of England, having been passed by “usurping powers.” Parliament therefore passes new legislation. This is generally referred to as the “Navigation Acts,” and, with some amendments, remains in force for nearly two centuries.

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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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Death of James Hogun, American Revolutionary War Officer

James Hogun, Irish American military officer who is as one of five generals from North Carolina to serve with the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, dies on January 4, 1781.

Born in Ireland around 1721, Hogun migrates to North Carolina, then a British colony, in 1751. Settling in Halifax County, he raises a family and establishes himself as a prominent local figure.

A member of the county’s Committee of Safety, he represents it at the North Carolina Provincial Congress and helps to draft the first Constitution of North Carolina. When North Carolina decides to raise three more regiments for George Washington’s Continental Army, James Hogun is appointed colonel of one of them, the 7th North Carolina. He participates in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown in 1777, where Hogun is cited for “distinguished intrepidity.” The Continental Congress promotes Hogun to brigadier general in 1779, although several congressmen and the North Carolina General Assembly wish to see Thomas Clark of North Carolina promoted instead.

In November 1779, Hogun is sent south in command of the North Carolina Brigade to the aid of General Benjamin Lincoln, who is facing an anticipated British assault at Charleston, South Carolina. The march south, through one of the worst winters ever, is a severe one and Hogun’s numbers are reduced by the time he reached Charleston on March 3, 1780. Before the end of the month, British General Henry Clinton’s men are besieging the city. The Americans, though outnumbered more than two to one, have a few successes but soon they are running low on food and ammunition.

At a council of war May 11, the decision is made to surrender. The surrender the following day is one of the worst American defeats of the war — more than 2,500 men become British prisoners. The British hastily build a prison on Haddrel’s Point, a peninsula in Charleston’s harbor, to hold the prisoners, but the site is incomplete and conditions are harsh.

Generals McIntosh, Lincoln, and Scott, and other high-ranking officers accept parole from the British and depart. Generals William Moultrie and Hogun refuse, preferring to stay with their men. The British are trying to recruit colonial soldiers to serve them in the West Indies. In spite of his flagging health, Hogun fears some of his men might weaken if he departs.

As winter sets in, Hogun’s condition worsens. On January 4, 1781, he passes away and was buried near the prison. Like so many other Irish-born soldiers before and after him, James Hogun had given his last full measure of devotion to his adopted country.