#OTD in 1876 – The ship Catalpa arrives in the U.S. with Irish Fenian prisoners rescued from Australia.

The “Fremantle Six” were Irish political prisoners who made an audacious escape from the notorious British prison in West Australia aboard the U.S. whaling ship “Catalpa” in 1876.

Captain Anthony and the Catalpa arrive at Rockingham beach near Fremantle to rendezvous with the escaped prisoners; after a fierce confrontation with the Georgette, an armed British steamer, the Catalpa and the Fremantle Six finally head for America; four months later they arrive in New York to a hero’s welcome.

The whaler Catalpa arrives in the United States, four months after it helped six Irish rebels escape from life imprisonment in Freemantle Prison. Eight years previously, an English convict ship the Hougoumont arrived in Fremantle carrying almost three hundred prisoners including six former British soldiers arrested and convicted of treason. The six Irishmen James Wilson, Robert Cranston, Thomas Hassatt, Martin Hogan, Thomas Darragh, and Michael Harrington were Fenians and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In 1873, James Wilson, one of the “Fremantle Six” prisoners, wrote a letter to John Devoy, who had recruited him to join the Fenians pleading for help. Devoy put in motion a successful plan that became legendary in Irish Nationalist circles. He recruited George Anthony, captain of the American whaler Catalpa, who embarks on a secret mission to rescue the Fremantle Six.

The Catalpa arrived at Rockingham beach near Fremantle to rendezvous with the escaped prisoners. The ship was not allowed escape without a fight. After a fierce confrontation with an armed British steamer, Anthony raised the American flag after which the British did not fire on the Catalpa. It would take four months for the six ex-prisoners to land in America to a thunderous reception.

Suggested reading: “The Voyage of The Catalpa”

Photo: Catalpa Rescue Memorial in Rockingham, Western Australia

Featured photo: Monument dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Catalpa Rescue (1876-1976), New Bedford, Masachussetts

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