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Catalpa EsCape: The original Crowd Funder

In 1876 a daring escape and rescue of six Irish Fenians took place right here in WA – from Fremantle Prison (formally Convict Establishment) in horse and cart to Rockingham where the American ship The Catalpa was waiting to take them safely to New York. The tale of this story continues to inspire generations in song and story. Join us over the Easter Weekend as we celebrate – The Catalpa Adventure.

The six Irish political prisoners were Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Robert Cranston, and James Wilson.

The escape was hatched in 1874 in the USA by John Devoy and John Boyle O Reilly and others. Funding was collected from Irish people all over the world to buy the whaling ship the Catalpa. Captain Geoge Anthony agreed to sail the ship from New Bedford to Western Australia. Docking far off the coast of Rockingham in International waters. He and his crew waited in a small whaling boat for the Irish escapees on Rockingham beach. They spent hours rowing this small boat out to the Catalpa in gale force winds.

The Georgette a coaster steamer sent by British authorities and a police cutter gave chase but having no official orders to board Catalpa, the boats gave up their chase. The following morning, Georgette returned and demanded the return of the prisoners.

The commander of the Georgette gave Captain Anthony an ultimatum – surrender the Fenians or the next cannon shot would be aimed directly at his ship. Captain Anthony pointed to the Stars and Stripes:

“This ship is sailing under the American flag, and she is on the high seas. If you fire on me, I warn you that you are firing on the American flag. There are no prisoners on this ship they are all free men”.

Suddenly, the wind picked up and the Catalpa headed west just missing the Georgette. The steamer followed for an hour until finally the commander, fearful of sparking an international incident, turned back towards Fremantle. The Fenians were free!

WA Governor William Robinson ordered the police on the Georgette not to create an incident outside territorial waters, which allowed Catalpa to slip away into the Indian Ocean.

The Catalpa arrived in New York four months later, to a cheering crowd of thousands who met the ship for a Fenian procession up Broadway. John Devoy, John Breslin and Captain George Anthony were hailed as heroes and news of the Fremantle Six prison break quickly spread around the world.

It all began with a letter from inside an Australian “tomb” (Fremantle Prison) and is now considered to be one of the most outrageous prison escapes in Australian history.

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