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Wolfe Tones Australia Tour

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The Wolfe Tones Tour Of Australia 2010

Wolfe Tones Sydney Tour
We commenced our tour in Sydney  and we had a few days to relax before the first concert on the  16th Jan, see around this historic place and reflect on the Irish connections with the area. Of course the Irish prisoners from the 1798 spring to mind, many of these heroic men later found a home there. The penal colony was set up in the Antipodes because England lost America and could not send their prisoners to Georgia and Virginia here to fore used as a penal colony. There were many 98 men in the first batch of prisoners and many were treated harshly by the jailers. Michael Dwyer for instance got fifty lashes for singing a rebel song by the then governor Capt. Blithe of Bounty fame. When I made my way into town through Victoria square I took a photo at the Victoria statue which stands there opposite the town hall. The statue came from Dublin and was first given on loan to the City from the corporation of Dublin, it was later given as  a gift by Charles J Haughey to the City of Sydney. It originally resided in Dublin at Leinster House on the lawn and Brian O Higgins wrote a song about it when it resided there. The people of Dublin city did not like the symbols of imperialism and many were blown sky high by dynamite and later by Gelignite. Victoria escaped the bomb for years and sat on her pedestal untouched, unlike many of her unfortunate subjects in Ireland who died by her terrible murderous extermination policies of her government during her reign. She earned the title of the famine Queen and was responsible for millions of deaths and suffering of our people during the Gorta Mor, the so called Famine. The food of the people was removed at Gun point while millions were forced into exile or to die of hunger and disease on the roadsides or in the holds of coffin ships as they tried to escape the hunger.
The statue was transported to Australia but its fate was much more fortunate than that of many of our heroes who were transported to Australian penal colonies and were incarcerated into hell holes, condemned to work in chain gangs and languish in stinking hot prison cells. She sits opposite the town hall in majesty presiding over a square that carries her name. We had one consolation in the fact that on our last trip we played the town hall and gave her a concert that I hope made her turn in her grave, bad says to her. The Penal settlement was first established here after the English lost America and so could not dump their unwanted prisoners in Georgia or Virginia, they needed a new place to dump their unwanted prisoners and found it in a place known as Port Jackson or Sydney Harbour.

We played the Hodern theatre complex in Sydney and it was a fantastic success, over two and a half thousand people all having a great time, the Irish, Irish-Australians, Aborigines, back packers, Celtic supporters, male, female, young, old, all one thing in common loving the Tones and their music. “Gotta Luv the Tones!”. Most people agreed it was the best ever concert!

The Wolfe Tones Melbourne 2010

Now it was on to Melbourne and the Forum theatre, a beautiful old entertainment establishment. Packed to capacity, the enthusiastic audience lapped up the menu of original and historic songs as only the Tones can do them. The applause rang out across the city long after the Tones had played their last chord. We had the privilege of meeting some wonderful people after the shows and we take  home some magic moments with us.  NSW of course has wonderful Irish connections. Ned Kelly being one of its most famous sons. The uprising at the Eureka mines was mainly the efforts of the Irish seeking justice against an unfair burden put on diggers at the gold field, the reasons were the cost of a monthly licence for diggers and the heavy handed manner in which it was enforced. The state of New South Wales also hosted many great Irish statesmen including Charles Gavin Duffy who became premier and speaker of the House and the other great Irish Statesman, Wentworth. There was a massive turnout on the streets of Melbourne when they reburied Michael Dwyer and built a monument to his memory, a proud moment for Irish Australia and a fitting tribute to this great hero of 1798.

Wolfe Tones Brisbane 2010

We then moved on to Brisbane and had a wonderful concert there. Brisbane once again started as a penal settlement but has shook off its convict past to become a beautiful thriving city. What a concert, an unbelievable, incredible mass of people rocking with the Tones, an unforgettable night. I was speechless, as all I can say is a big thanks to all and please god we may get to do it again sometime.

Wolfe Tones Adelaide 2010

Our next stop was Adelaide in South Australia, we paid a visit to the Irish club there. When we went in to the bar there were a big group of musicians having a session, great to see so many interested in Irish music. We were welcomed by the president and the committee and got a real Irish Cead Mile Failte, a big thanks to all. Once again we had a great concert and a wonderful reception and met many wonderful people, till we meet again, slainte.

The Wolfe Tones Perth Concert 2010
The last stop on our Australian tour was Perth and what a way to finish the tour wicket to the world, unforgettable. We enjoyed wonderful hospitality everywhere but in Perth it was exceptional. Had the honour of being shown around Freemantle Jail by Brendan Woods, a great historian and musician who plays with a very good band called the Dublin Rogues. I heard them in Rosie’s after the concert and we had a great night. Brendan brought myself and my wife, June around the prison in Freemantle and what an experience. The place reeks with the echoes of the Irish Fenian political prisoners, 62 were sent there on the transport Ship “The Hougoumont” including John Boyle O'Reilly and some of the other Military fenian prisoners. They published their own paper on the journey consisting of poems, stories and other topics. They held concerts also and sang songs and recitations to pass the journey

The Irish In Australia by Brian Warfield Of The Wolfe Tones

When they arrived in Australia they were read the rules and the reality of convict life commenced. John B O'Reilly as a military Fenian and little hope of early release so he determined on escape. He told this to a priest Fr McCabe who said on hearing of his hopes of escape told him it was a good way of committing suicide. Wait a while and I will come up with a plan said the good priest. True to his word he sent a messenger called Maguire with the plan. A whaling ship called the Vigilant was in Bunbury port and the Captain had agreed to take him on board outside the Aus limits he would stay around a certain point and watch out for him and pick him up. They had arranged a crew to row out to the rendezvous point but to there disappointment although they had the ship in sight and hailed it frantically the Vigilant just moved away. John rowed out on his own on another night in a small flimsy craft once again had the ship in sight but it moved away again. He eventually gave up and rowed back to his hiding place among the sand dunes disheartened. Fr McCabe made another arrangement with the Captain of another Whaler The Gazelle this time he paid the Captain 10 pounds for his passage once again they rowed out made contact said goodbye to his co conspirators and to prison life in Western Australia. He was not free of British influence and had a narrow escape in one of the British Islands, they searched both the Vigilant and the Gazelle but the Captain hatched a plan to pretend that O 'eilly had fallen overboard.  A grind stone and his hat were thrown overboard and so convinced were the crew that they mourned his loss even to the fact that one of them was convinced that he saw his face disappear down into the water. When the British authorities come aboard the crew were so convincing that they never searched the ship. When the ship cleared the port John B to the amazement of the crew made a miraculous appearance and was on his way to freedom and the land of liberty.

The one regret I had is that we never got to Tasmania. I would have liked to explore where the Young Irelander’s were held but perhaps this is for another time. The escape of the remaining six military Fenians on the Whaling Bark Catalpa, was a remarkable feat of organisation and courage. In a letter to John Devoy the prisoners asked for help, all the civilian Fenian were freed and these soldier Fenian were rotting away in Freemantle prison with no hope. The English Governments consistently refused requests to free them. So John Devoy went to Clan na Geal to seek financial backing for a daring plan to snatch them from under the noses of their jailers. It was a very risky business because in order to raise funds a lot of people would know of the adventure. The plan was given the go ahead and Devoy was the man in charge of the operations. He contacted J B O Reilly who introduced him to his good friend Mr Hathaway.  His advice was to buy a ship and let it work its way as a whaler, make its way to Western Australia and pluck the prisoners from their jailers. This was done and the boat was purchased by Mr Richardson and his son in law, George S Anthony, was appointed Captain. The ground operations was headed by John J Breslin who  was responsible for springing James Stephens head centre of the Fenian's from Richmond prison in Dublin.  The escape was full of drama, Breslin who had posed as a businessman and was so convincing that he was invited by the Gov to look around the prison or establishment as it was called. It took over a year for the Catalpa to reach western Australia Capt Anthony coincidently got a set of charts from the Capt of the Hougoumont, the very Ship that had brought the prisoners out.

When they arrived they made contact with the ground operations and when all was prepared after some hitches the day was set. Capt Anthony came to shore with a hand selected crew to convey the prisoners to the Whaler. The drama increased when they had a narrow escape on the way to shore when they passed over a coral reef and were lucky to get by it safely without wrecking the small craft.

There were two carriages hired to bring the prisoners to the prearranged spot on the beach but on the morning they did not have the fast horses they had asked for. The prisoners were in work parties and they all succeeded in making their way to the carriages and galloped away as fast as possible towards the shore. They arrived at the boats and speedily got on board in the nick of time as the police were in hot pursuit, they rowed frantically towards the Catalpa and freedom. They were all armed but no shots were fired and the police did not fire at the prisoners.  But more drama was to follow, the authorities despatched a police boat to track them down before they reached the safety of the ship. They were in sight of the police boat and Capt Anthony ordered all to lay low and not to move, they once again made a narrow escape.

They also armed the steamer “The Georgette" and sent it out to intercept the Catalpa.

A long night and stormy seas almost brought the small craft to a watery end but for the courage and tenacity of the gallant Capt and crew they would not have reached to Catalpa .They made it to the Whaler just in the nick of time and boarded her in record haste, sails were hoisted but again drama, there was little wind to take her out. After a short period the wind fortunately increased and the ship began to move. The gunboat hailed the Capt to give up the prisoners or they would fire on her. Capt Anthony replied by hoisting the Stars and Stripes and replied to the treat that if they fired at her on the high seas they were firing on America. A shot was fired across her boughs, the Catalpa made a tack towards the Georgette, a dangerous manoeuvre almost hit the Georgette and the winds took  her out to the high seas and freedom. The prisoners rescued from Freemantle were James Darragh 9707 Life sentence 2 March 1866 aged 42. Martian Hogan 9767 Life aged 37 Fenian Michael Harrington 9757 life July 7  for Feninism 1866 Thomas Hassett 9758 June 26. 1866  Robert Cranston 9702 June 26 1866 James Wilson 9915 Aug 20' 1866 age 40  The Prisoners were landed in NY city to an ecstatic Irish and American reception. The officers and crew all got compensated in accordance with what they would have made had they been Whaling. Capt Anthony, Mr Richardson and Hathaway were given the boat not worth much after souvenir hunters had stripped her. Capt Anthony could never work at sea again because if he ever put in at a British port he would be arrested for his crimes against the Queen. He had proved to be a very brave man because if caught he would have languished in Freemantle Prison for many years and he was quite aware of this. He risked all for a country and a people who owned no allegiance from him but his American grit and his love of freedom carried him trough. It was remarkable that so many in Clan na Gael knew of the mission and the secret was kept until the escape was confirmed. Over 7000 people were aware of the expedition they did not know the details which were only known to De Voy and a few others who were the organisers but they all knew that there was a mission to free the military Fenians from Freemantle.
Brian Warfield The Wolfe Tones 2010


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