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John Devoy's Catalpa Expedition

Philip Fennell, Marie King, Terry Golway

Publication Year: 2006

The story of John Devoy’s 1876 Catalpa rescue is a tale of heroism, creativity, and the triumph of independent spirit in pursuit of freedom. The daily log on board the whaling ship Catalpa begins with the typical recount of a crew intact and a spirit unfettered, but such quiet words deceive the truth of the audacious enterprise that came to be known as one of the most important rescues in Irish American history. John Devoy’s men rescued six Irish political prisoners from the Australian coast, allowing millions of fellow Irishmen and American-Fenians, many of whom secretly financed the dangerous plot, to draw courage from the newly exiled prisoners.

Philip Fennell and Marie King tell the story from John Devoy’s own records and the ship's logbooks. John Devoy's Catalpa Expedition includes an introduction by Terry Golway and the personal diaries, letters, and reports from John Devoy and his men.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

The story of this daring and noble historical event has been told before. Other historians over the years, sensing its importance as a reflection of the burning desire of the Irish for freedom, have published it or alluded to it many times in articles, in books, and even as an Australian radio drama. ...

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pp. 1-10

He was born in County Kildare before the Famine and he lived to see the founding of the Irish Free State. One of the hardiest of Fenians, he served as an organizer for James Stephens in 1865 and as an ally of Michael Collins in 1922. He feuded bitterly with Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and with Eamon de Valera. ...

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pp. 11-12

We are indebted to Kevin Cusack for his significant support and guidance over the years. H. A. Willis has encouraged, supported, cajoled, occasionally admonished, and otherwise helped us through this project. Walter McGrath has enthusiastically supported our work ...


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pp. 13-14

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Editors’ Prologue

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pp. 15-25

There was nothing unusual about the bark Catalpa working its way out to sea that afternoon. For years whalers departing from New Bedford had followed this route through Buzzards Bay. As was customary, the local papers had listed the ship’s crew and stated its destination (accurately) ...

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Editors’ Note

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pp. 26

Each installment of John Devoy’s Catalpa account has been transcribed in its entirety, starting with chapter 1. Devoy included correspondence, diary entries, and reports of others, including John J. Breslin and John King, which have been formatted differently to distinguish them from Devoy’s words ...

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[ I ] Cruise of a New Bedford Whaler That Brought Humiliation to England—Irish Skill and Yankee Grit Combined—Six Irish Military Prisoners Taken from an English Prison in Western Australia by The Clan-na-Gael—How and Why the Work Was Done

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pp. 27-37

The unveiling of a monument to James Reynolds55 in New Haven on July 3 last [1904] by the Irish Nationalists of Connecticut, recalls an event in recent Irish history in which he played a prominent and very creditable part. It is twenty-eight years since the whaling bark Catalpa landed in New York ...

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[ II ] Seven Thousand Men Knew of the Expedition, but There Was No Traitor—Discussed from Maine To California—Yet the Blow Fell on England Like a Bolt from the Blue—How the Work Was Started—The Committee in Charge

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pp. 38-46

It will not be necessary to refer to the convention which decided to undertake the rescue of the Fenian military prisoners in Western Australia, except in so far as its proceedings concern that undertaking. I proposed the resolution with a full sense of the risk involved in entrusting the knowledge to ...

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[ III ] John Mitchel Knew of the Project and Helped to Raise Funds—A Characteristic Letter

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pp. 47-53

In our efforts to raise the necessary money we did not confine ourselves to asking for funds already in existence. The proceeds of public entertainments of various kinds were thrown in and there was no difficulty in getting local committees to vote them for the Rescue Fund, as we already called it. ...

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[ IV ] Official Report of the Work Done Presented to a Convention in 1876—The Arduous Work of Raising the Money—How John Boyle O’Reilly Got a United States Naval Engineer to Inspect the Vessel

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pp. 54-62

The time had at last come for taking definite action. We appeared to have a good prospect of obtaining sufficient money and we must look out for a ship. Trustees had kicked and refused to draw funds which branches had voted and many most embarrassing delays had occurred in this way. ...

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[ V ] [No heading in the original account. The chapter describes the final preparations and departure of the Catalpa.]

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pp. 63-71

The fitting out of the Catalpa took considerable time, and the cost was very much more than we had anticipated. I had to make several journeys to New Bedford to hurry matters up and, as the cost of fitting out the vessel loomed up, to visit several places to urge the voting of more money. ...

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[ VI ] How John J. Breslin and Thomas Desmond of San Francisco Were Selected to Do the Work—An Appointment by James Stephens

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pp. 72-77

The ship having sailed, the next thing was to select the man to effect the rescue. This was done at a meeting held shortly after the departure of the ship. I intended to go myself and I was assured of all the votes of the committee except one (and I am not even sure that even that would be against me), ...

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[ VII ] Auspicious Beginning of the Expedition by Captain Anthony Succoring a Ship in Distress—Caught Whale in the North Atlantic—John Breslin’s Official Report of the Enterprise—Anxiously Waiting for Ship’s Arrival

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pp. 78-87

The agent sent us more bills for the vessel just as we were sending Breslin off, and Mr. Mahon, of Rochester, the treasurer, who was a sharp and clear-headed business man, refused to pay them until he should have an opportunity to examine them and hear explanations. After that examination and explanation ...

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[ VIII ] John J. Breslin’s Graphic Account of the Escape of the Six Prisoners, the Dash for the Boat, the Long and Weary Pull for the Ship, the Arrival on Board in the Nick of Time, and the Sharp Parley With the “Georgette”—The Victory Won

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pp. 88-108

I engaged a seat by the mail car for Bunbury, and left Freemantle the following morning, arriving in Bunbury at four o’clock P.M., on Friday, 31st. I met Captain Anthony ashore and explained to him what I proposed doing with the ship; he expressed himself perfectly willing to do what I required of him; but his crew were in a very discontented state ...

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[ IX ] Breslin’s Difficulties with the Men on the Homeward Voyage—Complained of Food and Treatment and Were Discontented—Demanded to Be Put Ashore and Forced a Change in the Plans—Arrived in New York

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pp. 109-122

July 27th, 1876, Latitude 20° 12′ north, longitude 46° west, at 1 o’clock P.M. sighted a ship steering west, and, when we came near enough to signal, found that she hoisted American colors, the first American ship we met since leaving Western Australia. The captain proposed going on board to find out whether he could purchase ...

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[ X ] Unexpected Arrival of the Vessel in New York Creates Many Difficulties—Factional Attempt to “Capture” The Men from the Committee Foiled by Patrick Lennon’s Quiet Threat to Use Force—Work of Providing for the Soldiers

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pp. 123-129

The cruise of the Catalpa was over, the rescued men had arrived in New York, the vessel was anchored in the bay, and thousands of Irish people, proud of the victory over England, crowded the Battery Park to get a view of the vessel, or were rowed out in boats to board her and shake hands ...

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[ XI ] Work of Raising Funds for the Rescued Men and the Winding Up of the Expedition—The Slander-Monger at Work—Financial Statement of the Enterprise

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pp. 130-138

The money to provide for the rescued men had to be raised outside of the regular funds of the Clan-na-Gael, which could not be touched for such a purpose. The method used was to get up receptions for them in the various cities, either in the form of public meetings in halls or of picnics, ...

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[ XII ] The Expedition Wound Up After Many Difficulties—John King’s Narrative of His Part in the Work—The Fenians in Australia Had a Rescue Project of Their Own—Meeting with Breslin—How He Ran the Quarantine

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pp. 139-149

In last week’s issue pressure of space made it necessary to leave out part of the Catalpa story, and the work of cutting it in a hurry was botched. One of the interesting things left out was a letter from James Reynolds, who had been obliged to go to New Bedford to endeavor to make a final settlement of the voyage, ...

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[ XIII ] John King Continues His Narrative of His Personal Part in the Enterprise—Meeting with theTwo Men Sent From the Other Side of the Atlantic on the Same Errand—The Two Parties Arrange to Cooperate

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pp. 150-158

The steamer, which was the Georgette, sailed early the next morning and by Sunday I was in Fremantle, met Breslin and gave him the money, which was a godsend just at that time, the way things had turned out. Breslin told me that he needed my assistance in arranging the final details of the rescue and asked me to remain in Fremantle. ...

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[ XIV ] Conclusion of John King’s Narrative of His Share in the Splendid Work—The Severe Ordeal in the Open Boat and the Race for the Ship Facing British Guns—Safe in the Land of the Free

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pp. 159-166

It was half-past ten when we all reached the beach. There were sixteen of us including the captain’s party, and there wasn’t any room to spare when we were all stowed away in the boat. We had to crowd ourselves into as small a space as possible so as not to interfere with the work of the men at the oars. ...

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Editors’ Epilogue

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pp. 167-184

Crew member Frank Perry recalled many years later that until the Georgette threatened the Catalpa there had been an air of mystery among the crew about the whaler’s true intentions. Anthony had kept them in the dark so that in the event of their capture, crew members could truthfully state they knew nothing of ...

Appendix A: Letters from James Wilson

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pp. 185-193

Appendix B: From the Report of the Eighth Annual [Clan-na-Gael] Convention, Cleveland, Ohio, September 4, 1877

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pp. 194-210

Appendix C: Dramatis Personae

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pp. 211-212


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pp. 213-218


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pp. 219-224

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About the Editors

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pp. 225

Marie King, holder of two degrees from New York University, is an elementary school teacher. Her husband, Philip Fennell, is an accountant. Their first editing collaboration resulted in the publication of an ancestor’s recollection, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814728512
E-ISBN-10: 0814728510
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814727485
Print-ISBN-10: 0814727484

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Catalpa (Bark).
  • Fenians.
  • Escapes -- Australia -- Fremantle (W.A.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Irish -- Australia -- Fremantle (W.A.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Fremantle (W.A.) -- History.
  • Political prisoners -- Australia -- Fremantle (W.A.).
  • Penal colonies -- Australia -- Fremantle (W.A.).
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