Catalpa captain’s descendant visits Rockingham memorial

Staff ReporterSound Telegraph
: Jim Ryan at the Catalpa Memorial with City of Rockingham Deputy Mayor Deb Hamblin and Mayor Barry Sammels.
Camera Icon: Jim Ryan at the Catalpa Memorial with City of Rockingham Deputy Mayor Deb Hamblin and Mayor Barry Sammels. Credit: City of Rockingham

One of the most exciting chapters in WA and Rockingham’s colonial history continues to inspire people from around the world.

The legacy of the Catalpa – the bold and daring mission in 1876 to liberate six Irish political prisoners on the American whaling ship – was alive and well last week when Jim Ryan, great-grandson of the Catalpa’s Captain, George Anthony, visited the Wild Geese monument in Rockingham as part of a wider trip across WA to see sights significant to his family heritage.

During his visit from New Bedford, Massachusetts in the USA, Mr Ryan also visited Bunbury as well as the Fremantle Maritime Museum to discuss the enthralling rescue with a live audience.

City of Rockingham Mayor Barry Sammels said the story of the Catalpa was one of the most colourful and stirring events in the City’s history.

“The epic adventure of the Catalpa and the six outlaw Fenians who broke out of prison and fled to America is arguably one of the world’s greatest escapes,” Mr Sammels said.

“The City was delighted to welcome Mr Ryan and his family during their visit to the Catalpa Memorial, which occupies the place where the prisoners left these shores forever.

“The sculpture stands as a reminder of the value of freedom and it was an honour to meet a direct descendant of one of the key players in this inspiring story.”

The Catalpa Memorial Rockingham - inside cover.
Camera IconThe Catalpa Memorial Rockingham - inside cover. Credit: WA News

In 1876 six Irish political prisoners - Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Robert Cranston and James Wilson - escaped from the Convict Establishment (now Fremantle Prison) and made their way to Rockingham.

They rowed a small boat out to the whaling ship Catalpa, which had sailed from New Bedford, then a prominent whaling town, to rendezvous with them.

SS Georgette 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 but Capt. Anthony denied he had the prisoners on board, and pointed out that he was in international waters.

Georgette fired a warning shot with its 5 kg cannon, but Capt. Anthony pointed at his ship’s US flag and sailed away with Georgette in pursuit until it was low on fuel, then returned to Fremantle.

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.

Mr Ryan’s great grandfather remained in New Bedford with his wife and children, never returning to sea. He was appointed New Bedford Port Inspector in 1886 and with the help of a journalist he published an account of his journey, The Catalpa Expedition, in 1897. He died in 1913.

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