On August 19, 1876, 140 years ago , the whaling ship Catalpa was given a tumultuous welcome as it sailed into New York harbor. She had no whales on board, but a far more valuable cargo, six Fenian prisoners from England's Western Australia penal colony. Clan na Gael's John Devoy, with the help of his friend John Boyle O'Reilly, a Fenian who had once escaped from Australia himself, planned the escape. Somehow maintaining the secrecy of the mission, the two arranged to buy and crew a whaler purchased in New Bedford, Massachusetts, for the attempt. The Catalpa set out in April 1875 with most of the crew unaware of their actual mission. In March 1876, they reached Australia and soon had the six Fenians -- James Donagh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hasset, Robert Cranston and James Wilson -- safely on board. The British gunboat Georgette overtook the Catalpa the next day and fired a shot across the ship's bow, demanding the prisoners be turned over. Captain George Anthony raised the Stars and Stripes and defied the British to fire on it; they would not. Seeing Anthony would not be intimidated, the Georgette headed back to port. Clan na Gael and the Fenians had achieved one of their greatest victories over the British Empire. Watch the PBS/ RTE/ ABC docudrama of the Catalpa rescue here. 

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Tags: 19th Century, Catalpa, Clan na Gael, Escapes, Fenians, Irish Freedom Struggle, Maritime

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