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The Not Just Ned exhibition developed by the National Museum of Australia features objects which help to tell a story of the Irish building new lives in Australia in fields including politics, religion, education and the arts.
In 1888 Irish-born journalist James Francis Hogan felt that his countrymen and women had created a 'New Ireland in Australia'. But the truth was much more complex.
Eighty percent of the Irish emigrants in Australia were Catholic and they faced prejudice for their religious views, support of Irish nationalism and a separate school system.
Stories featured here include that of Eureka leader Peter Lalor, the Kelly gang, the Fenian political prisoners rescued from Fremantle, outspoken archbishop Daniel Mannix, prime minister Ben Chifley and poet Vincent Buckley.
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Eureka stockade cyclorama, about 1891
Eureka stockade about 1891. Commissioned by the Melbourne Cyclorama Company. State Library of Victoria.
Power and politics: The Eureka stockade
The finest thing in Australian history ... a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against oppression.
Mark Twain, writer and humorist, 1895
The Eureka rebellion came after a long period of protest against the way the Victorian goldfields were being administered. Miners objected to the high cost of mining licences, brutal police 'licence hunts', the unrepresentative nature of the colonial government and general corruption.
After a vicious licence hunt on 30 November 1854, tension between the miners and the authorities came to a head. As men gathered to protest, Irishman Peter Lalor came forward to proclaim 'liberty'. Next day, Lalor led about 500 miners, beneath their flag, the Southern Cross in an oath: 'We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties'. Under Lalor's command, the rebellion assumed a more Irish feel. He chose the password 'Vinegar Hill', recalling the last great battle of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland.
Just before dawn on 3 December 1854, a force of soldiers and policemen stormed a rough fort on the Ballarat goldfields known as the 'Eureka stockade'. Inside were about 150 miners, many of them Irish like their leader. In less than half an hour, the stockade fell. Twenty-seven civilians are thought to have been killed, most in the stockade itself. Lalor himself was wounded at Eureka and lost an arm. There were many reports of official brutality. Thirteen miners, six of them Irish, were later tried for high treason, but were found not guilty. No Victorian jury would convict them.
The story of the miners' battle at Eureka quickly entered Australian folklore. In 1891 the Melbourne Cyclorama Company offered the public the story in the round, in the form of a 360-degree panoramic depiction of the Eureka stockade, at its building at Victoria Parade, Melbourne. This surviving image shows the battle at the stockade on the morning of 3 December 1854.
The Kelly gang armour, 1879
Left to right: Armour worn by Ned Kelly 1879, State Library of Victoria; armour worn by Joseph Byrne 1879, private collection; armour worn by Dan Kelly 1879, Victoria Police Museum; armour worn by Steve Hart 1879, Victoria Police Museum.
Power and politics: The Kelly armour
Of all the scenes in Australian history many would argue that none is more dramatic than that of a wounded iron-clad figure emerging out of the mist and advancing towards an inn besieged by police at Glenrowan, in northern Victoria. It was dawn on 28 June 1880, and outlaw Edward 'Ned' Kelly had come to rescue his brother, Dan, and fellow gang member, Steve Hart, who were trapped in the inn. Inside, another member of the gang, Joe Byrne, already lay dead, killed by police gunfire. All four men were wearing makeshift armour, manufactured secretly in the bush during the previous winter from the mould boards of ploughs.
As Ned Kelly lurched forward that morning, the sight unnerved his opponents. Artist Thomas Carrington saw something with 'no head visible', more like a ghost than a man, and with a 'very long thick neck'. Others described demons and devils, and railway guard Jesse Dowsett thought the man with the iron helmet looked 'nine feet' (2.7 metres) tall.
Constable George Arthur, however, simply saw some madman on the loose with a nail can on his head. He called out to Kelly that he would be shot if he kept moving, but the outlaw coolly swept back the folds of his oilskin coat and raised the revolver in his right hand. 'I could shoot you, sonny,' Kelly warned. With that, Arthur fired; the bullet struck Ned's helmet, forcing him back, but he recovered enough to fire.
For a while Kelly's armour protected him. Bleeding profusely from wounds received during the previous night's run-in with the police, he staggered under the armour's weight towards the inn, shouting to Steve and Dan, 'Come out, come out, boys, and we'll whip the beggars'. Called on to surrender, Ned yelled back his defiance: 'Never, while I've a shot left'. Eventually, with a despairing cry of 'I'm done, I'm done', he was brought down by wounds to his unprotected legs, and captured alive.
After the siege at Glenrowan the police took away all four sets of armour. When a request came to have them displayed at the Beechworth Museum, Captain Frederick Standish, Commissioner of Police, was outraged. He proposed to the government that the suits be destroyed at once to prevent the growth of any 'Kelly-heroism'. But they have survived, and seen together they are a striking reminder of one of the most daring challenges to the forces of law and order in Australian history.
Bark 'Catalpa' of New Bedford, 1876
Bark Catalpa of New Bedford 1876 by EN Russell. New Bedford Whaling Museum.
The American whaler, the Catalpa, pictured with the distinctive 'JTR' pennant flying from the masthead, was used to sail six rescued Irish Fenian rebels from Fremantle to the United States.
Replica of the Cross of Cong, 1893
Replica of the Cross of Cong, 1893 by Edmund Johnson. St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.
Religion: The Cross of Cong
One of the great moments of any ceremony in a Catholic cathedral comes when a cardinal, fully clothed in his red robes, processes to the altar with his attendant priests, amid swirls of incense. Australia's first cardinal was Irishman Patrick Francis Moran, appointed in 1885. Moran was determined to show Australian Catholics of Irish descent their cultural inheritance, the rich iconography of the early Christian church in Ireland. One of the objects he brought out from Ireland was a full-sized replica of the Cross of Cong, which was carried before him as he strode to the altar.
The original Cross of Cong, a twelfth-century Irish Christian processional cross, beautifully worked with Celtic designs in gold and silver, was made to house a relic of the cross of Christ. It was hidden away in the mid-seventeenth century, rediscovered in the nineteenth century and ended up in the National Museum of Ireland, where it is regarded as one of the museum's greatest treasures. A replica was made by Dublin jeweller Edmund Johnson for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, and copies were made by Tiffany's of New York. Moran brought one of these fine replicas to Sydney, where it testified to the antiquity and splendour of Australia's Irish-dominated Catholic Church.
Replica of the Cross of Cong, 1893 (detail)
Replica of the Cross of Cong, 1893 by Edmund Johnson (detail). St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.
Ceremonial building trowels, 1915-29
Ceremonial building trowels presented to Archbishop Spence, 1915-29. Archives and Records Services, Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.
From left to right:
Religion: Spence the Builder
Australian Catholics were used to opening their wallets to help their church. Over the decades they donated a sizeable sum towards the building of churches, presbyteries, church halls, catholic schools, convents and monasteries. Such buildings are dotted across Australia, from city centres to suburbs, country towns and smaller rural settlements, and constitute the most visible legacy of the Irish Catholic presence.
South Australia was always regarded as the least Irish and Catholic of the Australian colonies. Nevertheless, during the reign of Irishman Robert William Spence as Catholic archbishop of Adelaide (1915–34), his diocese experienced a veritable building boom. Spence officiated at the laying of foundation stones, and the opening of more than 85 major church buildings. The man who became known as 'Spence the Builder' was proud of this achievement because, as he saw it, thousands of ordinary Catholics had contributed to the expansion of their church. Spence had the many silver trowels he used on these occasions mounted onto shields for display at his official residence.