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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.
Peter Lalor, 1856
Peter Lalor 1856 by Ludwig Becker. National Library of Australia.
Power and politics: The Eureka stockade
Peter Lalor was born in County Laois, Ireland, in 1827 and died in Melbourne in 1889. Politically Lalor was a complex figure: although he believed strongly in personal liberty, he was neither republican nor socialist.
Lalor emerged to lead the Eureka rebellion and lost an arm after being wounded in the battle. After Eureka, he entered parliament and became a fairly conservative politician.
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.
'Escape of Fenian convicts from West Australia', 1876
'Escape of Fenian convicts from West Australia' 1876. Australian National Maritime Museum.
Irish nationalism: Escape
In 1876 the American Fenians organised Australia's first and last transoceanic prison break by snatching six Irish Fenian rebels from Fremantle Prison and sailing them to freedom in the United States on the American whaler Catalpa.
John T Richardson was a whaling ship agent in the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, who was approached in 1875 by members of Clan na Gael, an Irish revolutionary organisation, to help them buy a ship and appoint a captain to undertake a voyage to Western Australia. But this was to be no ordinary money-making trip. The secret aim was to rescue six imprisoned Irish rebels – members of the Fenian Brotherhood, who had staged an unsuccessful rebellion in Ireland in 1867 – from Fremantle Prison.
Richardson's son-in-law, Captain George S Anthony, had quit the sea for a job in the Morse Twist Drill Works. Restless there, he approached Richardson for a ship only to be told that he had 'something better'. Anthony was introduced to John Devoy of Clan na Gael, who offered him a ship and the excitement of a daring rescue. It must have been a difficult moment for Anthony: he was only recently married with a baby daughter, his mother was ill and capture would have meant years in prison far from America. But Devoy and others are thought to have awoken in him a 'personal interest in the men [the Fenians] whose zeal for patriotism had placed them in an unfortunate position'.
Anthony took the job, and he and Richardson bought the whaling ship Catalpa for Clan na Gael. The ship was fitted out for a whaling voyage of 18 months and a mixed crew of Americans and so-called 'Malays' (South-East Asian seamen with names like Mopsy Roso and Zempa Malay) were hired. As the Catalpa set sail for Western Australia, flying from the masthead was the 'JTR' (John T Richardson) pennant of the ship's agent.
The same pennant was flying on 18 April 1876 as six Fenians clambered aboard the Catalpa off the Western Australian coast, south of Fremantle. Picked up from Rockingham Beach, they had spent all night in an open whaleboat commanded by Anthony, having successfully avoided capture by the ships the colonial authorities had sent out to look for them. The pennant was most likely also flying on 24 August as the Catalpa put into New Bedford, where it was welcomed by a 70-gun salute and a crowd of thousands who swarmed over the vessel and 'carried away everything which was not too large for souvenirs'. The pennant survives in the care of Captain Anthony's descendants to this day.
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.
Proclamation of the Irish Republic, 1916
Proclamation of the Irish Republic 1916. National Museum of Ireland.
Declarations of independence are dramatic events in any nation's history. On Easter Monday 1916, Commandant-General Pádraic Pearse of the Army of the Irish Republic, on behalf of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, stepped outside the General Post Office in the heart of Dublin and read a proclamation calling the republic into existence: 'Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom'.
This act marked the start of the famous Easter Rising. For just over a week, rebel forces held out in various locations throughout the city, but the end was inevitable. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was at war, and 16 of the rebel leaders were executed after they surrendered. Most Irish, and Irish communities throughout the world, condemned the rebellion. The executions, however, sparked sympathy for the rebels and criticism of Britain.
The rebellion and its fate would come to have a profound effect on politics back in Australia. In the second half of 1916, the nation became involved in an often bitter campaign to introduce compulsory conscription for overseas military service. Until then, recruitment had been voluntary, but the large losses of men in France convinced Prime Minister William Morris Hughes that conscription was essential. However, in two referendums, held in October 1916 and December 1917, the Australian people narrowly rejected conscription.
Opposing Hughes over conscription was the Irish Archbishop Daniel Mannix. After the Easter Rising Mannix increasingly took up the cause of an Irish republic, and in Australia he became one of the most prominent anti-conscription leaders. Hughes accused Mannix and others who opposed him of being virtual traitors to Australia and to the Empire in its hour of need. Mannix fought back by declaring that Catholics were loyal to Australia, but that did not mean they automatically accepted British rule in Ireland.
The level of division and bitterness in the Australian community was one rarely experienced before or since. St Patrick's Day processions in Melbourne, led by Mannix, took on the appearance of Irish national demonstrations with floats depicting the 'martyrs of 1916'. In March 1918 it became an offence to advocate the independence of Ireland and a number of Irish Australians were imprisoned.
The uproar died away after a treaty was signed between Irish and British leaders in December 1921; it gave Ireland independence within the British Empire, but withheld republican status. For his part, Mannix remained the Australian champion of complete Irish republican independence for the rest of his long life.