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Sunday, 17 April 2016


17‭ ‬April‭ ‬1876:‭ ‬The whaling vessel‭ ‬Catalpa rescued six Irish prisoners from British Captivity on this day.‭ ‬The ship under Captain George S.‭ ‬Anthony carried out one of the most daring and long distance rescues in history when she was used to spirit away the six Fenian prisoners from Freemantle,‭ ‬Australia.‭ ‬Even though the British quickly realised the men had fled and gave chase the ship could not be boarded as she flew the American flag.‭ ‬The rescued men‭ (‬Thomas Darragh,‭ ‬Martin Hogan,‭ ‬Michael Harrington,‭ ‬Thomas Hassett,‭ ‬Robert Cranston and James Wilson‭) ‬were brought safely to New York City.‭ ‬The Fenians John Devoy and John J.‭ ‬Breslin planned the rescue operation from America and Breslin was dispatched to Australia to co-ordinate the rescue.

In July‭ ‬1874‭ ‬the Clan na Gael Organisation in the USA decided to rescue the six prisoners who were excluded from a conditional pardon for all civilian Fenian prisoners.‭ ‬These men had been members of the British Army and thus considered outright‭ ‘‬Traitors‭’ ‬by the British.‭ ‬John Devoy was assigned to co-ordinate this rescue.‭ ‬He saw that funds were raised and a Captain George S.‭ ‬Anthony was‭ ‘‬head hunted‭’ ‬to undertake the dangerous mission.‭ ‬When it was put to him he was willing to take the risk.‭ ‬It was then decided that the voyage must look like a whaling voyage,‭ ‬thus Captain Anthony went looking for a suitable ship.‭ ‬In the port of Boston he found one that suited his needs and purchased the‭ ‬Catalpa,‭ ‬a three-master whaler,‭ ‬for‭ ‬$5200.

The ship set out from New Bedford,‭ ‬Massachusetts,‭ ‬USA,‭ ‬in April‭ ‬1875.‭ ‬The Voyage was undertaken with the deliberate intention engaging in a daring a yearlong mission of international rescue.‭ ‬On‭ ‬28‭ ‬March‭ ‬1876‭ ‬the Catalpa arrived off Bunbury Harbour,‭ ‬Western Australia and a meeting was set up between Captain Anthony and John Breslin.‭ ‬At this meeting they agreed the rescue date should be on‭ ‬6‭ ‬April.‭ ‬However due to the presence of a British gunboat at the Harbour and the information that another gunboat was due to arrive they rescheduled the rescue for‭ ‬17‭ ‬April.

With the help of the prison chaplain,‭ ‬the six men escaped to the coast where Captain Anthony was waiting with a small whaleboat that would take them to the Catalpa.‭ ‬The resistance they overcame,‭ ‬both from armed British vessels and a furious sea storm,‭ ‬made their escape the stuff of legend.‭ ‬The British attempted to capture the Catalpa but Captain Anthony had the Flag of the United States raised and warned the prospective boarders that such a move would be viewed as an Act of War.‭ ‬They thought the better of it and the Catalpa made good her escape.‭

The Catalpa landed the‭ ‘‬Freemantle Six‭’ ‬in New York Harbour on‭ ‬19‭ ‬August‭ ‬1876.‭ ‬Though Captain Anthony would never again put to sea in open waters for fear of arrest by the British,‭ ‬his rescue voyage,‭ ‬made mostly without the use of a functioning chronometer,‭ ‬is one of the greatest feats of seamanship ever recorded in nautical annals.