Catalpa Productions

1876 Prison Break

1876 is considered one of the greatest prisons escapes in history. It is categorized by a story of bravery, honour, and freedom. The escape was a mix of internal and external effort, with an international rescue operation that took years to plan and execute. The execution of the long-planned rescue mission saw the freedom of six Irish political prisoners in 1876.

It all started with the resistance of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, against the British in Ireland. The brotherhood was referred to as the Fenian movement. After a long resistance, which included infiltration into the British military service, some of them were discovered, arrested, and sent down to the Fremantle Prison in Western Australia, about 62 Fenians were sent down.

One of the Fenian convict, John Boyle O’Reilly, with the aid of a local catholic priest escaped and moved down to Boston in America, but never forgetting his brothers back in Fremantle. Between 1869 and 1871, most Fenians were released through pardons, leaving about 6 Fenians at the facility. With O’Reilly and John Devoy as the mastermind, a Catalpa ship was purchased and disguised as a whaler for a fishing expedition. The Catalpa sailed from America to Western Australia for 11 months.

Two Fenians had arrived earlier in Fremantle under the guise of an American, they aided communications with the 6 Fenians still in custody. On Easter Monday in 1876, the plan was finally hatched as the 6 Fenians broke free from their work party and met up with the 2 disguised Fenians, who transported them to a waiting boat. The escapees got noticed on their way to the boat by a local worker and alerted the prison authorities who immediately gave a hot pursue. However, there was a terrible storm that night that prevented the longboat from reaching the Catalpa, in the morning the Fenians made for the Catalpa hotly pursued by the prison authorities, the Fenians got to the Catalpa first and climbed aboard.

The prison authorities didn’t desist from their pursuit as the Catalpa made for the open sea, the pursuer fired a warning shot near the bow of the Catalpa. The captain of the Catalpa, Anthony raised the American flag, with a threat that if the Catalpa is shot at it will signify shooting at America itself, to avoid diplomatic issues, the Catalpa was allowed to sail away with the Fenians in it.

The Catalpa sailed back to the south of Boston and was greatly welcomed with a heroic welcome. The incident widely gained the attention of the international media and body and was recognized as a selfless act filled with bravery and courage. In years to follow the act of O’Reilly and his colleagues became a triumph and an inspiration to a lot of Irishmen, especially those in Western Australia.