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Remembering the Fenians: Thomas Darragh & Robert Cranston, 10/28/17

Please see below about an upcoming fundraiser this Saturday, October 28, 2017 from 2 pm to 5 pm at the Galway Bay Pub in Pawtucket, R.I. They hope to raise enough to erect gravestones in Philadelphia for two Fenians, Thomnas Darragh and Robert Cranston who escaped from Fremantle Prison in Western Australia on the Catalpa, which is commemorated on the stone and plaque dedicated by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in New Bedford.

Remembering the Fenians:
Thomas Darragh
Robert Cranston


The Galway Bay Pub
156 South Bend St., Pawtucket, RI
Saturday, October 28, 2017
2-5 pm

Music provided by: Phil Edmonds
Brian Twohey &Tommy Brennan
Suggested Donation:  $10.00 

All  proceeds to the Fenian Memorial Committee for the purchase and erection of grave markers for Thomas Darragh and Robert Cranston.

         Information : George McLaughlin,  401-688-2463/

        Donations: Checks should be made out to George McLaughlin,

        memo: Fenian Memorial Committee / Send to: 127 Sinclair Avenue, Cranston, RI 02907

What a death is staring us in the face,” wrote James Wilson in 1873, “the death of a felon in a British dungeon, and a grave amongst Britain’s ruffians. I am not ashamed to speak the truth, that it is a disgrace to have us in prison today.

“A little money judiciously expended would release every man that is now in West Australia. Think that we have been nearly nine years in this living tomb since our first arrest, and that it is impossible for mind or body to withstand the continual strain that is upon us. One or the other must give way.” Fenian James Wilson, was imprisoned with other Irish political prisoners half a world away, in the dreaded Fremantle penal colony in Western Australia.


To underline this message Wilson added, “Remember this is a voice from the tomb. For is this not a living tomb? In the tomb it is only a man’s body that is good for worms, but in this living tomb the canker worm of care enters the very soul.”

Wilson’s powerful words moved Irish-Americans and they resolved to help him. In Ireland in the early 1860s Wilson had joined the 5th Dragoon (British Army) Guards. But in secret he also became a Fenian, taking an oath to be obedient to his leaders and to do his utmost to secure a democratic independent Irish Republic.

To that end he deserted with fellow Fenian Martin Hogan in November 1865 after they had secretly enrolled many other Irish soldiers in the organization. But then, as so often in Irish history, local informers gave away the details of renewed Fenian activities to the British forces and Wilson was quickly arrested.

Wilson and many comrades were court-martialed in Dublin on February 10, 1866, where they found guilty of mutinous conduct and received a sentence of death, which was later commuted to life imprisonment in Fremantle prison. It was, in a real sense, a kind of death in life.

Help finally arrived in the shape of the Catalpa, an American whaling ship hired by another Fenian, John Devoy, from secret donations made by Irish independence organizations across the United States. Amazingly, informers did not foil the daring rescue plan and the ship reached Australia without mishap.   The rescuers rowed to shore to collect the six waiting Irish convicts who had left their posts while working outside the secured area. Their Irish rescuers were waiting with wagons and weapons. But like all good rescue dramas, complications clouded their flight. When the freed prisoners began to row back to the Catalpa a sudden unexpected storm meant they could not reach the ship for another day, by which time the alarm had been raised and British police ships launched.

The British commandeered a gunboat, the Georgette, which they pulled alongside the Catalpa, requesting that the prisoners be handed over. Captain Anthony, the ship’s celebrated American captain, defiantly refused this request and raised the American flag, warning his pursuers that the Catalpa was in international waters and could not be boarded.   If they fired on the Catalpa they would be firing on the United States. This parry enraged the Georgette’s British captain, who reluctantly conceded. Eventually the Georgette was forced to give up the chase, although all on board were convinced they had seen the missing men. Shortly after, as John Devoy predicted, the Catalpa rescue bolstered Irish morale across the globe and spurred the fight for Irish independence, which was finally won in 1922.

None of the Catalpa Six ever returned to Ireland.  All remained until their deaths, in America, including the two old comrades, James McNally Wilson who lived out his life in Central Falls and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where he is buried, and Martin Hogan, who spent the remainder of his life in Chicago, Illinois.  Through the efforts of Irish-Americans in Rhode Island and Chicago, a memorial stone and a grave marker have been erected for those two men. Two others are buried in Calvary Cemetery in New York—Thomas Hassett and Michael Harrington. However, our work is not done: Thomas Darragh and Robert Cranston, both buried in Philadelphia, are still without tombstones. In James McNally Wilson’s name, we hope to raise sufficient funds, so we can honor these brave men with their long overdue grave markers.