Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Castle Hill Rising: Uncovering insurrection

Anti-authoritarianism was characteristic of republican subversives and part of a pattern of behaviour established in Ireland.   To see their sustained defiance of the colonial government simply as a reaction to the prospects of overdue emancipation greatly under-estimates their shared ideology and paramilitary experience and provided a firm grounding in undercover activities.  Many urban criminals would also have possessed skills of this type but it was primarily the Irish convicts with political associations who were credited with unsettling the colony.  Hunter was right to worry; in 1800 just six months after the arrival of the Minerva a new rebellion was being planned on the Government Farm at Toongabbie.[1]
The Irish leaders, aware of the role arms played in the rebellions in Ireland, also planned for pikes to be manufactured and hidden to ensure the rebels were well armed. The rebellion involved taking Parramatta and dealing with the hated Samuel Marsden who had earned a reputation as the ‘flogging parson’.[2] The plan was that after Marsden had been killed, the rebels would pike the soldiers in their beds, take their muskets and march on Sydney. The plan was betrayed by informants who gave Marsden word of the insurrection. When the leaders of the rebellion learned this they quickly cancelled the uprising. Governor Hunter led an inquiry into the insurrection in which Marsden in his typical manner over-zealously pursued the issue of the hidden pikes. Marsden threatened the Irish Catholic preacher James Harold on the issue of the location of the pikes.[3] Harold prevaricated but under pressure from Marsden he finally revealed the name of a supposed pike maker, Bryan Furey. Furey denied making the pikes but later told Marsden that Harold had contacted him to make some fake ones to get Marsden off Harold’s back. Marsden eventually sent Harold to Norfolk Island and Furey to gaol despite any evidence linking them to the pikes.
File:Parramatta 1812.jpg
Engraving of Parramatta, c1812

The failed insurrection of August and the removal of the suspected Irish leaders to remote parts of the colony did not dampen the convicts’ enthusiasm for organised rebellion. In September of 1800 another insurrection was planned.[4] This one was to use the pikes that had not already been found. The rebels were to assemble at Parramatta on a Sunday morning when the local authorities and hierarchies would be in Church service. There the rebels would overpower the soldiers and then march on Sydney. The leaders used an escaped convict, John Lewis to send messages from farm to farm. Unfortunately Lewis was captured, gaoled and eventually talked of the rebellion. From the information Lewis gave, Captain John MacArthur of the NSW Corps received a shakily written letter that relayed that a ‘Croppie’ uprising was about to occur. MacArthur’s advice to the Governor was to wait for the convicts to rebel and once they were out in the open deal with them. The rebel leaders learned that their plan had been discovered and halted their operations. Marsden once again zealously set about trying to discover the hidden pikes. Several more informants came forward and one named the still gaoled Bryan Furey as a pike maker. From the increasing information the NSW Corps was able to round up the ringleaders; William Silk, Micheal Quintan, Maurice Wood, John Burke and Thomas Brannon. They were flogged and isolated from the general convict population on the hulk Supply in Sydney Harbour. The remainder of the rebels were given either five hundred or two hundred lashes.

The authorities seem to have feared that Holt, an experienced rebel leader, would be a centre of disaffection, but nothing was farther from his plans. As a lower middle-class Irish Protestant with firm notions of respectability Holt wanted to better his position by thrift and hard work and remained divorced from what he saw as impractical insurrection. Despite this, he was implicated as a leader in the rebellion but without substantial proof of his involvement he was spared the lash as was Harold. [5] As a form of punishment for their suspected complicity with the rebels both Holt and Harold, who were still being detained from the previous insurrection, were made to watch the floggings of two convicted offenders, Maurice Fitzgerald and Paddy Galvin on the orders of Judge-Advocate Richard Atkins and Marsden. Holt left a vivid account.

The place they flogged them their arms pulled around a large tree and their breasts squeezed against the trunk so the men had no power to cringe ... There was two floggers, Richard Rice and John Johnson the Hangman from Sydney. Rice was left-handed man and Johnson was right-handed, so they stood at each side, and I never saw two threchers in a barn move their strokes more handier than those two man-killers did....
I [Holt] was to the leeward of the floggers...I was two perches from them. The flesh and skin blew in my face as it shook off the cats. Fitzgerald received his 300 lashes. Doctor Mason - I will never forget him - he used to go feel his pulse, and he smiled, and said: ‘This man will tire you before he will fail - Go on.’...During this time [Fitzgerald] was getting his punishment he never gave so much as a word - only one, and that was saying, ‘Don’t strike me on the neck, flog me fair.’
When he was let loose, two of the constables went and took hold of him by the arms to keep him in the cart. I was standing by. [H]e said to them, ‘Let me go.’ He struck both of them with his elbows in the pit of the stomach and knocked them both down, and then stepped in the cart. I heard Dr. Mason say that man had enough strength to bear 200 more.
Next was tied up Paddy Galvin, a young boy about 20 years of age. He was ordered to get 300 lashes. He got one hundred on the back, and you could see his backbone between his shoulder blades. Then the Doctor ordered him to get another hundred on his bottom. He got it, and then his haunches were in such a jelly that the Doctor ordered him to be flogged on the calves of his legs. He got one hundred there and as much as a whimper he never gave. They asked him if he would tell where the pikes were hid. He said he did not know, and would not tell. ‘You may as well hang me now,’ he said, ‘for you never will get any music from me so.’ They put him in the cart and sent him to the Hospital.[6]

No aspects of Marsden’s activities did more harm to his pastoral work or to his historical character in Australia than his reputation for extreme severity as a magistrate. This particular action was scarcely defensible, but Marsden was not the only magistrate who ordered the infliction of illegal punishments.

In 1801, the transport ship Anne arrived at Sydney with 69 United Irishmen out of the 178 convicts on-board. Governor King was disturbed as the rebel leaders from the previous rebellions had been uncovered and sent to remote parts of the colony.[7] The arrival of the Anne promised another group of United Irishmen leaders who could cause problems in the convict population, a view reinforced by the convict mutiny on the ship en route. The Anne brought news of Irish Union and King hoped that this would persuade the Irish convicts to accept their fate in Australia. This proved a forlorn hope. The Irish political prisoners had been fighting against English rule for several years and wanted to go home. The main opponent in their way to getting home was the British authorities in Sydney and Parramatta. During the next year four more rebellion plots were uncovered. All were foiled by informants in the convict population. Two of the plots involved escaping by ship, either by seizing a ship or seeking passage on a French ship. The Governor was so concerned that convicts would escape by sea such that even in 1804 with word of a possible convict uprising. Several American ships were sent out of Sydney Harbour on King’s orders because he suspected that they would be sympathetic to the rebelling Irish convicts. [8]

In 1803 there were still outstanding issues for the Irish convicts. The idents stating the term the prisoners were to remain exiled in NSW still had not arrived from England.[9] Until the idents arrived all Irish prisoners were stuck in the penal colony. There continued to be escape attempts by convicts both English and Irish. Inevitably the escapees would raid nearby farms for liquor and firearms. In February 1803, fifteen convicts escaped from a farm at Castle Hill and raided the farm of Verincourt de Flambe for liquor, silverware and firearms.[10] Two of the convicts, Patrick Gannan and Francis Simpson went on to the farmhouse of James Bean and raped his seventeen year old daughter but were captured two days later asleep in the bush and hanged.[11]

[1] Hunter to Officers, 4 September 1800, HRNSW, Vol. 4, pp. 119-130 details the enquiry into the insurrection.
[2] Yarwood, A.T., ‘Marsden, Samuel (1765-1838)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 207-212.
[3] Perkins, Harold, ‘Harold, James (1744-1830)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 512-513.
[4] King to Portland, 12 October 1800, HRNSW, Vol. 4, pp. 234-238. See also the detailed papers relating to the Irish conspiracy in 1800 in HRA, Series I, Vol. 2, pp. 575-583, 637- 651.
[5] Despite his vigorous protests Holt was arrested twice more for suspected complicity in plans for an Irish rising. On Christmas Eve 1803 he was haled before Atkins on a false accusation of plotting his murder, but was again cleared. Three months later, however, he was detained after the Castle Hill rising and transported to Norfolk Island, where he remained until November 1805. Nevertheless he seems to have held aloof from conspiracies, having a lively fear of informers and contempt for the amateurish tactics of the disaffected Irish Catholics. Returning to his farm, Holt met no further trouble except the confiscation of an illicit still in 1806. Through Major Edward Abbott he secured a free pardon from Lieutenant-Governor William Paterson in 1809, confirmed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1811. Next year Holt sold his properties for over £1,800 and returned to Ireland often lamenting that he had left NSW.
[6] Ibid, Croker, T.C., (ed.), Memoirs of Joseph Holt: general of the Irish rebels, in 1798, Vol. 2, pp. 119-122.
[7] King to Portland, 10 March 1801, HRNSW, Vol. 4, pp. 325-326.
[8] This was followed up in the Government and General Order, 31 March 1805, HRNSW, Vol. 5, pp. 588-589 that laid down penalties for helping convicts to abscond.
[9] King had commented on this problem earlier to Portland, 21 August 1801, HRNSW, Vol. 4, pp. 463-464.
[10] Details of this can be found in George Caley’s account of the colony of NSW from 1800 to 1803, HRNSW, Vol. 5, p. 300 and in King to Hobart, 9 May 1803, HRA, Series I, Vol. 4, pp. 84-85.
[11] Additional soldiers were sent to Castle Hill as a result; see Government and General Order, 16 February 1803, HRNSW, Vol. 5, p. 22. See also Sydney Gazette, 5, 19 March 1803. The executions occurred on 23 March, HRNSW, Vol. 5, p. 74.

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