The Catalpa Escape
Among the Irish expatriates who emigrated to the United States was John Devoy, the man who recruited John Boyle O’Reilly into the Fenian movement in Dublin. Pardoned after serving five years of a15-yearsentence, the 29-year-old Devoy travelled to the United States in 1871and became a reporter with the New York Herald, where he continued to champion Fenian causes. In July 1874, a Clan na Gael convention in Baltimore named Devoy to oversee the rescue of the prisoners in Australia.
Fund-raising was still unfinished in February 1875, when he travelled to New Bedford in search of a ship and crew. Devoy carried an introduction from John Boyle O’Reilly, a former inmate at Fremantle who had escaped by stowing away on a whaling ship in 1869, and contacted former whaler Henry Hathaway. Hathaway then introduced Devoy to John Richardson, a whaling agent and Fenian sympathizer who nominated his son-in-law, George S. Anthony, to command the rescue vessel. Devoy explained the rescue plan. Under the guise of a whaling voyage, Anthony merely would have to sail to a given point off the coast of Western Australia on a certain date, take on several passengers, then make a beeline back to the United States. He would be well compensated.Anthony relished the chance to return to the sea, but it would mean leaving behind his wife of less than a year, his infant daughter and his invalid mother–not to mention the risk of capture and imprisonment by the British. To aggravate matters, the Irishmen had only given him 24 hours to make his decision. That night Anthony weighed the risks and decided to accept the command.
Within days of his decision, Anthony and his father-in-law began to scour the wharfs of Boston for a ship.
They finally purchased a three-masted barque, Catalpa, for$5,200–to be reimbursed with money raised by the Clan. Anthony recruited 22 seasoned deckhands from New Bedford and nearby ports. A 23rd man, Dennis Dugan, was added to the roster by the Clan na Gael to look after its investment. Otherwise, the crew was comprised mainly of Pacific island natives and Africans. Catalpa slipped her moorings at New Bedford at roughly 9 a.m. on April 29, 1875. Anthony then took a reading on the ship’s chronometer – a time-keeping instrument that was vital to navigating the craft – and got bearings that placed the90-foot whaler in the heart of New York state!Anthony unable to repair the Chronometer had to rely on his own skill as a navigator.
The end of October found Catalpa docked at Fayal Island in the Azores, where she off loaded 210 barrels of sperm oil for transport back to New Bedford. The profits helped to finance the mission. Then,without warning or explanation, most of Catalpa’s crew deserted at Fayal. Three more hands had to be discharged for medical reasons. Meanwhile, Irish agents who had been dispatched from the United States to “manage the land end of the rescue” had left Sydney where they had collected further funds from local Fenian supporters who were making their way off the southern coast of Australia toward Fremantle, West Australia.
They were led by John Breslin, a 40-year-old railroad agent and former hospital official who was posing as a wealthy American mining speculator named James Collins. He reached Fremantle in November. His companion was Thomas Desmond, a carriage maker who found work as a wheelwright in Perth, about 20 miles north of Fremantle. Breslin and Desmond were able to travel freely, gathering important intelligence and plotting their course of action.