Irish Political Prisoners

William Smith O'Brien (AOT, PH30/1/1247)

Despite mythology, few Irish were transported for purely political offences. Some Irish belonging to secret societies, such as Whiteboyism or Ribbonism, were marginally political, and several United Irishmen and Defenders from the insurgency of the 1790s reached Tasmania. The leaders of the failed Young Ireland 1848 Rebellion obtained tickets-of-leave: William Smith O'Brien, John Martin, Kevin O'Doherty, John Mitchel, Thomas Meagher, Patrick O'Donohoe, Terence MacManus. The last four escaped to America, while their colleagues were pardoned and returned to Ireland. WP Dowling, a Young Irelander working with Chartists in London, remained in Tasmania as an artist and photographer. Seven humbler working men, transported after an attack on a police barracks at Cappoquin in 1849, worked their way through the convict system to relative freedom.

Further reading: R Davis & S Petrow (eds), Ireland & Tasmania 1848, Sydney & Hobart, 1998; R Davis, 'Unpublicised Young Ireland prisoners in Van Diemen's Land', THRAPP 38/3 & 4, 1991.

Richard Davis