Emigration - After the Rebellion of 1798

Those of them who had been caught up in the rebellion, continued to pay a heavy price. Most of them had now found their way back to their homes-or what was left of them. In some parts of the country, the cycle of violence continued sporadically There were disturbances in Galway, with widespread houghing ( rustling) of cattle, and a rising in Clare.  On the Wexford-Wicklow border there were shootings and chapel bumings.

Dr. Troy, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, wrote confidentially to the Castle, as the Parliament in Dublin was called, to complain that no "priest can appear in the N.E. parts of that distracted county nor in the neighbourhood of Arklow " The root of the trouble seems to have been some unemployed Protestant yeomen who had taken to robbery, styled as the "Black Mob". No one dared prosecute them. They put up threatening notices-demanding leases only for "true sons of Moll Doyle" - and for a time it looked as though a new round of persecution was beginning."

In the country as a whole the boom in rents and the slump in employment continued ;snow fell in April, and the summer was as wet as the summer before had been fine. In many areas the harvest failed and people were on the verge of famine. Predictably, the result was a wave of emigration to England and Scotland  soon rising to an average of 50,000 a year. Compared with the tidal wave during and after the Great Famine, this was only a ripple.

Still, the British industrial cities, where the Irish took refuge, had problems enough without them. Like all emigrants who lack capital and education, the Irish had to take the worst jobs and live in the worst ghettos. Many migrants to Glasgow fell victims to the typhus epidemics of 1818, 1835-37,and 1847. Their children went out to work as child labourers in the mills and the mines of the new Britain. The political prisoners sent abroad generally fared worse than the voluntary emigrants.

Pressed men

About five hundred revolutionaries were pressed into the navy, or sent overseas in the British army. To serve for any length of time in the West Indies was, for the rank and file, virtually a death sentence. In fact, owing to overcrowding on the tenders, some of these new recruits died even before the ship Hillsborough arrived to take them to barracks in England. A further group of 318 Irish convicts were sent to Emden in September I799 on board the Alexandria and two other ships, their fate to serve in the army of the King of Prussia. According to one account, they ended their days in the salt mines.

Transportation to Australia

Other political prisoners were transported, according to practice, to Botany Bay. In 1799 the Minerva and the Friendship sailed with two consignments of this sort, totalling about 230 prisoners. A Matthew Sutton was among them. In a letter to his father he described the scene before the Friendship sailed:  The prisoners were stripped, scrubbed, dressed in canvas shirts, and ironed (chained)  together, 120 in one long room; already a malignant fever was sweeping the ship and several men had succumbed. A further consignment from Ireland followed in the Atlas and Hercules, mainly consisting of political prisoners. Conditions on board were bad even by contemporary standards. The Governor of the penal colony protested to Whitehall: "these ships have lost 127 convicts out of 320 put on board, and the survivors are in a dreadfully emaciated and dying state. At the official enquiry it turned out that to carry more cargo for his own profit, the captain of the Atlas had grossly overloaded the ship, and it was so low in the water that the ventilators could not be opened. In addition, according to the ship's surgeon, the captain had loaded the convicts "with heavy irons on their legs and one round the neck with a large padlock as an appendage".

By 1802 Irishmen made up a quarter of the population of Botany Bay. Political prisoners included three Catholic priests: Father James Dixon, brother of the celebrated Captain Dixon of Wexford, Father James Harrold from Kildare and Father Peter O'Neill from Cork. But the majority of them, like the hard core of the movement in the field, seem to have been artisans:- weavers, carpenters, blacksmiths, masons and so on. The authorities were, however, in constant fear of a rising, and in 1804 some sort of conspiracy was discovered, which led to the hanging of eight men. The new prison governor sent out in 1805 was hardly the man to calm things down-he was Captain Bligh, late of the Bounty. (In fact Bligh was later deposed by the local military commander for ill-treating the prisoners, and himself imprisoned.). In due course, some of the prisoners were released and found their way back to Ireland, including Father O'Neill in 1802, and Joseph Holt, the Wicklow partisan, in 1814. Others were assimilated into Australian life, like James Meehan who became Deputy Surveyor-General of New South Wales. To-day there is a war memorial in Sydney to the men of '98.

In Ireland in January, 1799, the third group of political prisoners-the seventy-six United Irish leaders who had signed the "Treaty of Newgate" with the Government, were still in custody, and still complaining bitterly about their treatment. In fact the Government`s plan to ship them off to America had miscarried because President Adams regarded them as too dangerous to admit. Most of them were packed off to a Scottish fortress-Fort George in the Highlands-for the duration. At the Peace of Amiens in 1802 they were allowed to banish themselves to France. Next year renewed hostilities gave them renewed hopes of French help to liberate Ireland. Leader of this second revolutionary movement was Thomas Addis Emmet's twenty-four year old brother, Robert, who had been an undergraduate at Trinity in 1798, and escaped to France shortly after Lord Clare's purge of the college. The older United Irish leaders were unenthusiastic and so were the people; thus Robert Emmet`s rising ended in a scuffle in a Dublin street. Years later his speech before execution was to echo round the world - much as William Orr`s dying declaration had moved the Irish peoples in 1797.


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