By Dr. Jennifer Harrison
Dept of History, The University of Queensland, Australia
On 26 December 1821 at Ballybritton
on the Grand Canal in King's County, Ireland, John Daly and James Fyans
stole arms from the house of Mr J. Cooper. The two men were sentenced
to death under the Whiteboy or Insurrection Act at Philipstown Assizes
on Wednesday 20 March 18221. Seven and a half months later
on 8 November 1822, Daly was among 172 men, most of whom had been convicted
under the same Act, on board the convict ship Brampton which arrived at
Port Jackson on 22 April 18232. As many of the passengers had
received sentences of death, and all had originated in the Irish southern
and midland counties, what circumstances existed in the early 1820s to
determine this result?
In February 1822 on the proposal
of Lord Londonderry, the House of Commons assented to the 1815 Act of
Insurrection immediately being revived in Ireland and the suspension there
of habeas corpus for at least six months at a time when the number of
British troops stationed locally exceeded 16,0003. Drastic
steps? Moreover, with over 300 persons awaiting trial for crimes associated
with the 'Munster war', why was the government pre-arranging for the transportation
of a large proportion4. As it was anticipated that the number
of death sentences imposed would reach a level 'neither humanity nor policy
could sanction'5, the newly appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland,
the Marquess Wellesley was seeking Home Office cooperation to substitute
transportation for the gallows whenever possible6. In an extract
of justification to Rt. Hon. Robert Peel in May 1822, the new incumbent
of Dublin Castle wrote:
If the Insurrection Act derives
its forces from the principles of coercion and terror, it has suspended
a tyranny which carried both to the utmost extremity of barbarous and
relentless cruelty; which had become irresistible by the ordinary powers
of law and which unresisted, must have reduced Ireland to incapacity.
John Daly was one who benefited
from this indulgence with his death sentence reduced to transportation
for seven years, a dramatic amendment for a man condemned to the ultimate
penalty8. The prosecutor's house from where Daly and Fyans
stole arms was described as being on the 'line of the Canal9'.
After giving their testimony, Cooper and his daughter, had been pursued
and harassed by a mob. Furthermore, they were denied accommodation at
lodging houses because a woman ran ahead urging hosts to refuse them as
they had sworn away two lives before the crowd stoned them until the yeomanry
averted certain murder10. Why was there public sympathy for
At a special assize held in
Limerick mid-February 1822, thirty-six capital sentences were ordered,
or more than one in ten of those on trial. Several ringleaders were hanged
but during the next eighteen months, hundreds of these insurrectionists
were sent to Port Jackson. In this decade of the second centenary commemoration
of the 1798 Rebellion, perhaps it is appropriate to look at this mid-term
chapter of political activity which resulted in more Irish agitators being
sent to Australia at one time since the transportation of United Irish
supporters in the early years of the nineteenth century. All the better
identified Irish rebels including the 1815 Ballagh arsonists11,
the 1848 Young Irelanders12 and the 1867 Hougoumont Western
Australian exiles added together (around 80) equal only a small fraction
of the number who came between 1822-4.
The term, Whiteboy, was first
used to describe political agitators in October 176113. Disorganised
small groups of rebels sought to redress various grievances that usually
involved the amount of exaction and the manner of collecting tithes especially
in Cork, Limerick, Kerry, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Queen's counties14.
In these districts the farmers granted labourers allotments of bog, mountain
and other waste land for specific terms, usually free of rent, to grow
potatoes. At the end of each June overseers would view the crop, value
it and no part could be removed until an agreement had been reached to
pay one-tenth of the assessment value. The impost traditionally was levied
on corn but its extension to the subsistence crop met with resistance.
Bands of men, wearing the shirts uppermost to avoid identification, met
by night. On occasions, in some districts, when aggravated by community
issues, these divergent strands became loosely unified under local heroes
such as Captain Fearnought and Captain Rock who encouraged the use of
uniforms, secrecy oaths, intimidation and punishment rituals. The agitators
attacked properties creating so many public disturbances that the legislators
enacted regulations known as the Whiteboy Act in 1796, 1799, then in 1815,
the Insurrection Act to cope with Whiteboys, Oak Boys, Peep of Day Boys,
Thrashers, Defenders, Shanavats, Caravats, Lady Clares and later Terry
Alts and Rockites.15
Over the following years, as
economic circumstances rose and fell in accordance with weather conditions,
local employment levels, war time inflation and peace time depression,
changes in farming and pasturing methods, relocation of industry and religious
intoleration, organised protest groups and rebellious individuals reacted
with varying degrees of violence from time to time and place to place.
In addition, a study of the
gaol books for both the counties of Cork and Limerick which have survived
for these years, support the extent of insurrectionist disorder.16
As a contrast, the musters taken when convict ships arrived in Sydney
before 1826 do not give details of the crimes, merely mentioning the place
and date of trial, the sentence and the number of previous convictions.
However the musters taken on board the vessels at the time of sailing
do offer this information but only a limited number survive.17
Irish discontent, 1818-23
Discontent for Irish farm labourers
came from several causes between 1818 and 1823. Firstly, the ending of
the Napoleonic wars had a twofold effect on employment levels. Initially,
there was significant reduction in the number of soldiers required for
the ranks to which the Irish traditionally had contributed a constant
and steady input. A large proportion of these in the period following
the withdrawal of the army of occupation from France in November 1818
returned home looking for jobs. Employment opportunities did not exist
for the locals let alone the veterans. Additionally, the associated slackening
in demand for food, such as butter and meat which had been issuing out
of the eastern ports for the sustenance of troops, necessitated a realignment
of markets. Due to the introduction of rents on previously unfarmed areas
and then to dramatic increases in these levies during prosperous years,
former pasturage areas which had been converted to more labour-intensive
tillage were abandoned again to flocks. This occurred particularly in
many southern and midwestern districts leaving out-of-work cottiers deprived
of their patch of potato producing, life supporting ground as well as
their jobs. "In the tillage rotations of farmers, the potato had
become the universally accepted restorative crop rather than turnips or
mangels18." Furthermore, to compound these problems, during
the years of plenty, the population between 1791 and 1821 increased by
50%, from 4.4 million to 6.8 million people, with the greatest boom occurring
in the poorer districts least able to sustain a burgeoning population
in times of dearth. And famine did come in 1818 and 1821. The final ingredient
in this hotpot was that of rebellion which since the 1760s had been absorbing
spicy flavours such as republicanism, religious toleration and millenarianism.
In this paper, several of these components will be examined, taking as
examples some of the 172 men on the Brampton which arrived at Port Jackson
on 22 April 1823 and concentrating on King's County,19 an area
on the periphery of districts more usually associated with rural collective
Control in Ireland
Official organisations used
to counter agitation in King's County and surrounding districts included
the diminishing army, an unpopular factional yeomanry, an almost non-existent
militia, and an embryonic police force. One of the regiments transferred
into Ireland in 1818 was the 57th which served there for six years before
being posted to New South Wales. A comment in the regimental history noted:
"Their duties included suppressing Whiteboy outrages... It was the
kind of police work that soldiers dislike."21 In all,
thirty-six regiments were on posting to Ireland in 1821, most of them
being rotated through the counties each year.22 At this critical
time, the 93rd was based at Birr in King's County, while several others
were closeby with the 57th in Galway, the 3rd at Mullingar, the 40th at
Ennis, 44th at Naas, 63rd at Athlone and the 2nd Rifle Company located
When Henry Goulburn replaced
Charles Grant as chief secretary in Ireland in December 1821, constructive
changes took place. "Within the next year and a half, Ireland received
new police force, a reform of the magistracy was instituted, an attempt
was made to alleviate the burden of the tithe and the practice of holding
petty sessions of the magistracy was introduced".24 It
was these developments which coped with the large numbers of agitators.
During 1820, incidences in
King's County attributed to Whiteboys increased markedly with over 83
reports of trouble. The records described robbery of arms from houses,
the surrender of useless arms and the retention of effective ones by the
public, numbers of armed men crossing the Shannon River from Galway who
broke into houses, robbed arms and gave illegal oaths, several requests
for troops to be stationed in particular districts, attacks on boats in
the Grand Canal, private distillation and collections to pay for and to
bribe prosecutors. More than one-third of the complaints were made between
October and late December, normally recognised as 'outrage season'. By
the end of 1820, clearly the situation in King's County, on the periphery
of established arenas of action, was deteriorating. One regular correspondent
from Tullamore on 6 December 1820 reported:
I fear that the County is
every hour getting worse. It has been mentioned to me from an authority
that I do not doubt that the people called Carders have changed their
title and are now called Ribbonmen. I last night had a man with me ...
who knows a good deal of what is going forward... From what he hears
the town [Dublin] is Irish and the Count[ies] of Dublin, Kildare, King's
County and part of the Queen's County have been sworn to the Ribband
Man's oath, that he hears that they have meeting houses in Dublin...
in the neighbourhood of the Grand Canal. As I am a partner in a large
establishment on that Canal it would be destruction to me if this information
was divulged to any one as already have they done me injury & total
ruin would follow...25
The central situation of the
county within the country and its location on the Grand Canal assumed
strategic importance as direct access to Dublin was quick, easy and cheap.26
The reporter continued: "I do believe the boat men employed in the
lumber or trade boats are deeply concerned and I also believe they are
the link between the disaffected in the City and the Country."27
Not many records have survived
for these districts in 1821 but King's County was reported to be 'in a
dangerous state' while Limerick was worst of all. Once again the authorities
had let the situation develop until it was beyond their control. During
the year the crops failed and by the end, the familiar pattern of disease
accompanying the hunger was established. By late December 1821, the London
"The Dublin papers
of Saturday evening arrived yesterday. They give a melancholy picture
of the state of Ireland. Natural, seem now to conspire with political,
causes to desolate that ill-fated country. The late heavy rains have
produced the most ruinous consequences upon the potato crops; and typhus,
the usual result of any extraordinary scarcity in an impoverished country,
has made its appearance."28
The Annual Register confirmed
that any goodwill engendered by the recent visit of George IV completely
disappeared. "The gaudy and hollow bubble of conciliation soon burst
and a system of outrage, robbery, murder and assassination commenced scarcely
to be paralleled in the annals of any civilised country."29
A map of King's County has been marked with all places reporting disturbances
and outrages during 1821 and early 1822.30 Although not usually
identified with insurrection, nearly every district and almost every settlement
reported outbreaks of disorder in the two year period under discussion.
By 1822, little had changed
with a similar number of complaints despite the presence of the yeomanry.
In February, Major Powell in Shanavogue submitted a sample of a notice
objecting to tithes in the parish of Shinrone but by the middle of March
he commented on the tranquillity of the district attributing peace to
the recently enforced Insurrection Act. Also in March, the petition of
the local justice of the peace in Edenderry, Mr. J. Brownrigg, was successful
in obtaining a military station for the eastern part of the county. He
stressed that a permanent force was needed indicating the uselessness
of bringing military into the county only to take them out again. In late
June 1822 a report verified that hunger and disease were stretching available
resources while violence became more common as men became more desperate.
Major Powell had written on three aspects which drew attention to the
problems worrying county officials: firstly, that violent outrages were
increasing although a man indicted for a local murder had been apprehended,
next that a fever hospital to cope with typhoid had been established and
thirdly, that he strongly was of the opinion that local distress was attributable
to the lack of employment rather than a shortage of food.
On 8 November 1822, the Brampton
sailed from the Cove of Cork to New South Wales under Captain Samuel Moore
and surgeon superintendent, Doctor Morgan Price. The passengers on this
sailing were men who had been sentenced during the summer of 1821 and
the Lent, Spring and Summer assizes of 1822, having been tried in sixteen
of the thirty-two Irish counties mainly from the western and midland districts.
While not every single Brampton passenger was an agrarian agitator, the
majority were drawn from traditional Whiteboy territories with 35 from
Tipperary, 32 from Limerick, 25 from Kerry, 15 from Queen's County, 12
from both Waterford and Mayo and 10 each from Cork and Kilkenny.31
On the muster taken in Queenstown just prior to sailing,32
most of the Tipperary lads were listed as having been 'tried under the
Insurrection Act' whereas at least ten from Kerry including Edmund Elliott,
a 51 year old dancing master, had been sentenced for administering oaths.
All the Cork men were identified as Whiteboys with both John Sullivan
and Timothy Dawley both guilty of heiress abduction and administering
oaths with the former obtaining respite from execution.
Nine prisoners, aged between
17 and 27, had been sentenced in King's County even though Patrick Mulleady
was a native of Westmeath, young errand-boy John Prince had been born
in Kilkenny and Thomas McGomery (or Montgomery) hailed from Meath, providing
another indication of widespread mobility among the unskilled workforce.33
Their trades were varied with four ploughmen, a coachman, a stockman and
a baker. Five were convicted for robbery offences and two had stolen heifers
and cows. By the time the ship departed some of the harsh sentences had
been modified as five had originally received the death penalty; now seven
were transported for seven years while only two, Patrick Mulleady and
Patrick Brittle/Buttle, a murderer, were outcasts for life. All had faced
trial between the Summer Assizes of 1821 and 1822 so authorities allowed
little lingering in county gaols. The northern and midland county officials
customarily sent their prisoners to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin with many
proceeding directly to the Essex hulk until passages were secured on convict
transports when they were transhipped to Cove, in Cork harbour. Those
from the southern regions went directly to Cork, usually to the Surprize
hulk until assigned to their ships.
These convicts had varying
careers in New South Wales.34 Two of the ploughmen adapted
their skills with Patrick Mulleady/Mulladay becoming a watchman while
Patrick Houlahan/Holaghan, assigned to the Rev. T. Hassall, was employed
as a bullockdriver. Edward Claffey was assigned to F.E. Forbes of Sydney
whereas Thomas McGomery was a labourer at Camden and Matthew Murray, another
labourer, was assigned to James Walker of Bathurst. He married Catherine
Carthy in 1827 and following her death in 1829 in childbirth, wed Maria
Hackett in 1831. He was before the magistrate again in Campbelltown in
November 1833. John Prince, the young messenger from Kilkenny, was accidentally
shot and died in 1824 near Newcastle whereas John Daly, the baker, married
Hannah Lee, a nursemaid to the George Acres' family, who arrived in the
colony of New South Wales on the same vessel bringing Governor Thomas
Brisbane to Sydney. John Daly also appeared before the Sydney Quarter
Sessions in 1835 but avoided conviction. Thomas Claven did not marry until
1839 when he wed Mary Thomas; one reason for the delay probably being
his sentence at Bringelly on 21 October 1826 to the Moreton Bay penal
settlement for two years for robbery.35 Lifer Patrick Buttle
worked for H. Coulson in Sydney in 1837 having obtained a ticket of leave
in 1830.36 On the records held on these men in NSW no allusion
is made to their original crime until Insurrection is mentioned on one
Certificate of Freedom issued on 15 October 1840.37 The musters
on arrival, exemptions from government labour, tickets of leave, any trial
records, all neglect to mention that any of these men may have been connected
with rebellion in their homeland.
This is work in progress. The primary investigation demonstrates that
in 1821-2 throughout Ireland Whiteboy activity permeated extensively but
that wholesale rebellion was avoided and the problem defused by the transportation
of the rabble-rousers to the other side of the world. These people often
were guilty of crimes much more violent than petty stealing but New South
Wales authorities appear to have received little warning of the difference
in the degree of criminality and further that some attempts were made
to confound certain officials. As all incidences of sheep stealing, coining,
forgery, housebreaking, arson or highway robbery, cannot be attributed
to political rebels, it is difficult to enumerate those involved with
organised rural resistance. A.G.L. Shaw has asserted that about one-fifth
of male Irish convicts were political agitators and it is certain that
total numbers were quite significant and deserve investigation in their
Australian context as rebels continued to arrive throughout the tithe
battles well into the 1830s. Whether a study of all the insurrectionists
sent to New South Wales between 1822 and 1824 will show a high percentage
of recidivism, remains to be seen.
Agitation in King's County
between 1820 and 1823 does not appear very organised so incorrectly ascribing
ideas of unified or collective action to individual acts of aggression
achieves little especially when an uneasy and incompetent magistracy simply
invoked the all-encompassing Act. In some cases local grievances provoked
local destruction but several troublemakers were, without doubt, just
village bullies, burglars and poachers. Disruptions in this county were
based on unemployment rather than a lack of food, resentment of tithes
or other taxes, or evictions or changes in tenure although geographic
influences such as limited tillage land and the prevalence of bog were
On the other hand, the mere
nine King's County men on the Brampton were forerunners of a greater number
from this region on later convict ships confirming that complaints increased
and vigilance and apprehensions improved. Furthermore, while little cohesion
can be perceived in the outbreaks, the concept that the overall direction
for insurrection might have its origins in urban centres should be pursued.
Rebel leaders operating from townships such as Dublin, Cork and Limerick,
well may have furthered their aims by using sore points festering in adjacent
counties through improved communication networks. Perhaps too, the emphasis
by several historians that most political agitation was confined to southern
rural areas in easily recognisable 'disturbed' counties, now requires
reassessment. Evidence mounts that outrages took place with alarming frequency
throughout other counties and that 'ordinary' crimes such as housebreaking
and larceny well could be Whiteboy actions, further distorting lines of
positive association with either common thieves or political rebels.38
The combination of source material in both Ireland and Australia will
be required to offer solutions, or pose further questions, about 1820s
- Saunder's Newsletter,
23 Mar 1822, p.1.
- AONSW, 4/4008.
- Annual Register,
1822, p. 26.
- Galen Broeker,
Rural Disorder and Police Reform in Ireland, 1812-36. London, Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1970, p. 135.
- PRO, HO 100/203,
Wellesley to R. Peel, 21 Jan 1822.
- "The Marquess
Wellesley is said to be the first Irishman who has been placed at the
head of the Government of Ireland for a century and a half; the last
Irish Lord Lieutenant being the Duke of Ormond." Dublin Morning
Post, 21 Dec 1821. Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington's eldest brother,
when govenor general of India triumphed over Sultan Tippoo and was twice
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
- House of Commons
papers, XIV, p. 737.
- James Fyans who
had been caught and sentenced with Daly must have either been executed,
received a total reprieve, been imprest into the army or navy, or have
died as he did not travel to New South Wales. Despite a thorough search,
no more is known about him.
- Saunder's Newsletter,
23 Mar 1822, p. 1.
- National Archives
Dublin (hereon NAD), State of the Country papers, 2370/28, 20 &
26 Mar 1822.
- Max Barrett, Because
of these, Toowoomba, Church Archivists' Press, 1992.
- ed. Richard Davis,
'To solitude consigned': The Tasmanian Journal of William Smith O'Brien,
Sydney, Crossing Press, 1994. Also T.J. Kiernan, The Irish exiles in
Australia, Dublin, Clonmore & Reynolds, 1954, pp. 43-134.
- G.C. Lewis, Local
Disturbances in Ireland, Cork, Tower Books, 1836/1977. Maureen Wall,
The Whiteboys in Secret Societies in Ireland, ed. T.D. Williams, Dublin,
Gill and MacMillan, 1973, 13-25. J.S. Donnelly, The Whiteboy Movement,
1761-5, in Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 21, No. 81 (Mar 1978), pp.
- The State of the
Country papers at the National Archives Dublin have been consulted in
order to obtain an impression of the extent of Whiteboy activities.
Whilst not every report has survived, those that do, indicated that
in 1822 most disturbances were in Cork (especially the Baronies of Condon
and Clangibbon) with 406 complaints, Limerick 290, Tipperary 175, and
- A.G.L. Shaw, Convicts
& the Colonies, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1981, p.
176 noted how rarely extreme powers were invoked despite all this provocation.
- NAD. Prisons 1/8/1.
V16-1-30 Cork County Gaol, General Register, 1 Jan 1819-31 Dec 1824;
1/24/1 V16-10-28 Limerick General Register of Criminals, 1830-7.
- AONSW. X40, Irish
Indent for Brampton.
- James S. Donnelly,
Jr. The Land and the People of Nineteenth Century Cork: the rural economy
and the land question, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975/1987,
- Since 1922, known
as Co. Offaly.
- Annual Register,
1822, p. 13. After detailing areas of disturbance in Munster, it was
reported: "There were four other counties of Leinster, to which
the illegal associations had extended their influence; namely, Kildare,
West-Meath, King's County and Meath." The purpose here is to highlight
the extent of activity in a district other than those traditionally
linked with secret societies and outrages.
- ed. Wolmer Whyte,
The roll of the drum: Histories of the regiments of the British army.
The Die-Hards: the story of the Middlesex regiments, London, Hutchison,
[n.d. c. 1944].
- Seven of the twelve
regiments which received overseas postings in April 1821 embarked from
Ireland where they had been serving. The Times, 23 Apr 1821.
- The Times, 4 Jan
- Broeker, Rural
Disorder, p. 130.
- NAD, State of the
Country papers, 2179/81.
- The Grand Canal
had been constructed to Philipstown (Daingean) in 1797 and to Tullamore
in 1798 and in April 1804, the first trade boat arrived in Shannon Harbour
from Dublin. See Ruth Delany, Ireland's Inland Waterways, Belfast, Appletree
Press, 1988. pp. 85 & 87.
- The Times for 19
Jan 1821 reported murder and plundering on cargo boat on the Grand Canal
near Edenderry. "Several gentlemen residing near to the spot have
subscribed a very liberal reward to any persons who shall cause the
delinquents to be apprehended; and the directors of the Grand Canal
Company have in a manner highly commendable, offer 100 pounds to the
- The Times, 26 Dec
- Annual Register,
1821, p. 128.
- This information
has been extracted from the NAD, State of the Country files, King's
County, 1822, 2370 Nos.1, 11, 18, 21, 41, 48.
- Ruan O'Donnell's
paper at this conference also confirmed that the sailings appeared to
be divided into 'crime' ships and 'rebel' ships during the mid-1790s,
a division which can be seen in post-1821 transportation from Ireland.
- AONSW. X40, Irish
- AONSW. 4/4008.
Fiche 649, p.299-312.
- This information
has been gathered from among convict records at AONSW including shipping
indents; assignment registers; birth, death & marriage entries;
banns records; quarter session and supreme court records.
- State Library of
Queensland, Chronological Register [of convicts arriving at Moreton
Bay], Film 81, Prisoner No. 950. Thomas Claven returned to Sydney on
8 Dec 1828.
- AONSW. 4/4074.
Ticket of Leave, 1830/36.
- AONSW. 4/4361,
Certificate of Freedom, 1840/1694.
- Shaw, Convicts
and Colonies, pp. 180-2. George Rude, Protest and Punishment, Melbourne,
Oxford University Press, c. 1978, pp. 104-106; all quoted examples are
from the 'traditional' Whiteboy counties.