John Boyle O'Reilly Memorial
Public Art : John Boyle O'Reilly Memorial
Date: Memorial was erected in 1988 and unveiled by
Location: The memorial can be found on Buffalo
road at the northern entry to the Leschenault Peninsular Park, Australind, Western Australia.
Description : The simple granite plinth
with a bronze plaque surrounded by paper bark trees was erected in memory of one of the State's most famous and
infamous convicts, John Boyle O'Reilly.
Brief Background History : John Boyle O'Reilly (28
June 1844–10 August 1890) was an Irish born poet, novelist and humanitarian. His time in Western Australia was not
spent in the ideal of circumstances. He was sent to the penal colony for twenty years for his involvement in the
Fenian Rising. Despite the harsh outcome, O'Reilly must have had the luck of the Irish on his side because he was
originally sentenced to death.
O'Reilly was born in Drogheada in Ireland during the Great Irish Famine, a time of great
turbulence, suffering and conflict. The United Kingdom had claimed Ireland as their own and many Irish people
resented this. John Boyle O'Reilly happened to be one of them.
In 1865, at the age of 21, O'Reilly joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood a group also known as
the Fenians. It was a secret society of fierce patriots whose sole aim was to organize an armed uprising
against British rule. O'Reilly's role within the Brotherhood was to recruit more Fenians, which he was very
successful at doing. Unfortunately the sudden surge of popularity for the group eventually exposed them and it
wasn't long before the British authorities organized several raids. O'Reilly was among those arrested and for
his involvement in what was to become known as the "Fenian Conspiracy" was sent to Western Australia as punishment.
O'Reilly had passage on the last of the convict ships ever sent to Western Australia, the Hougoumont.
The ship departed from Portsmouth on 12 October 1867 with 280 convicts and 108 passengers on board,
62 of which were Fenian "political" prisoners from the uprising. To say the Western Australian colony were freaked
out by their arrival was an understatement especially as it contravened the agreement between the United Kingdom
and WA. Many of these men were highly educated and some even produced a shipboard newspaper called The Wild Goose
to alleviate their boredom on the ship during their long journey. Not the kind of hardened criminals they
On January the 9th 1868 the Hougoumont finally made it into Fremantle port and the convicts
were taken straight to the Convict Establishment (now ex-Fremantle Prison). O'Reilly soon found himself placed
with a group of convicts who were assigned to building the Bunbury -Vasse road. O'Reilly was a sociable fellow
and it didn't take long before he had built up a solid friendship with his warder Henry Woodman and later his
daughter! From all accounts his romance with the daughter Jessie, didn't end well and the year ended with a suicide
attempt. O'Reilly, who had cut his vein on the left arm, was discovered by another convicted just in the nick of
Now this is where the story gets interesting. During the same time O'Reilly also became friendly
with a local Catholic priest by the name of Father Patrick McCabe. McCabe, aware of O'Reilly's suffering, offered
to help him escape the colony. The plan was set for 18th February 1869. O'Reilly would absconder from his work
party and meet up with a group of Irish settlers from Dardanup who would then take him via row boat to the
Leschenault Inlet near Australind. There O'Reilly would wait in the sand dunes for the American Whaling ship
Vigilant (which McCabe has pre-arranged) to pick him up. Everything went according to plan until
O'Reilly and his comrades rowed out to sea to greet the Vigilant. The captain had second thoughts about
the caper and sailed off without them.
A few weeks later his friends managed to persuade another captain from the American whaler the
Gazelle to help in his escape. Along with O'Reilly another convict James Bowman, boarded the Gazelle. He
had heard of O'Reilly's plan for freedom and had blackmailed the conspirators to escape with him. The original
arrangement was for the captain to take O'Reilly to Java but bad weather prevented this and they ended up in
Mauritius, a British colony at the time. Unfortunately, word had reached Mauritius that the Gazette
was carrying an escaped convict from WA. The crew conveniently handed over Bowman, leaving O'Reilly on board. The
next obstacle was Saint Helena, which was yet another British colony. The crew organized to transfer O'Reilly to
another ship, the Sapphire, prior to arrival. The Sapphire arrived in Liverpool on the 13th October 1869 and
O'Reilly exited the ship and boarded yet another one. This time it was the Bombay and
its destination was Philadelphia. On his arrival he was greeted with great cheers from his compatriots.
It didn't take long for O'Reilly to settle back into writing and he was soon working
for the newspaper the Pilot in Boston . He wrote many articles focusing on the Fenian struggle and it
soon became one of the must read paper of the day. O'Reilly would eventually become editor and then part owner of
the newspaper. It was during this time that O'Reilly changed his views on military Fenianism and became a strong
advocate for achieving Irish independence by raising the status and self-esteem of the Irish people. His views
would be later expressed through his poetry.
So now if you thought O'Reilly's connection with Western Australia was long gone, you would be
mistaken. In 1875 O'Reilly's advice and scheming were instrumental in the rescuing of 6 Fenians still
serving time in Western Australia. He suggested that a whaling ship be purchased under the rouse of being
in Fremantle for legitimate business to aid in the daring rescue. Despite bad weather and a confrontation with
the steamship the SS
Georgette, the Catalpa and six very relieved Fenians , Thomas Darragh,
Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Robert Cranston and James Wilson arrived in New York harbor on
August 19th, 1876.
In Proud Memory of
FENIAN JOHN BOYLE O'REILLY
Humanitarian, author, poet and lecturer.
Born Ireland 28th June 1844.
Died U.S.A 10th August 1890.
Absconded from a convict
road party, Cokelup Swamp
18th February 1869
and escaped from this area
on the whaling ship Gazelle
3rd March 1869.
Also dedicated to all convicts
who built , sweated and toiled
in this district.
Then here's to brave John Boyle O'Reilly
who first blazed a trail over the sea
By escaping from Bunbury to Boston
An vowing his comrades to be free
Erected by the South West Irish club and local community
Unveiled by Ambassador Designate to Ireland
Mr Brian Burke, 13th March, 1988.