Character Profiles

The following character profiles are for the Hougoumont Fenians and their Supporters.

If interested in the historical timeline of events, view our Timeline.

Anthony, George Smith (Captain) (1843-1913) 


Descended from one of America’s early pioneering families, George was born on 23 August 1843. His father-in-law Captain John T. Richardson was a retired whaling captain and shipping agent and a friend of Captain Henry C. Hathaway. As a Quaker with no Irish connections, George believed that men should not be imprisoned for their political beliefs. He accepted the task of captaining the Catalpa and liberating the Fenians from Fremantle, Western Australia because he felt that it was the right thing to do, not because of any personal gain involved. 

After the Catalpa rescue of six Fenians in 1876, George never returned to sea for fear of arrest by British authorities. He remained in New Bedford with his wife Emma and two daughters. He worked for a time as a manager in several mills before eventually being appointed to the position of Customs Inspector for the Port of New Bedford. George received $1,500 for his part in the Catalpa rescue. He died of pneumonia on 22 May 1913 and is buried in the Rural Cemetery, New Bedford.

Breslin, John James (alias James Collins) (1836-1888) 


A native of Drogheda, County Louth, John was born in 1836. In November 1865 he was a hospital steward at Richmond Prison and took the leading role in the rescue of Fenian leader James Stevens, even though he was not a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. John was not suspected of complicity at the time but in view of rumours, he departed for America where he joined Clan na Gael (the Irish republican organisation in America). 

John, under the alias of James Collins, and his associate Tom Desmond, were sent ahead of the Catalpa to Fremantle to act as spies and to assist in the escape of the six Fenians from the prison. He assisted Captain Anthony in choosing the escape site at Rockingham, passed messages to the imprisoned Fenians and masterminded their escape. 

While staying at the Emerald Isle Hotel in Fremantle, Breslin had an affair with the chambermaid Mary Tondut. 

After his return to America on the Catalpa, Breslin was placed in charge of constructional experiments on the Holland submarine until 1881 when he became the business manager of John Devoys Irish Nation newspaper. John died in New York on 18 November 1888 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York. 

Brophy, Hugh Francis (1829-1919) 

Fremantle Prison number 9674

Born 1829 in Portlaoise, County Laois. Hugh was aged thirty-eight and was married with three children when he was arrested on 29 January 1866 along with James Stephens. He was sentenced to 10 years for treason-felony. At the time he was a successful building contractor and Fenian organiser with a large and active Fenian circle recruited from employees of the Dublin building trade.

Hugh was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and was sent to Australia on board the Hougoumont. He received a free pardon in May 1869. He worked as a builder in Western Australia from 1869 to 1872, and later in Melbourne. Hugh was a great organiser and enterprising man who saw an opportunity to offer his skills to the Catholic Dioceses.

He remained active in Irish affairs and supported the Home Rule movement. 

He died in Melbourne in 1919 and is buried in Melbourne General Cemetery.

Casey, John Sarsfield (1846-1896)

Fremantle Prison number 9684

Born March 1846 in Mitchelstown, County Cork. While still in his teens, John wrote many letters which were published in the Irish People newspaper. He moved to Cork City and was employed at JJ Geary’s Public House. He was twenty-one and single at the time of his arrest and was sentenced to five years for treason-felony. He kept a journal while on board the Hougoumont. He was granted a ticket-of-leave on 13 November 1868, after which he was engaged by Father Matthew Gibney as a schoolmaster in York, Western Australia. 

John was granted a free pardon on 15 May 1869 and sailed to Ireland with nine other released Fenians on board the Suffolk which departed on 26 October 1869. He wrote a great deal under the nom de plume of The Galtee Boy and gave a good description of penal conditions in Australia. He continued to advocate for the rights of tenant farmers in the Galtee Mountains, even risking arrest. He remained in contact with prominent Fenians until his death on 23 April 1896. He is buried in Mitchelstown cemetery where a seven foot high Celtic Cross marks his grave.

Cashman, Denis Bambrick (1842-1897

Fremantle Prison number 9685

Denis was born in Dungarvan, County Waterford. At age sixteen in 1858 he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and later became a prominent Fenian. He transferred to Dublin where he wrote for the Fenian newspaper. Denis was arrested on 12 January 1865 and was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for treason-felony. He left a wife Catherine (Kate) and three children in Ireland. He was held at Millbank Prison, London before being sent on the Hougoumont where he kept one of three surviving diaries of the voyage. Denis and Joseph Noonan were the principal organisers of the concerts on board the Hougoumont and Denis designed and drew the header for The Wild Goose newspaper. 

He was granted a free pardon on 15 May 1869 and left Fremantle for Sydney. There he boarded the Baringa for the United States of America, where he was reunited with his wife and one child. Sadly, while Denis was imprisoned in Australia, two of his children died. 

Denis became the business manager of the Boston Pilot newspaper under John Boyle O’Reilly before going into administrative positions. He authored The Life of Michael Davitt with a History of the Rise and Development of the Irish National Land League (Boston 1880) and played a significant role in planning the Catalpa escape. He died in Boston on 8 January 1897.

Duggan, Thomas (1822-1913)

Fremantle Prison number 9720

Born in mid-Cork to an Irish speaking farming family, Thomas was an active Irish Republican Brotherhood recruiter, credited with several thousand recruits. He was well educated and became a national schoolteacher in Ballincollig and was alleged to have used the local Catholic Young Mens Society as a source of Fenian recruits. 

Thomas was dismissed by the clerical school manager in 1862 and emigrated to America where he served in the Confederate forces, with the objective of gaining military experience in preparation for the struggle in Ireland. He returned to Cork in 1864 or 1865. He was arrested in October 1865 and given 10 years penal servitude and transportation to Western Australia. On board the Hougoumont, he contributed to The Wild Goose newspaper under the pen names ‘Mushra’ and ‘Cloghduv’.

Thomas was granted a free pardon on 15 May 1869 and remained in Western Australia where he taught in private and government schools including for many years at Goomalling, east of Perth. He died on 24 December 1913 and is buried at East Perth Cemeteries. 

Flood, John Valentine (1835-1909)

Fremantle Prison number 9735

John, who came from a Wexford family of ship owners, was born on 25 May 1835 in Dublin.
He attended the elite college of Clongowes Wood and later became a law clerk, studying under eminent Irish lawyer, Isaac Butt. John worked closely with Fenian leader James Stephens and because he was a good navigator, he assisted with his escape from Ireland. 

John was also active in Great Britain with John McCafferty, organising the attempted Fenian raid for the Chester Castle arsenal. He was arrested on his return to Dublin on 23 February 1867 after the collapse of the raid. He was sentenced to 15 years for treason-felony. 

On the voyage to Australia on board the Hougoumont, John became the editor and principal contributor of The Wild Goose newspaper. 

On arrival at Fremantle, he was appointed as a writer in the office of the Superintendent of Fremantle Prison. He was granted a conditional pardon on 13 March 1871 and sailed from Albany to New Zealand but was deported back to Australia and moved to Queensland in 1872. 

He married Susan O’Beirne in 1877 and had two sons and four daughters. He was the editor of the Gympie Miner newspaper and remained active in both Irish and Australian constitutional affairs. John became a Justice of the Peace in 1881 and Captain of ‘D’ Company of the Queensland Irish Volunteers. He founded the first Land League branch in Australia. 

John died on 22 August 1909 in Gympie, Queensland. He left all seven editions of The Wild Goose newspaper to his daughter. They were donated to the Mitchell Library, the State Library of New South Wales, in 1968.

Golden (O’Neil Goulding), John (1844-1883)

Fremantle Prison number 9750

John was born circa 1844 at Kells, near Caherciveen, County Kerry. He joined the local Fenians and by 1867, aged 21, he was leading the group. He participated in the attack on Kells coast guard station, as part of the premature Caherciveen Rising of 12 February 1867. John was arrested on 19 July 1867 in Cork Harbour on his way to America. He was sentenced at Tralee on 18 August 1867 and received five years imprisonment and transportation to Western Australia for treason-felony. 

In Fremantle, John was granted a free pardon on 15 May 1869. He first settled in Western Australia, before later traveling with other Fenians to New Zealand. There the Fenians were denied entry and were deported back to Australia. John married and settled in Gerringong, New South Wales. He and his wife Ellen had seven children before John died on 2 September 1883. He is buried at the cemetery in Gerringong.

Nunan (Noonan), Joseph Denis (1842-1885)

Fremantle Prison number 9837

Joseph was born in February 1842 at Rathcormac, County Cork. A builder, he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1864 and participated in the premature Caherciveen Rising on 12 February 1867. Joseph was aged twenty-four and single when he was arrested in London in April 1867. He then escaped from a train but was recaptured. His article A Leap for Liberty in The Wild Goose newspaper describes this episode. 

Joseph was sentenced at Tralee, County Kerry on 24 July 1867 and received seven years for treason-felony. During transportation, and together with Denis Cashman, he was the principal organiser of concerts on board the Hougoumont and he contributed to The Wild Goose newspaper. 

After receiving a free pardon on 15 May 1869, Joseph settled in Perth where he developed his architectural skills and established a building firm in partnership with Hugh Brophy. The men won building contracts from the Catholic Church, the government and private clients and they employed ticket-of-leave men as stone cutters, carpenters and labourers. They built St. Patrick’s Church, Hall and Presbytery in York for Father Patrick Gibney. Joseph’s work also includes the brick and iron Wesley Chapel at Guildford. 

Joseph married Anne Marie Farrelly on 21 June 1871. He died aged forty-three, on 18 May 1885 and is buried in East Perth Cemeteries.

O’Reilly, John Boyle (1844-1890)

Fremantle Prison number 9843

John was born on 18 June 1844 at Dowth Castle, County Meath. He worked as a printer before enlisting in the10th Hassars of the British Army in May 1863. It is unclear whether he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood before or after this enlistment. John recruited a number of fellow soldiers into the Irish Republican Brotherhood. 

He was arrested on 14 February 1866, court-martialed and sentenced to death on 9 July 1866. This sentence was later commuted to 20 years penal servitude. He was transported to Western Australia on the Hougoumont after confinement at Chatham, Dartmoor and Portland prisons. On board John co-edited The Wild Goose newspaper. 

On arrival in Western Australia in 1868, John worked in Fremantle Prison before being transferred to assist the Warder as a messenger for the road building gang in Bunbury. With help from Father Patrick McCabe and free settlers, John boarded the Gazelle, an American whaling ship, on 3 March 1869 and escaped to America. He settled in Boston and became editor (1871-1890) and part owner (from 1876) of the Boston Pilot newspaper. Here he achieved fame as a journalist, poet, orator and champion of the oppressed. 

John married Mary Murphy on 15 August 1872 and had four daughters. He died on 10 August 1890 and is buried at Holyhood Cemetery, Brookline, Boston. John was the unofficial Boston Laureate. Many of his poems deal with Western Australian themes, as does his novel Moondyne, that was published in Boston in 1879.

Wilson, James (1836–1921)

Fremantle Prison number 9915

James was born on 6 February 1836 at Newry, County Down. He was a military Fenian whose real name was McNally. At that time it was not uncommon for Irishmen to enter the British Army under an assumed name. He served for seven years in the East India Company’s army before joining the 5th Dragoon Guards. 

James deserted in November 1865 in anticipation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s Rising. He was arrested in Dublin on 10 February 1866 and was sentenced by a general court-martial to life imprisonment for desertion and mutinous conduct. He was transported to Western Australia on the Hougoumont and was never pardoned. 

In Fremantle, his letters were smuggled out of the prison to Clan na Gael (the Irish republican organisation in America), which helped bring about the Catalpa rescue. James was one of the six military Fenians rescued by the Catalpa in April 1876. He died on 6 November 1921 and is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Pawtucket, Rhode Island.