Fenian Martin Hogan Remembered
Saturday, October 10, 2015
Mount Olivet Cemetery
2755 W 111th St, Chicago, IL 60655
Ruan O’Donnell, University of Limerick
George McLaughlin, The Search for James Wilson and Martin Hogan (RI)
Benediction: Fr. Bernard O’Reilly, Diocese of Providence (RI)
Social and Lecture to follow at 12:30 pm@
Irish American Heritage Center
4626 N. Knox Avenue
Chicago, IL 60630
For more information contact:
Deirdre Fennessy, 312-560-9311 (Chicago)
Niall Fennessy, 773-799-4137 (Chicago)
George McLaughlin, 401-688-2463 (Rhode Island) On a cool fall Chicago day in 2010, I stood at the grave and lowered my head. “Impossible,” I thought. “How did he never receive a grave marker?” I had travelled to Chicago, in part to pay tribute to Martin Hogan, one of the Fremantle Six—Fenians who had escaped the English prison by that name in Western Australia. They had been part of the greatest rescue of the 19th century and had sailed half way round the world on the whaling vessel the Catalpa and, with the help of many Irish Americans, settled in different places in the USA. My own journey had begun with the rediscovery of James McNally Wilson, another member of the Fremantle Six, who is buried in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. After years of research, culminating in the setting of a memorial plaque at McNally Wilson’s grave, I set out to find the other five men. The absence of a gravestone at Hogan’s burial site was so disturbing; I swore that I would see the day that he got his just reward. Five years later, the Irish American community in Rhode Island had given enough so that Martin Hogan’s stone will be laid on October 10, 2015. — George Thomas McLaughlin, Providence, RI
“What a death is staring us in the face,” wrote James Wilson in 1873, “the death of a felon in a British dungeon, and a grave amongst Britain’s ruffians. I am not ashamed to speak the truth, that it is a disgrace to have us in prison today.
“A little money judiciously expended would release every man that is now in West Australia. Think that we have been nearly nine years in this living tomb since our first arrest, and that it is impossible for mind or body to withstand the continual strain that is upon us. One or the other must give way.” Fenian James Wilson, was imprisoned with other Irish political prisoners half a world away, in the dreaded Fremantle penal colony in Western Australia.
To underline this message Wilson added, “Remember this is a voice from the tomb. For is this not a living tomb? In the tomb it is only a man’s body that is good for worms, but in this living tomb the canker worm of care enters the very soul.”
Wilson’s powerful words moved Irish-Americans and they resolved to help him. In Ireland in the early 1860s Wilson had joined the 5th Dragoon (British Army) Guards. But in secret he also became a Fenian, taking an oath to be obedient to his leaders and to do his utmost to secure a democratic independent Irish Republic.
To that end, he deserted with fellow Fenian Martin Hogan in November 1865 after they had secretly enrolled many other Irish soldiers in the organization. But then, as is so often noted in Irish history, local informers gave away the details of renewed Fenian activities to the British forces and Wilson was quickly arrested.
Wilson was court-martialed in Dublin on February 10, 1866, where he was found guilty of mutinous conduct and received a sentence of death, which was later commuted to life imprisonment in Fremantle prison. It was, in a real sense, a kind of death in life.
Help finally arrived in the shape of the Catalpa, an American whaling ship hired by another Fenian, John Devoy, from secret donations made by Irish independence organizations across the United States. Amazingly, informers did not foil the daring rescue plan and the ship reached Australia without mishap. On April 17, 1876 the rescuers rowed to shore to collect the six waiting Irish convicts who had left their posts while working outside the secured area. Their Irish-American rescuers were waiting with wagons and weapons. But like all good rescue dramas, complications clouded their flight. When the freed prisoners began to row back to the Catalpa a sudden unexpected storm meant they could not reach the ship for another day, by which time the alarm had been raised and British police ships were launched.
The British commandeered a gunboat, the Georgette, which they pulled alongside the Catalpa, demanding that the prisoners be handed over. Captain Anthony, the ship’s celebrated American captain, defiantly refused to comply and raised the American flag, warning his pursuers that the Catalpa was in international waters and could not be boarded. If they fired on the Catalpa, they would be firing on the United States. This parry enraged the Georgette’s British captain, who reluctantly conceded.
Eventually the Georgette was forced to give up the chase, although all on board were convinced they had seen the missing men. As John Devoy predicted, the Catalpa rescue bolstered Irish morale across the globe and spurred the fight for Irish independence, which was finally won in 1922.
None of the Catalpa Six ever returned to Ireland. All remained in America until their deaths, including the two old comrades, James McNally Wilson who lived out his life in Central Falls and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where he is buried, and Martin Hogan, who spent the remainder of his life in Chicago, Illinois. Martin Hogan is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago, without a tombstone or grave marker.