A great Catalpa tale

FOR the great grandson of Captain George Anthony, who sailed into history with six fenians aboard the whaling bark Catalpa, a trip to Perth and Fremantle this week has been a real eye-opener.

Jim Ryan has been fascinated by the tale of the 1876 Catalpa rescue since stumbling across the pennant of the ship in the family attic as a seven-year-old, but despite the fact he reached retirement age just three weeks ago, he’s never before seen where the action took place.

Fenians

“I went to Rockingham which was really emotional for me because that was where my great grandfather took the Fenians on board and began the row out to the Catalpa,” Mr Ryan says.

“We went to the John Boyle O’Reilly area where he was hiding.

“I’ve got a much better perspective on what it was like because being from America I knew the story, but to understand how far apart things were was really helpful to me.

• Jim Ryan and family members Cyndi Loomer, Peter Ryan and Elizabeth Ryan with local author Mike Lefroy. Photo by Steve Grant

“You know, I thought Fremantle to Perth was like 20 minutes, a couple of miles.

“Understanding that helped me to understand all the stresses these people were under.”

Mr Ryan will relate the thrilling tale of the Catalpa at the Maritime Museum today (Saturday July 28) at 2pm as well as showing photographs of his memorabilia collection.

Jailbreak

Making this week’s trip special was also getting a tour with historian and author Mike Lefroy, who has his own connection to the tale; his ancestor Henry Maxwell Lefroy was superintendent on the Fremantle Prison, where the Fenians had been incarcerated before their daring jailbreak.

Mr Lefroy was able to point out exactly where the Catalpa had faced off against the pursuing colonial police aboard the steamer the SS Georgette.

But for Mr Ryan’s great grandfather, while the Catalpa rescue initially earned him adulation and the great respect of the US’s Irish immigrants, it ended his seafaring days.

“He was deemed a pirate by the British,” Mr Ryan told the Herald.

Tix to the Catalpa talk are at http://www.eventbrite.com.au

by STEVE GRANT

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