FREMANTLE’S Fenian Festival is back, and this year the key lecture will focus on a journalist and writer who blew the whistle on the appalling treatment of young women arriving at Fremantle, a little-known stain on the colony’s history.
John Sarsfield Casey was arrested at 21-years-old for writing seditious letters to the Fenians’ newspaper under the name The Galtee Boy and was transported to Western Australia.
He arrived in Fremantle aboard the last of the convict ships, Hougoumont, in 1868, keeping a journal during the journey despite continuous sea sickness.
On his release from prison, Casey was appointed as school teacher in York – ironically teaching the settlers’ children to write at the same time he was getting stuck into the colonists in his own journal.
What Casey saw horrified him, particularly the treatment of young women arriving on “bride ships” to help even out the colony’s gender imbalance.
His writings, published in the the Irishman after he returned home in 1870, give a blunt warning to anyone considering following them.
“Poor simple souls, little do they know what the future has in store for them,” he wrote.
“Better, far better, that the gallant ship that bore you from your native hills had sunk within sight of the barren shores of Australia; than cast you safely on its shores a fresh victim to the licentiousness and dissipation of Australia.”
Festival chair Margot O’Byrne says his writings detailed how young women would be paraded before settlers from outlying areas who had requested a servant.
The girls would be given a glowing reference of the settler and his wife.
“When she gets out there after days of travel, it’s only to find there’s only her and him – there’s no wife – and she ended up as his mistress,” Ms O’Byrne said.
Casey himself outlines the horror of their situation: “Should the wretch attempt to ill-use her against her consent, her screams for help are drowned by the gentle sighing of the wind through the trees.”
Ms O’Byrne said although Casey might have had an axe to grind against colonial authorities, he was a journalist at heart and his writings made compelling reading.
“He is an amazing character, and that’s why I have fallen in love with Casey.”
Two of Casey’s descendents, Patrick and Mairead Maume, will be giving the lecture, named Wild Goose after the hand-written newspaper the Fenians produced during the Hougoumont’s voyage.
Thanks to Covid, they’ll be delivering it from Ireland, but it will be screened to a live audience at the WA Maritime Museum on Sunday June 13 at 4pm. Tickets are $20 ($15 conc) from eventbrite. com.au (search for Wild Goose Lecture 2021).
Following the screening there’ll be traditional Irish music and singing at Kidogo Arthouse. It’s a free event, but there’ll be food and drink available.