You could well be excused for not knowing that Irish nationalist William Smith O’Brien once “lived” at Port Arthur. While Australian convict folklore says that convicts were sent to Australia for “stealing a loaf of bread”, a number of Irish political rebels were also transported to Van Dieman’s Land, as Tasmania was once known. This included William Smith O’Brien who lived in a separate cottage at Port Arthur, which is still standing.
Rewinding to Ireland 1848 on what is going to be a supersonic visit, Ireland was under English rule and in the grip of an unprecedented famine due to repeated failure of the potato crop, which in parts of the country, was their only crop. An 1848 uprising in Paris, inspired Younger Irelanders, led by William Smith O’Brien, to stage a rebellion.
The Young Irelander Rebellion was a failed Irish nationalist uprising led by the Young Ireland movement, part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that affected most of Europe. It took place on 29 July 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, South Tipperary. After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, an Irish Constabulary unit raided a house and took those inside as hostages. A several-hour gunfight followed, but the rebels fled after a large group of police reinforcements arrived.It is sometimes called the Famine Rebellion (since it took place during the Great Irish Famine) or the Battle of Ballingarry.
William Smith O’Brien was convicted and sentenced to death for his part in the rebellion of 1848, but his sentence was later commuted to transportation to the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary, had decided that the best policy in regard to the Young Ireland prisoners was to consign them to gentlemanly oblivion. Sir William Denison, the governor, would have preferred to treat them as convicts. However, he was obliged to offer O’Brien a ticket-of-leave.
Initially O’Brien refused because of the condition attached which would have prevented him attempting to escape. So while his fellow-revolutionaries, Patrick O’Donohoe, Thomas Meagher and Terence MacManus, were immediately set at large, O’Brien was sent on to Maria Island, the most remote outpost of the penal settlement. An attempt at escape was bungled and he was, in August 1850, transferred to Port Arthur.
This article appeared in the Tasmanian press at the time: