The Irish Exile

The Irish Exile: Freedom’s Advocate (1850-1851)

by Dymphna Lonergan

 John MitchellThomas Francis Meagher

William Smith O'Brien.png

William Smith O’Brien

This year, Bliain na Gaeilge, celebrates 125 years of Irish language revival that includes a focus on the diaspora. The Irish diaspora in Australia has played a significant part in the promotion and maintenance of Irish, not least in the press, and as far back as 1850. Between 1849 and 1850 fifteen Young Irelanders were transported to Van Diemen’s Land. On 26 January 1850, Young Irelander Patrick O’Donohue, then a ticket-of-leave convict, published the first edition of the Irish Exile: Freedom’s Advocate in Hobart Town. Governor Denison closed down the newspaper in April of the following year. O’Donohue was one of the seven leading Young Irelanders transported for their part in the failed uprising in 1848 in Ireland. Others, who were to achieve greater fame than O’Donohue, were John Mitchel, William Smith O’Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher. They subsequently escaped from Australia and made their way to America, as also did Patrick O’Donohue. Transportation to Australia caused a momentary halt to the nationalist ambitions of these Young Irelanders. As political prisoners, they were unlike the vast majority of transportees, their crimes being crimes against the State and not against private persons. In addition, these crimes would have been justifiable in their minds. As the focus of their enmity was on England, and as Van Diemen’s Land represented itself as an English colony, these prisoners could not see themselves as part of that growing society. John Mitchel was to sum up this feeling when he spoke of ‘being suddenly thrown into this anomalous state of society, and between these two widely-differing elements – the honest colonists and the felonious population – yet belonging to neither’.


Patrick O’Donohue

The Irish Exile is an important publication for at least two reasons. Like other newspapers of the day, it affords us a glimpse of early Colonial society, the daily concerns of the population, hobbies, pastimes and fashion. Secondly, it demonstrates the role of newspapers in providing a window out on to the wider world, in particular on what outside news was important to readers of the time. Through The Irish Exile, the rapid development of Hobart Town may be glimpsed in a consideration of the advertisements from both the first and last editions of the paper.  The advertisements of 26 January 1850 include many references to the origin of goods as being an indicator of quality, as well as evidence of the Colony’s reliance on imports. For example, offered for sale are ‘French and English Wellington Boots’ and Church clocks which carry with them ‘respectable testimonials’ as to their London origin. English snuff had ‘just landed’. Local manufacturing also held England as its benchmark: a glue factory claimed that its ‘glue shall be equal to the best London’. Other advertisements include those for such staple products as meat, fruit and vegetables, oil, oil lamps, a ‘cure for the bite of venomous snakes’ as well as three advertisements for funerals: Mrs Gifford’s Ladies Mourning and General Outfitting Department, J. Whiteside’s funerals performed in town and country and Jeremiah McCarthy funeral undertaker who supplies ‘the only real Catholic Coffin furniture in the Colony’ which is so cheap it will ‘astonish’

By 12 April 1851, the date of the final edition of the paper, there are fewer references to London. The advertisements in the final edition of the Irish Exile include those for a circulating library, a horticultural society, Mr Campbell’s’ (Dancing) Academy, a lithograph printer and a public library. In addition, the New Town Races were promoted, as well as a Fête providing such entertainment as cricket and hurling. Hobart Town had settled into its own way of life. There were now frequent calls for the end to transportation as the population of the Colony saw in this new land the possibility of the development of a native Home. There is no evidence, however, that O’Donohue or his fellow prisoners ever seriously contemplated making Van Diemen’s Land their home. Their focus was still on Ireland, the fight for its freedom and the need to escape to continue that fight, ‘…their minds were full of plans for escape’. A Patrick McSorley published the final edition of the Irish Exile, O’Donohue having been arrested and imprisoned at Port Arthur for meeting with William Smith O’Brien, a breach of his ticket-of leave conditions. The exiled Young Irelanders were in contact with one another throughout their stay in Van Diemen’s Land, despite the danger this held.

The fortunes of the exiled Young Irelanders were followed by the Dublin newspaper The Nation:

The Hobartown Gazette of December 22nd announces the appearance on the 19th of January of a new weekly journal called The Irish Exile, with which it is understood P.O’Donohue would be connected.

The Nation relied on reports from Australian newspapers to counteract the false or propagandist information it had been receiving from elsewhere about the Young Ireland transportees.  On 4 April 1850 The Nation reported that they had heard from ‘a sure source in Australia’ that ‘Smith O’Brien is held in close and solitary confinement by the English authorities’.  On 27 April 1850, the Nation printed a letter, dated 12 January 1850, from Patrick O’Donohue of ‘Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land’ which outlined his efforts to ‘get up a newspaper’.  O’Donohue mentions that he had read some articles by Charles Gavan Duffy in ‘a Port Phillip’ newspaper, and that he and his fellow exiles had seen four of the issues of the Irishman, another Dublin newspaper, ‘which issued next after our transportation’.  On July 13 1850 the Nation commented on O’ Donohue’s newspaper:

We have received a file of The Irish Exile – the journal published by O’Donohue in Hobart Town.  It is the same shape, and almost half the size of The Nation.  The leading articles are all apparently written by the Editor.  We find the journal highly interesting in many respects, and as readers will probably like to know more of it, we have made copious extracts ...the articles of the Nation are largely quoted, and are the only Irish extracts transplanted into its pages.

 It is clear that the Dublin newspaper, the Nation viewed the Irish Exile as a useful newspaper for the promotion of its views, somewhat emulative but no rival, certainly in terms of size. One area where the two newspapers differed significantly was that of the banner.  The Nation’s banner was free of ornament.  By contrast, The Irish Exile’s banner became more elaborate during its first year.  The banner in January 1850 showed an Irish harp with the figure of a woman.  By November of that year the design of the harp had changed.  There was no female figure and two strands of shamrocks flowed from the frame of the harp, three on the left and two on the right.  One month later there was another harp design on the banner.  This harp was encircled by a garland of shamrocks.  While the reasons for these changes are unknown, we are, nevertheless, left with an impression of the newspaper became more visibly ‘Irish’ with these changes. 

The Irish Exile: Freedom’s Advocate was heavily propagandist. It circumvented the ban on making political comment on the treatment of William Smith O’Brien on Maria Island by keeping his name in public, especially through reports from Ireland.  For example, in November 1849 it reported the hope for Smith O’Brien’s return to Ireland by the Limerick Literary Institute.  Also reported was the death of the man who had handed Smith O’Brien over to the authorities, of whom the Irish Exile editorialised ‘The wretch has gone to his reckoning, while the great good man lives’. 

The use of the Irish language throughout the 48 editions of the Irish Exile in the form of articles, stories, poems and songs is another point of significance, carrying as it does a   political charge. Irish language items were, in the main, reprints of items from Dublin’s the Nation, which had been founded 1842 by Thomas Davis. Davis preached that Ireland could become a nation once again through ‘recognition of its exploited and oppressed history…[and] emphasis on past battles and rebellions’.   The Irish Exile’s edition of 11 May 1850 includes an article entitled ‘Antiquity of the Irish Language’, a reprint of Davis’ ‘Essay III Ancient Ireland’ from the Nation.  In that essay Davis claims that the Irish language is the oldest language in Europe and as such ‘the vehicle of first knowledge that dawned upon Europe’. He refutes the charges of imperfection assigned to the language because of the predominance in it of ‘gutturals’ and the ‘incompleteness’ of its alphabet. Davis points out that the Greek alphabet has the same number of letters as Irish and that a study of the ‘tongues of the East’ will demonstrate that gutturals were prominent ‘before the introduction of aspirates’.

… To be continued

Dymphna Lonergan is a member of the Tinteán collective and a lecturer in academic and professional communication at Flinders University. Her research on Irish language influence in Australia was recently discussed on The Conversation