This song describes the escape of six prisoners from the Fremantle Prison in April 1876.
The Clan na Gael (America's Irish Republican Brotherhood) raised money from the Irish in the USA and Australia to finance a daring rescue of Irish compatriots in the Fremantle Prison. They bought the cargo ship the Catalpa in Massachusetts, USA for $US 5,250 and refitted it for $US 15,000 as a whaler. They set sail and did some whaling eventually arriving in Bunbury.
The captain along with a Fenian agent posed as businessmen and sailed to Fremantle on the coastal steamer the Georgette. There they made contact with the Irish prisoners and told them of a plan to rescue them. The prisoners' escape was made when they were in a work party outside the prison on Easter Monday, 17 April 1876.
The water police tried to stop the escape, but the Catalpa was too far away. So they sent for the steamer Georgette, still in port, to help. She caught up to the Catalpa and demanded the prisoners be returned. They were not onboard the Catalpa yet. Due to bad weather they were still at sea awaiting rendezvous with the Catalpa. The Georgette, running low on coal, was forced to return to Fremantle to refuel. When the Georgette returned to the chase, she found the prisoners being hauled on board the Catalpa.
She was a Yankee whaleship,
So come all you screw warders and gaolers,
The Georgette well manned with bold warriors,
For seven long years have they served you,
You kept them in Western Australia
Now Remember these Fenians colonial,
For they're now in the States of America
The Catalpa quickly left with the Georgette in hot pursuit. It wasn't until the next day that the Georgette caught up. Shots were fired across the Catalpa's stern and bow. Both ships stopped. The Catalpa's master claimed they were in international waters under the American flag. He stated that they would be creating a diplomatic incident if the police tried anything. England had recently lost a 3 million pound court case concerning a situation with an American ship in similar circumstances.
Since the police were unsure if they were truly in international waters, they let the Catalpa leave with the escaped prisoners.
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