Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 34 - No 1 Contents BOOK REVIEWS
POLICY • Vol. 34 No. 1 • Autumn 2018
Was O’Farrell a Fenian himself? We will probably
never know for sure, but fear of the Fenians
impregnated both the initial reaction to the
shooting at Clontarf as well as the subsequent trial of
O’Farrell held at Darlinghurst. Queen Victoria
herself was generally unmoved by Fenianism, which
she had dismissed as ‘a great deal of nonsense’. But
when news of the shooting, immediately attributed
by those in Sydney to a Fenian, reached her at
Osborne House, Victoria was greatly distressed.
‘I grieve to see it was again a Fenian’, she wrote to
her daughter, Vicky, ‘though I hope an American
Colonial Secretary, Henry Parkes, who comes out
of this episode badly, was certainly concerned about
the threat to Australia posed by Irish nationalists.
With the arrest of O’Farrell, Parkes saw his chance
to consolidate and advance his own political position
by banging the sectarian drum. Convinced by
O’Farrell’s alleged remarks made at Clontarf that
his motive for the attack was Fenianism, he was
determined to emphasise the dangers posed by
Fenian ‘rats’. ‘Infused with distrust of Rome, disdain
for Irish Catholics, and despair of treason and
revolution, Parkes knew the eyes of an Empire and
country were on him as Australia dealt with its first
act of intercontinental terror’ (p.174).
Harris gives a good account of the political events
leading up to O’Farrell’s trial, as well as of the trial
itself which bordered on being a travesty of justice.
Key witnesses were not heard, important testimony
was suppressed, and the defence was never permitted
to introduce evidence about the state of O’Farrell’s
mind in the form of the M’Naghten defence
established in English Law in 1843. The outcome
of O’Farrell’s trial was a foregone conclusion: ‘Fenian,
or moonstruck miscreant—one or both—What
matter’, asked the Sydney Morning Herald. The jury
reached its verdict in 54 minutes, and O’Farrell went
to the gallows at Darlinghurst Gaol on 21 April 1868.
Harris draws something of a long bow in his
speculation about the impact on Australian history
of O’Farrell’s assassination attempt. Public anger,
shame, and fear of severing ‘the umbilical cord of
empirical [sic] protection’—Harris persists in using
the word ‘empirical’ when he means ‘imperial’ and no
editor has picked this up—helped to keep republican
Concerned about his ‘fast’ life, she agreed to a
plan—advanced by Edward and actually conceived
by Affie—for the young duke to embark on a long
voyage to a distant outpost of the Empire. And
Victoria had just the place in mind: Australia. ‘It is
a Colony of such importance’, Victoria wrote, ‘one
in which beloved Papa took such an interest and to
which none of our Princes have yet been.’ She and
Albert had at one time even considered making
Affie the first King of Australia.
In The Prince and The Assassin, Steve Harris
recounts the story of the first royal tour of Australia
which Affie undertook from October 1867, when
his ship, the Galatea, docked at Glenelg, South
Australia, to April 1868 when she sailed from
Circular Quay in Sydney. It was a traumatic and
harrowing affair, however, for on 12 March 1868
at Clontarf, NSW, Affie was shot at close range and
seriously injured by a lone gunman, Henry O’Farrell.
Harris skilfully weaves together the lives of
these two men and explores the impact that their
momentary—and, for Affie, almost fatal—encounter
had on Australia. He also presents the attempted
assassination at Clontarf as the first act of what we
would now call ‘terrorism’ on Australian soil.
O’Farrell was an Irishman who had trained for
the priesthood and been ordained as a deacon in
1852 by James Goold, the first Catholic Bishop of
Melbourne. He travelled to European seminaries
to complete his training but then returned to Australia
where he abandoned all further theological studies.
O’Farrell’s motives are unclear but Harris suggests
that one important factor was a growing attachment
to the politics of Ireland.
In late 19th century Australia, the Irish were widely
viewed as a threat to national and imperial security.
Catholics in Australia had been involved for some
time in anti-British protests. Indeed, fears of Irish
insurrection arrived with the first settlers. The sense
of an Irish threat was exacerbated, however, by the
formation in 1858 of the Fenians, a group of Irish
freedom fighters, named after an ancient Celtic tribe,
agitating for Irish independence. Described by Harris
as ‘the first transcontinental insurgent group’, the
Fenians were able to harness all the advantages of the
industrial age to pursue their ambitions for Ireland
in Canada, England, New Zealand, and Australia.
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