Tuesday, 23 October 2018

#52Ancestors - Week 42 - Conflict

The topic for this week's challenge, Conflict, provides the opportunity to look at the background of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The words Conflict and Ireland often appear together, particularly in the twentieth century. However the conflict that occurred in Ireland at the end of the eighteenth century resulted in a number of Irish convicts being transported to Australia including my great x3 grandfather, John Pendergast.

On 11 January 1800 John Pendergast arrived in Australia aboard the convict ship, Minerva. The ship had left Cork on 24 August 1799. One hundred and sixty-two male convicts plus twenty-six female convicts arrived aboard the ship at Port Jackson. The Friendship, also carrying convicts from Ireland, arrived on the same day. The Anne, carrying convicts involved in the rebellion, arrived at Port Jackson thirteen months later. What caused this influx of Irish convicts to Australia at this time?
United Irishmen crest
In 1782 there had been some reforms regarding the Irish Parliament allowing Irish parliamentarians to make their own laws without reference to the English Parliament. However membership of the Irish Parliament was restricted to members of the Anglican Church and were therefore descendants of the English, rather than Irish, families. There were few elections and few people were able to vote. Changes in 1782 improved life in Ireland for some Catholics including provision of new Catholic schools and churches, Catholics were still excluded from political power and owning land was also restricted. Although some progress had been made, many people in the country decided it was time for a change.

The Society of United Irishmen was established in Belfast in October 1791. The aim of the group was to reform the Irish parliament and they planned to do this by uniting Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters in one organisation. The American Revolution (1776) and the French Revolution (1789) provided encouragement for the formation of the group. The leader of this movement was Theobald Wolfe Tone.

The initial plans were that this nonsecular group would lobby for the vote to be extended to Catholics and non-property holders. The motto of the group was 'to unite Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter under the common name of Irishman'.

Initially the group had some success. In 1793 Catholics received the right to vote (if they owned property worth more than 40 shillings a year), to attend university and serve in the civil service and in the military. However they could not sit in Parliament or hold public office.

However any gains were short lived when members of the group supported the French Republic, which was at war with England, forcing the United Irishmen to become an underground movement from 1794. The goal of the group then changed to achieving an Irish Republic. Riots in 1793 had resulted in more than 200 deaths.

The United Irishmen began training militia in preparation for a rebellion. They also began working with other groups including the Defenders (a Catholic secret society), and Protestant groups including the Orange Order.

An attempted invasion by the French army in 1796, encouraged by Theobald Wolfe Tone, did not eventuate because of severe  storms off the Irish coast. However this caused Parliament to pass the Insurrection Act. A new military force, the Yeomanry, was formed to fight the rebels. In reply the membership of the United Irishmen planned a national uprising for the summer of 1798. The plan was to overthrow the government, secede from England and form an Irish Republic.

In the end the rebellion was restricted to only sections of the county but fighting lasted for three months resulting in the deaths of thousands. The Irish Parliament was dissolved in 1800 and was not reinstated until 1922, after another rebellion. The plans of the United Irishmen were totally defeated.

John Pendergast's actual involvement in this movement is not clear. John was a Catholic and according to the convict records was a labourer. The leaders of the United Irishmen tended to be Protestant with a large proportion of the general membership being Catholic so John fits the demographics of the movement. John no doubt attended small group meetings, often held in pubs, and supported the aims of the organisation. Exactly why he was arrested is not known but it appears to have been before the actual planned uprising as he was in custody in April.

Once in Australia, John lived in the Hawkesbury area where he became a landowner - something that he would not have achieved back in Ireland.

Irish Story - 1798 Rebellion  a brief overview

BBC History - The 1798 Irish Rebellion website

Encyclopaedia Britannica - Irish Rebellion 1798 website 

Romantic Politics - Irish Uprising of 1798 - website


  1. How interesting. Hopefully in time a newspaper or court record will be digitised that explains John's role.

    1. I am continuing my search. I always check any items I locate on this period - just in case. Hopefully one day I may find a little more information.