Tuesday, 10 December 2013

THE IRISH REBELLION

REENACTMENT. The Daily Telegraph. 2011.


THE VINEGAR HILL UPRISING. National Library of Australia.

By 1804, the young settlement of Sydney was ready for rebellion. There were one thousand Irish convicts in the colony, eight hundred of whom were political prisoners. They had been transported to Australia in the aftermath of the 1798 Irish rebellion in which thirty thousand people died. They had had enough.

The Irish were regarded as sub-human and disloyal by the English and received harsher treatment. The poor Irish could be flogged for just speaking their native language. The Irish had also had enough of the oppressive heat and flies.
FLOGGING. Mitchell Library. New South Wales.

All hell broke loose when one thousand Irish convicts stormed a settlement called Castle Hill just outside Sydney and burnt it to the ground. Weapons were seized from a government store. The Irish convicts were marching on Sydney. The plan was to kill the English soldiers, steal ships and sail happily into the sunset. So they thought.

Four hundred of the rebels were met by only sixty English soldiers at a place called Vinegar Hill. It didn’t look good for the English. Before fighting started a truce was called between the rebel leaders and the English commanding officer. During the truce the leaders were seized and taken to the rear, surprising the rebels. The soldiers quickly opened fire and the rebels fled. Fifteen rebels were killed during the uprising and nine were later hung. Australia’s largest insurrection was over.
Where was Michael Geary in all this? He was Irish. You’d assume he’d be on the Irish side. Michael Geary instead joined an irregular contingent of men loyal to the crown. They helped guard Sydney and later hunted down the Irish stragglers.

For proving his loyalty,Michael Geary was rewarded with a grant of land and allowed to draw cattle and beer from the government store on credit. What ! He betrayed his countrymen for beer? Michael Geary died, aged fifty-eight in 1820 not long after having his wheat crop ruined by flood.  

In my next blog: from villain to hero. The life of Michael's son, Daniel.