Remembering Catherine Meagher

I was so looking forward to an event scheduled to happen in Faithlegg graveyard this morning. However, like so many other plans across the nation it has fallen victim to the weather. The weather I’m referring to, for anyone living abroad, is a snowstorm which struck on Tuesday and has persisted all week. The event was the blessing of the bonnets at the Meagher family tomb.
The bonnets project is the brainchild of Dr. Christina Henri an Australian artist who has worked to raise awareness about the 25,000+ women who were transported to Australia, sometimes for offences as minor as stealing bread to feed their children. I blogged about her project last year, to help promote the exhibition created by local crafts women as part of International Women’s Day and hosted by the Waterford Women’s Centre. Its happening again this year in Central Library, Waterford.
Accessed from’bennie’_bennett.htm
I was excited at the prospect of this mornings event of course because it would have brought more national and international attention the tomb of the Thomas Francis Meagher family here in Faithlegg and provide a higher profile for his first wife, Catherine.
Catherine Meagher was the daughter of an Irish free settler to Tasmania, Australia named Bennett. She was only 19 when she met and fell in love with the Irish freedom fighter.#  Thomas was originally sentenced to death following the failed Young Irelander rebellion of 1848, but his sentence was reduced to transportation to Australia by Queen Victoria. 
Catherine was a governess when they met and Meagher later wrote that her influence was his salvation. They married on February 22nd 1851 and a year later her first son was born, Henry Emmett Fitzgerald Meagher.## However by this stage her husband had staged a dramatic escape from his sentence, firstly with the help of local fishermen to the island of Waterhouse Island, where ten days later he was picked up by the ship Elizabeth Thompson which dropped him to Pernambuco and eventually via the American brig Acorn to New York arriving Nay 26th 1852*. The plan was that his wife and new child would join him there, but their son died and following his funeral and a period of mourning she commenced the journey alone.
Catherines last resting place at Faithlegg
Catherine arrived in Ireland in early 1853 where she was astonished by the greeting she received in Waterford. Thousands turned out to welcome her and she was feted wherever she went. Before she continued on to America, a special meeting of the city fathers took place at City Hall including businessmen, dignitaries and invited guests.  Speaker after speaker bested themselves in praise of the lady and her husband and this was followed by a delegation walking down the Mall to present a scroll and gifts as a prelude to her journey to meet her husband.(1) 
She journeyed to America with her father in law, but the reunion with her husband was an unhappy one. He was seen as a hero in America and his energy and time was devoted to his adopted homeland and he was constantly in demand. When Meagher decided to journey to the west coast, Catherine, who was pregnant at the time opted to return to Waterford but following the birth of another son, she fell ill. She died in the Meagher home at midnight on Monday 9th May 1854 aged 22. She had been sick for a fortnight with Typhus.  Her hope was that she would return to America to be with her husband. However she was buried in the family tomb at Faithlegg. I have written before how that was a right denied her husband.
The Meagher statue on Waterford’s Mall
So unfortunately today instead of a blessing and some welcome attention on this forgotten lady, we are ensconced in our homes awaiting a thaw.  The events of this years 1848 committee are in tatters despite all the committees hard work.  As a member of many groups I realise that perhaps 90% of the work was already done. So as disappointed as I feel over the loss of this event they must feel so much more frustrated.  But there is always next year for the committee, and don’t forget the bonnets and the other events coming up soon for the local International women’s day.  
Some details on Catherine accessed from
(1)Waterford News 8th July 1935 p2.  The gifts (which were described as “having the advantage of being useful as well as beautiful”) were of silver and gold and included a brooch, a bracelet and a card case.  The presentation was made in the drawing room of Meaghers home on the Mall and was made by the Mayor, Thomas Fitzgerald Strange.

# Forney. G. Thomas Francis Meagher. 2003. Xlibris corporation

*Cavanagh. M. Memories of General Thomas Francis Meagher. 1892. The Messenger Press. Worcester. Mass.

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Australia bound – Irelands convict transportation

Today marks the 6th successive commemoration of one of the most important events in modern Irish history.  The 1848 Tricolour celebration marks the first raising of our national flag, at the Wolf Tone Club, 33 the Mall Waterford. The man responsible and who conceived the flag, was of course the Waterford native Thomas Frances Meagher.
I’ve written several stories about Meagher down the years and today I wanted to look at his transportation to Van Diemens Land following the Young Irelander rebellion of 1848. Indeed Meagher was lucky to have had a death sentence commuted at the time, thanks to the intervention of the English monarch, Queen Victoria.
A nonchalant looking Meagher standing on the right
at Kilmainham 1849

Transportation to Australia commenced in the year 1787/8, following the loss of the American colony. It was used as a punishment for even the most basic of crimes and many were transported even from our own city and harbour.  According to historian Ged Martin, 3 Waterford people were among the first to be transported on a ship called the Queen. Two of them, Sarah Brazile and Michael Murphy were just 18. After the 1798 rebellion, prisoners held at New Geneva were marched along the Crooke road to Passage East and via lighter downriver to an awaiting ship at Duncannon.  To prevent escape, cannon were trained on the lighters from Duncannon fort.(1)  I’d imagine the ship would transport the prisoners to Cork for the deep sea voyage.

The First Feet arriving at (Port Jackson) Sydney January 1788
accessed from

The British took possession of Van Diemens Land in 1803 when 33 convicts and 16 soldiers and officials established a small settlement on the Derwent River. Convicts were initially transported in ordinary merchant ships where conditions were basic, if not outright inhumane. Men and women were housed below decks, sometimes behind bars, and fresh air and exercise was at the discretion of the Captain. Many died on the trips from scurvy, dysentery and typhoid, although many others must have perished from harsh treatment and neglect. From the 1840’s a more “enlightened routine” was employed and Captains were paid a bonus on the basis of getting convicts safely to the colony.

Australian chain gang accessed from:
Meagher however was spared any such difficulty.  As a political prisoner, and a gentleman, he and his compatriots were held at Kilmainham jail and subsequently transferred to Richmond Prison. Like the men of ’98 they were brought by armed guard to an awaiting warship in the Liffey called the Dragon and hence to Dun Laoighre, then Kingstown.  Awaiting them was HMS Swift, and under heavy guard due to concerns of a rescue attempt they were transferred aboard. It was a tense scene. Crowds had gathered both ashore and afloat to wave off the rebels. Meagher, O’ Brien and party departed for the southern oceans from Dun Laoighre on July 9th 1849 and via the cape, arrived at Hobart Town on October 27th the same year.  Their trip however was at variance to most prisoners journeys. They had a private sitting room, separate cabins which were well lighted and ventilated and allowed on deck to exercise between 8am-8pm.  The main complaint was the food, but it was a complaint often shared by most on such journeys at the time.

Meagher initially settled down to a gentleman’s existence but would later escape and go on to even greater exploits in the Americas. Transportation would still be a penalty for the most basic of crimes up to 1868. Between the dates of 1788 and 1868 its estimated that 162,000 souls endured transportation. A further estimate says that 1/4 of that number were Irish. In an effort to distance itself from its convict past, Van Diemens land was renamed Tasmania in 1856.

Many of those who went as convicts went on to have happy and productive lives after their sentence was served, many of them from Waterford. But none I think can be said to have had such a lasting legacy nationally or internationally as Meagher. For all he gave his native land however, he was never to set foot on Irish soil again.

For a full list of the events happening this weekend in Waterford visit the 1848 tricolour webpage

My thanks to James Doherty for information on Meagher.

(1) Jim Hegarty. Time and Tide.  A short history of Passage East

My previous blogs on the Meagher family:
The Rebel Students return 1843
The man with four graves but no body

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T.F.Meagher; four graves and no body

I often had to correct visitors who believe that Thomas Francis Meagher’s body is interred in Faithlegg. Yet the family tomb is there, as are three other family plots, that I know of, around the world. But Thomas alas is in none of them.  He’s the man with four graves you see, but no body.
Thomas was born at what is now the Granville Hotel in Waterford 3rd Aug 1823. He went on to get a first class education and to study at the bar, but the plight of his fellow countrymen and the control of Ireland from London led to his political activities that would see him design and fly the first Irish tricolour and culminate in 1848 with the Young Irelanders rebellion.
TF Meagher image via
Tried and convicted of high treason, he was transported to Tasmania where he married a lady named Catherine Bennett.  In 1852 he escaped (but had to leave the pregnant Catherine behind) and via whaling ship eventually arrived in New York to a hero’s welcome. Catherine and Thomas’ first son Henry died during his escape and the infant was buried in Australia.  This is the first grave.
Catherine was eventually reunited with her husband in New York, but she returned to Waterford where a second son, Thomas, was born. She was a popular advocate for her husband’s political activities and was in much demand for rallies and other speaking events.  Poor health followed however, and Catherine died in Waterford in 1854 and was buried in the family tomb at Faithlegg. This is the second grave, and the one most commonly associated with him in Ireland.
Meagher tomb in Faithlegg
At the outbreak of the American Civil War Thomas joined the union side and in 1862 he founded the Irish Brigade which fought with distinction. He would later go on to become governor of Montana and would be an unpopular man because of his strong convictions and public stance on issues such as slavery. 
On 1st July 1867 while travelling on the Missouri river by paddle boat, Meagher disappeared over the side of the ship.  The cause of his fall is a matter of intense speculation even to this day.  
No grave, but remembered nonetheless
His second son Thomas Junior was raised by the family in Waterford and emigrated to America age 18 in 1872 to find his fortune.  He died in 1909 in Manila, Philippines and there he is buried.  A third family plot.
And the fourth.  Well Thomas married for a second time in 1856 to Elizabeth Townsend  and she was a devoted wife to him.  Following his death she returned to New York where she died on July 5th 1906.  She was buried in Green-wood cemetery.

And of Thomas. Well as already said, he was lost overboard in the Missouri River in 1867, and despite months of searching, his body was never recovered. However, in 2008, a headstone was erected beside the grave of his second wife, Elizabeth.

So all told TF Meagher is a man who despite having four family graves around the world is found in none of them.  But then again his reputation lives on in a much more meaningful way and is celebrated in Waterford each year to remember the raising of the first Irish tri-colour in Ireland at 33 the Mall, Waterford.
Thanks to my cousin, James (Jim) Doherty who supplied me with some essential information that made this blog possible.  Jim is a founder member of the 1848 Tricolour Celebration, a festival that has gone from strength to strength.  This years programme starts today more details on the 1848 Tricolour Celebration website.