The events described in this song took place on 17-19 April 1876.
Between 1865 and 1867, British authorities rounded up supporters of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (known as Fenians), an Irish independence movement, and transported sixty-two of them to the penal colony at Fremantle in Western Australia. They arrived on the ship Hougoumont on 9 January 1868. In 1869, pardons were issued to many of the imprisoned Fenians. Another round of pardons was issued in 1871, after which only a small group of “military” Fenians remained in Western Australia.
In 1874, prisoner James Wilson secretly sent a letter to New York City journalist John Devoy, who worked to organize a rescue. Using donations collected from Irish-Americans, a Fremantle escapee John Boyle O’Reilly, then living in Boston, purchased the whaling ship, Catalpa, and sailed her to international waters off Rockingham, Western Australia. On 17 April 1876, Wilson and five other Fenians working outside the prison walls boarded a whaleboat O’Reilly had dispatched, were taken aboard Catalpa and subsequently escaped to North America.
These three arrangements of “Catalpa” are part of a larger collection of choral arrangements of 20 Australian folk song titles. The works were commissioned in 2022 by the Queensland Kodály Choir as a legacy project of Australian Choral Music and are collectively available in a two-part anthology titled On a Distant Shore.
The Queensland Kodály Choir has generously determined that these anthologies and all of their associated resources should be made freely available to anyone who would like to make use of them. To facilitate this, whilst each of the arrangements is copyright, the full set of project resources has been licensed under Creative Commons International Licence, meaning that they can be freely shared, copied and/or redistributed.
Conductors/choirs wishing to access the Anthology – Parts 1 & 2 – and/or the companion rehearsal tracks, can do so by following the link to the Cuskelly College of Music website. The complete individual titles (including cover title page, vocal score, piano accompaniment, extracted instrument parts, performance notes and glossary of terms) are available in the Anthology Catalogue on this website.
Perusal and download copies of the three arrangements of “Catalpa” are available below.
Featured image: Original lithograph by E. N. Russell. Digital enhancement by uploader User:Bjenks, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons