La Rochelle is a wonderful maritime city on the Bay of Biscay. A busy fortified harbour and trading port since the 13th century it is now more orientated toward recreation boating and maritime history.
And the old port is beautiful.
And by night
In the historic maritime area next to the old port there is the Maritime museum with a collection of historic vessels.
The area around Fremantle and upstream in the Swan River to Perth is quite beautiful.
Beautiful sandy beaches flank the mouth of the Swan River and its bustling Port.
From Kings Park there are views over the River and the City of Perth
Kings Park includes the Perth Botanic Gardens and its amazing native flora collection.
Not that my Great grandfather would have had time to enjoy any of these beautiful sights as his home was Fremantle Gaol. From his arrival in 1853 until he and his brother were given a pardon in 1855 they worked, like all convicts on the gaol. The limestone extracted from the site of the gaol and cut into blocks on site.
It would have been hot dusty work with no escape. Summer temperatures in Perth are often in the high 30c range and not unusually 40c+. Temperatures unheard of in Ireland, but the convicts toiled in the heat, sleeping in quarters on the quarry at night.
I should introduce my Great grand father. His name was Edmund and his convict records describe him and 6ft and 1/2 inch tall (only 1 inch shorter than me) stout with a ruddy complexion, (mmm could be me) with brown hair and hazel eyes (phew Im not a reincarnation my hair was once ginger and eyes are blue). A tall strong man in modern days in 1853 he was the tallest on the ship and I can imagine that strength was well put to work in the prison quarry till he and his brother were pardoned in 1855.
Not long after being pardoned, Edmund married and Irish Bridget and with his brother they all headed west to the farming centre of York. York was the first inland white settlement in Western Australia with the colonial settlement process continued the dispossession of Aborigines starting in 1831.
So I followed in their footsteps and checked out of Fremantle Gaol and headed to York
Its a bit over 100km to travel from Fremantle to York and it was certainly easier whipping along the road east on a motorbike than would have need the journey in 1855.
The road to York crosses the Darling Ranges, a low mountain range the attracts rainfall that feeds the catchments of Perth to the west and the towns on the eastern hinterland.
Recent bushfires had scared the bush but in the miracle that is the Australian bush there are the plants that like fire. The grass trees or Xanthorrhoea australis to be formal are one example.
Bush fires, grass trees and strange animals. I wonder what my troop of intrepid Irish forebears thought as the headed east after a mere 2 years in this strange land.
Looking out over the town of York and its surrounds you can see the lovely green bush .
Down in the town the grand buildings tell the tale of past prosperity.
But the grandest of buildings is the Town Hall
I had come to York om a bit of a hope and a prayer about finding any information of my Great grandfather in years so far past.
In the town hall I walked up the stairs to the balcony and there was an Honour Board of the councillors.
And when the Municipality of York in 1861 was Edmund Cahill
Now I hear some of you saying that that goes to prove that local government is just full of criminals. But just hold your horses.
At the York Historical Society Archives I was able to view a copy of the 1859 York Census filled in by Edmund showed that they had worked hard to be successful farmers in this new land.
At the farm there was Edmund and his brother, and wife Bridget, their two children and two employed labourers also from Ireland. The had 50 acres under cultivation and 46 head of livestock. This in the 4 years since pardoned and land that could only be dreamed of back in Ireland.
The family was also instrumental in establishing catholic church a beautiful building still standing and prominent in the town.
But such acquisition doesn’t come without a cost.
The cost was being paid by the local aboriginal people for whom land is part of them.
In the park opposite the church on the eucalypts the aboriginal colours are crocheted onto the tree. The colours have meaning. Black represents the aboriginal people, yellow represents the sun, the giver of life, and red represents the land and aboriginal connection to that land.
That connection with land, with country will never be broken for a first nations person.
You may have thought that with success in York Edmund and Family would have settled and be content but there are more twists to this tale yet.
In the next blog let me show you some some of the towns around York before we rejoin Edmund and his family as they continue their pioneer journey further east.
There were around 167,000 convicts transported to Australia from the UK and now Republic of Ireland
My Great Grandfather and his brother were two of them.
Driven by the horrors and starvation of the Irish Famine, they resorted to stealing cattle and were sentenced to transportation to Australia for 10 years.
They arrived by ship in Fremantle in 1853 after a long and torturous voyage.
The gates of Fremantle Gaol greeted them. Built by convict slave labour to incarcerate convicts. Its a World Heritage Site along other buildings built by convict labour.
So I thought I should visit the spirit of my forebears
A wing of the old Fremantle Gaol has been turned into hostel accomodation. I booked a cell.
A double cell in fact as the wall between every second cell was knocked out to allow enough room to fit a modern single bed in.
So did my spirit mingle with my Great grand father’s? Well I don’t know but thoughts of him and his story of marrying and moving east as a frontier pioneer have certainly permeated my mind. Since I was in Fremantle.
The Round House a prison fort was the first public building in the new Swan River Settlement later to become Perth.
The Fremantle Gaol soon followed as a major public building.
Fremantle is now a major port city of many beautiful historic building
But in 1853 the sight would have been very different for the 309 convicts who arrived with my Great grandfather.
After 110 days sailing from England on a putrid sailing vessel, where 10 convicts had died on voyage, the land that greeted them was dry brown and barren compared to Ireland.
But their home had been gripped with famine since 1845. During ‘The Famine’ its estimated 1 million Irish people died from hunger or disease related to malnutrition and another 1 million migrated to America, Australia and other destinations to escape starvation and British brutality.
For some of the convicts, the sight of the Australian landscape must have been frightening for others a lucky escape from a desperate life.
Their ship arrived in September, the start of Spring in Australia but where they came from the start of Autumn and the cold wet months of Winter. Did they even know that the next months would be hot and dry. Hotter than they had ever experienced.
My Great grandfather was convicted at the age of 20. Since 15 he had only known hunger. After being imprisoned for two years he was transported and at 22 he landed in the Great Southern Land.
So dear friends and followers now that I’m back in Melbourne and can publish from a laptop rather than a smartphone. I will take you, in the next few posts, from Fremantle on the trek of an Irish/ Australian convict pioneer as he and his family moved east with the expanding frontier of the Western Australian Colony in the second half of the 1800s.