In the last post, we looked at the events surrounding the 1867 Fenian rebellion in Ballymacoda, in particular the successful raid on the coastguard station at Knockadoon, led by John McClure and Peter O’Neill Crowley, and O’Neill Crowley’s subsequent death at the hands of the crown forces at Kilclooney wood. Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane was a member of the party that raided the coastguard station, this is the story of his exile after the rising and his later return to Ballymacoda.
After the rising of March 5th, Cullinane was tried along with McClure, Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly and David Joyce, on the charge of high treason in front of a Special Commission in Cork. At the trial, presided over by Lord Chief Justice Monahan, Mr. Justice Keogh, and Mr. Justice George, all four were initially sentenced to death at the conclusion of the proceedings on May 24th 1867. The sentence passed down by Lord Chief Justice Monahan was for each of the men to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This medieval punishment had been the statutory penalty for anyone convicted of the crime of high treason against the English crown from 1352 onwards, and was not abolished until 1870.
It only now remains with me to pass the awful sentence of the law upon you, and that sentence is that you and each of you be taken hence from this place from whence you came, and that you shall be from thence drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck until each of you be dead, that afterwards your heads be severed from your bodies and that your bodies be divided into four parts, and that those parts be disposed of as her Majesty or her successors shall think fit. This sentence shall be carried into execution on Wednesday, the 19th of June.The sentence handed down to McClure, Cullinane, Kelly and Joyce by Chief Justice Monahan, on May 25th 1867 at the Special Commission sitting in Cork.
After lobbying efforts by a group of prominent citizens and large protests across Ireland against the execution of the Fenian rebels, the death sentences handed down to many of those involved in the Fenian rising, including McClure, Cullinane, Kelly and Joyce, were commuted to life imprisonment.
Cullinane was first imprisoned in England, at Millbank Prison in Westminster, London. In October 1867, records show that he was transported to Australia, departing from London on October 12th aboard the prison ship Hougoumont under master William Cozens. The voyage lasted 89 days, with the vessel arriving in Western Australia on January 10th 1868, and was of particular historical significance in that it was the last convict ship to carry Irish prisoners to Australia. David Joyce and Edward Kelly were aboard the same ship, as well as another Ballymacoda native, Jeremiah (Jerry) Aher, who had received a 7 year sentence for his part in the raid of the coastguard station at Knockadoon.
The Fenian prisoners, approximately 62 of the 289 convicts that arrived aboard Hougoumont, were taken to Fremantle Prison. After being allowed a few days rest, the prisoners were taken in groups to commence the hard labor of road building in searing temperatures outside Fremantle. The Fenian workgroups were segregated from general prison population. At times the men were lodged in road camps and required to stay close to the site of their work away from the prison. Patrick Wall, another Fenian who was transported on the Hougoumont described the conditions in a letter to his parents. Thomas Cullinane was very likely in one of these working groups, as there were only six Fenians assigned to permanent duties in the prison which required them to stay at Fremantle, and he was not one of that group.
On last Saturday evening we were marched five miles with bed and bedding on our backs, to our rude habitation, which consists of four miserable twig huts and a tent. I sleep with twelve others in the tent. We are sure of nocturnal visits from mosquitoes, and a species of very small lively insect which takes the greatest delight in playing with you until morning, waiting for the next night’s entertainment to renew the sport. We work pretty hard all day under a burning sun; the only comfort the place affords us is that we are near the sea shore, where we bathe after our day’s labor.Description of the conditions in a Fenian workgroup, described by Patrick Wall in a letter to his parents, quoted in newspaper ‘The Irishman’ in April 1868.
The convict records available for Fremantle Prison record Thomas Cullinane as ‘Thomas Bowler‘, prisoner number 9671. His record also mentions as a note, ‘character bad‘, and records ‘mutinous conduct‘ in February 1869 for which he was sentenced to 7 days bread and water. In early May 1869, Cullinane and other Fenian prisoners were granted an official pardon, signed by the Home Secretary, Henry Austin Bruce. This was mainly due to the sustained campaign for a Fenian amnesty at home in Ireland. Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane was mentioned specifically in the text of the pardon.
I have the honor to inform you that Her Majesty’s Govt. have decided upon granting a Remission to Thomas Cullinane or Bowler and the other prisoners named in the accompanying Warrant under the Royal Sign Manual, who were convicted of Treason or Treason Felony in Ireland and who are now under sentence of Penal Servitude in Western Australia.Partial text of the pardon of the Fenian exiles, a link to the full text is available in the references below.
Upon his release, records show that Cullinane first travelled to Sydney in New South Wales aboard the ship Rangatira on September 21st 1869, then to London aboard the Suffolk on October 26th.
Some time after his release, Cullinane travelled to America where he was to remain until returning to Ballymacoda in 1910. I have found little trace of his activities in America. There are three main reasons as to why the records are difficult to trace. Firstly, Cullinane was known to use the alias ‘Bowler’, which he may also have used in America. Secondly, records of the day use many alternative spellings of his last name e.g. ‘Cullinan’. Finally, it is very difficult to conclusively determine a birth year due to conflicting references, which would be useful for filtering US naturalization records etc. for Cullinane:
- His headstone says he died in March 1928, aged 84 (giving a birth year 1843 or 1844).
- His convict record from Australia lists his birth year as 1844.
- His death record from ‘Civil Registration Deaths Index, 1864-1958‘ lists his age at death as 88 (giving a birth date of 1839 or 1840).
- Newspaper sources mentioning his return to Ireland from June 1910 give his age as 72 (giving a birth year of 1837 or 1838).
- The Irish prison register entry for June 1867 lists his age as 22 (giving a birth year of 1844 or 1845).
- The 1911 Census of Ireland taken in early April lists his age as 73 (giving a birth year of 1837 or 1838).
- Searching the Ballymacoda & Ladysbridge Parish baptismal records for Thomas Cullinane yielded no matches, however some records are barely legible given the age of the documents.
Regardless of his life in America, which as mentioned above is difficult to piece together, there are numerous sources that confirm Thomas Cullinane returned to Ballymacoda in 1910. He was unmarried, and planned to spend the rest of his days living with his sister Johanna (O’Brien) in Ballymakeigh. Newspaper sources from the time indicate that there was a homecoming event for Cullinane in Ballymacoda, with this description being published:
Though he had been a long time away, his heart always reverted to the land for which he strove so nobly, and lately he returned to his native district of Ballymacoda. To signalize the homecoming and to give him a welcome worthy of his patriotic record a meeting was held in Ballymacoda last week. A platform, over which Stars and Stripes floated, was erected for the proceedings, which were marked with the greatest enthusiasm.Description of the homecoming of Thomas Cullinane, published widely at the time (this instance from ‘The Courier-Journal’, Louisville, Kentucky, June 26th, 1910).
The 1911 Census of Ireland confirms Thomas as living with his sister Johanna at Ballymakeigh.
Thomas Cullinane died on March 18th 1928 and is buried in the Hill Cemetery in Ballymacoda.
References & Further Information
The Gaelic American – Vol. III No. 24 June 16, 1906, Whole Number 144, Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library
A Gerringong Fenian, The Story of John O’Neil Goulding and the 1867 Kerry Uprising by John Graham, Published 1999
Ancestry.com. Ireland, Prison Registers, 1790-1924 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA:
The Freeman’s Journal, published in Dublin, February 2nd, 1870
The Irish Standard, Saturday July 2nd, 1910
Amos, K., The Fenians in Australia, 1865-1880, Sydney, 1988