Irish Fenians

Subject William Smith O'Brien was one of many Irish Fenians who were transported to Van Demen's Land and continued to agitate for liberation of Ireland Artist

William Smith O'Brien was a wealthy Irish landowner and member of the House of Commons. Deeply affected by the suffering due to the potato famine, O'Brien called for increasinly violent means of fighting English occupation. In 1848 he was sentenced to death for the change of high treason, which was subsequently commuted to transportation.

In 1849, O'Brien was taken to Maria Island, off the east coast of Tasmania, to solitary confinement. Unable to talk with anyone, he communicated by letter to friends back in Ireland. His fate was keenly watched by those on the other side of the world.

'Who can contemplate unmoved this descendent of a line of kings... this man of warm and loving heart, subject to such vile torture?' (Sligo Champion)

'They are killing Smith O'Brien by slow murder on Maria Island... He is caged in the closest solitary confinement. His food is scanty and loathsome... He never sees the face, or hears the voice, of a friend. He is denied the common requisites of decency. For months has had not been alllowed a change of raiment, or permitted to cleanse his dress.' (Nation 1 June 1850)

The history of the Irish Fenians is detailed in Thomas Keneally The Great Shame: A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New Sydney: Random House, 1998 (Chapter 13 By Order of Great Denison)