On 17 April 1876, Perth Regatta Day, the American Fenians (or Irish Republicans) organised Australia's first and last transoceanic prison break. They snatched six Irish Fenians from Fremantle Prison and sailed them to freedom in the United States on the American whaler Catalpa.
This month marks the 135th anniversary of the Catalpa Escape.
How might Trove help us to find accounts and source materials relating to this incident in Australian history – an incident that reportedly thrilled Ned Kelly and his gang?
It’s easy. Just search Trove for “catalpa”.
If you first look in the “Archived websites” zone, you find “Fremantle Prison”, a web site archived by the State Library of Western Australia on 13 October 2008. From the home page, the links “History” and “The Fenians” lead you to a good account of the Catalpa Escape.
In the Books zone, you encounter “The Catalpa Expedition” by Z W Pease, published in 1897. Just click on the Available Online link and you are reading a digitised copy of this book, contributed from the collection of the Library of Congress. This book is 215 pages long, and the account of the rescue starts at page 135. A link to the Wikipedia article “Catalpa Escape” has been added by a Trove user as a comment.
The “Digitised newspapers and more” zone has 2270 search results. Using the facets on the left hand side, you can narrow to the decade 1870-1879, which will then allow you to further narrow to 1876, and then to April. You can then see the first report of the Escape in a brief paragraph on page 3 of the Western Australian Times for 18 April 1876. This article doesn’t contain the word “Catalpa”, but you found it because a user of Trove has helpfully added this word as a tag. You also find, among other contemporary accounts, a much fuller report of the Escape on page 2 of the same newspaper for 21 April.
The Catalpa Escape was celebrated in a folk song. You guessed it – you can find that song on Trove, and you can listen to it! Go to the “Music, Sound and Video” zone, click on the facets “Online/Freely available”, and you find the sound recording “The Catalpa Escape” performed by Warren Fahey and his band, recorded in 1985 and held in the collection of the National Film & Sound Archive. Click on “Available online” and listen!
These are just four examples of hundred of items in Trove that concern this incident in Australian history. You can find them in just a few minutes because of Trove, and also because of the collecting activities of institutions like the State Library of Western Australia, the National Film & Sound Archive, and the Library of Congress.