The folk song Catalpa is a partial telling of the 1876 event most commonly known as the Catalpa Rescue.
During the mid 1860s, dozens of Irish Republicans were sent by the British to Western Australia, then still a penal colony. However, in 1869 J.B. O’Reilly (yes, he with the Leederville pub named after him) escaped and moved to America and joined ‘Clan na Gael’ – an organization that supported armed uprising in Ireland. At J.B. O’Reilly and colleagues’ suggestion, this organization hatched a plan to rescue a number of the imprisoned Fenians by sailing to Western Australia from the US in a whaler containing a legitimate cargo (so as not to arouse suspicion) and return to America with their far more valuable consignment.
The rescue began on the day of the Perth Regatta, when many of the garrison were otherwise occupied, and the prisoners’ presence in work parties outside the prison walls allowed easier escape. The prisoners travelled by horse and cart down to Rockingham, where the whaler Catalpa was anchored in wait. Storms and police boats both conspired to delay the prisoners’ escape, and only after the escapee’s ship raised a US flag and claimed that any attempt to seize them would be an act of war did the escape succeed.
This setting aims to support and amplify some of the dramas of the rescue whilst remaining faithful to the original folk melody. I grew up singing this song at school, and it is a great pleasure to set it for one of Western Australia’s finest school choirs.
Related Works: The Wild Geese (2010) for String Nonet
Perth Regatta Day!
Perth Regatta Day!
A noble whale ship and commander
Called the Catalpa, they say
Came out to Western Australia
And took six poor Fenians away
So come all you screw warders and jailers
Remember Perth regatta day
Take care of the rest of your Fenians
Or the Yankees will steal them away
Seven long years had they served here
And seven long more had to stay
For defending their country Old Ireland
For that they were banished away
You kept them in Western Australia
Till their hair began to turn grey
When a Yank from the States of America
Came out here and stole them away
Now all the Perth boats were a-racing
And making short tacks for the spot
But the Yankee she tacked into Fremantle
And took the best prize of the lot
The Georgette armed with bold warriors
Went out the poor Yanks to arrest
But she hoisted her star-spangled banner
Saying you’ll not board me I guess
Now they’ve landed safe in America
And there will be able to cry
Hoist up the green flag and shamrock
Hurrah for old Ireland we’ll die