In January 1868, John Boyle O’Reilly arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia, on board the convict ship Hougoumont. He was not a thief or a murderer, but had been sentenced to 20 years of penal servitude for belonging to the Fenians, a group plotting an armed uprising against British rule in Ireland. Someone has commented that he wasn’t convicted of any crime, except the crime of being Irish.
After a month in Fremantle prison, O’Reilly was sent to Bunbury where he worked with a team of convicts who were building a road. A Catholic priest introduced O’Reilly to some Irish settlers at Dardanup, who assisted him to plan an audacious escape. They helped him to hide in the sand dunes on the coast north of Bunbury, from where he was picked up by an American whaling ship.
O’Reilly eventually settled amongst the Irish community in Boston, USA where he became a successful newspaper editor and poet. He wrote a novel called Moondyne which is set in Western Australia.
Now the beach from where he made his escape is part of the Leschenault Peninsula Conservation Park and a monument has been erected in his memory.