The Redmonds in Australia 1883 – Part 2: Sydney and NSW

Detail from a cartoon in the Protestant Standard, March 17, 1883
Detail from a cartoon in the Protestant Standard, March 17, 1883 “The Redmond Brothers and the cause they are begging for”.

The visit of Westminster parliamentarians John and Willie Redmond to Australia in 1883 fired up uncomfortable issues of Irish nationalism which did not sit well with the Empire jingoism of their hosts. Part 1 discussed the reasons for the Irish brothers’ visit and their reception in Adelaide. Part 2 takes up their arrival in Sydney on February 19, 1883.

The Redmonds landed in NSW as the men charged with the Phoenix Park murders were facing trial in Dublin. The hostile Sydney dailies reported the news with horror and tried to implicate the Irish nationalist politicians now in their midst. One paper said a trial defendant admitted they had money from a “murder fund” raised by the Irish Land League. The Echo said the Land League “stinks in the nostrils of decent people” while the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Willie’s incendiary Cork speech and damned John as an “itinerant preacher of sedition”. John Redmond wrote to the papers refuting the allegations, condemning the murders and disputing the existence of the murder fund. The papers were unimpressed with the Echo saying the connection was “too clear even to admit a doubt”.

Redmond planned to speak in Sydney’s Masonic Hall but its directors withdrew permission at the last minute, much to the delight of the Echo. Organisers found an alternative venue and the meeting was packed out, despite MPs and bishops steering clear. Redmond accused the Sydney press of “malicious and criminal falsehoods” and he condemned “the stupid insolence” of local MP James Young who tried to ban the meeting. The Echo compared Redmond’s politics to “germs of smallpox” saying Sydney should “shut its doors and say ‘Pass on’”. It wasn’t all negative press. Catholic organ The Freeman’s Journal denounced the “insulting slanders on (the Irish) race and nation” and dismissed the link between the Land League and the murders in Dublin.

Redmond’s cause wasn’t helped when his supporters disrupted a meeting at the Protestant Hall organised by opponents of the League. Henry Parkes moved a motion to protest the Redmonds’ visit amid howling and fights in the audience. Chairs and sticks became weapons and protesters attacked Parkes as he left the meeting, surrounding his cab and pelting it with stones. Redmond regretted the attacks but said they were provoked by false speeches. The Daily Telegraph said Redmond was “a public enemy” and called for his removal from Australia.

In early March, Redmond left Sydney to tour the central west of NSW. He spoke in Bathurst and arrived in Orange on March 5 (an ill Willie stayed in Sydney). About 1000 people met him at the railway station and he went by carriage to Duntryleague, home of prominent local Catholic citizen James Dalton. Dalton warmly welcomed Redmond as the ablest of Parnell’s lieutenants who had won the world’s admiration by “resolute resistance to the oppressive proceedings of a foreign senate.”

Redmond again was denied local halls and made a speech at Orange’s auction rooms, with Dalton presiding. The meeting set up a branch of the Irish National League and Dalton was praised for his courage facing the remarks “of an insolent section of the press”.  Two days later MP John Burns told parliament that Dalton, who was a magistrate in Orange, had made an address where the British government was spoken as a foreign one and his language was not that of a loyal citizen. Premier Alexander Stuart wrote to Dalton to ask if newspaper accounts of his speech were accurate. Presumably satisfied they were, Stuart dismissed Dalton from his post a month later, along with two other Irish magistrates in Orange. The Irish party in Westminster protested the decision but the British government endorsed Stuart’s actions. The action brought the Daltons even closer to the Redmonds in ways that would reveal themselves later in the year.

John Redmond moved on to Dubbo and then back to Bathurst and Orange, calling at Duntryleague to greet Dalton before leaving for Sydney’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Redmond first addressed a crowd of 30,000 people at Botany, one of the largest Irish gatherings ever seen at Sydney, and they enrolled 1500 new Irish National League members. He criticised the riot at Protestant Hall as “Old World seeds of bitterness and hate” and he and Willie received medals engraved with the words “St Patrick’s Day – from the sympathisers of the Irish cause in New South Wales.”

That evening Redmond was guest of honour at Sydney’s premier St Patrick’s Day event. The St Patrick’s Banquet was traditionally an occasion for the well-heeled Irish to demonstrate loyalty to the crown and empire and attracted the wealthiest Catholics in the city. The Echo predicted Redmond would use the occasion to “set Ireland against Ireland, marshal Ireland against Britain and divide Ireland from Australia”. He did no such thing. Redmond was careful to avoid criticism of England or the press and reiterated his abhorrence of the Phoenix Park murders. Three days later, the brothers would sail north for Queensland and temporarily leave the hostility of Sydney’s press behind.

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