The Redmonds in Australia 1883: Part 5 – marriage and farewell

John Redmond in 1914 with his second wife Ada and his daughter Johanna (by his first wife Johanna Dalton).
John Redmond in 1914 with his second wife Ada and his daughter Johanna (by his first wife Johanna Dalton).

As the Redmonds’ exhausting Australian tour moved past the six month mark in early August, the brothers split up again. Willie crossed Bass Strait to spent 10 days geeing up the Irish in Tasmania. He spoke in Launceston and Hobart before returning to Melbourne where he spoke about the Irish Coercion Act of 1881. Introduced by Gladstone, the Act provided for imprisonment without trial in Ireland to deal with the growth of the National Land League. Parnell’s Irish Party tried to filibuster but the act finally passed, allowing police to make arrests on a political basis.

Meanwhile John Redmond had more personal matters on his mind as he returned to Sydney. After a break of two weeks, he was due to travel to New Zealand but delayed it for reasons explained in the Freeman’s Journal of August 18, 1883: “It is not business in the strict term that has delayed Mr Redmond, but something more in the way of romance, for it is no secret that the honourable gentleman is to be married very shortly to Miss Dalton, a near relative of Mr Thomas Dalton MLA of North Shore. The interesting ceremony, we believe, will take place about the 4th of September.”

Redmond was betrothed to Johanna Dalton, the half sister of the Irish-born Dalton Brothers, Thomas and James, who had established a commercial empire in Orange and Sydney. Thomas, as the Journal said, was a member of parliament but younger brother James Dalton was closer to the Redmonds and had paid a price for supporting their cause, being sacked as a magistrate in Orange. The wedding would bring two powerful Irish families together (three years later, the link would be cemented when Willie Redmond married James Dalton’s daughter Eleanor).

Redmond gave less lectures in this Sydney leg of the trip, caught up in wedding preparations. But the brothers were still hounded by the hostile Sydney press (the Catholic Freeman’s Journal excepted) and John responded to an inaccurate report on a division among Australian Catholic bishops about the Irish mission. That was put aside on Tuesday, September 4 when John and Johanna married at St Mary’s Church, North Sydney. After a reception at Thomas Dalton’s nearby home “Wheatleigh”, they spent the night at Moss Vale before travelling to Melbourne. As they honeymooned, Willie Redmond sailed for New Zealand on September 6, arriving five days later. John also went to New Zealand in early October and the brothers toured its towns until October 25 when they sailed back to Melbourne.

The showpiece event in this second tour of Melbourne was the Irish Australian National Conference on November presided by Brisbane’s Dr Kevin Izod O’Doherty. The 200 delegates from across Australia and New Zealand heard a cable message from Parnell and they defined a constitution of a federal council with executive powers with O’Doherty elected president. As usual The Argus was unimpressed. They urged the Irish to “refrain from encouraging the Redmond convention” and said British citizens in Australia “keenly felt that they are insulted when their mother country was held up to infamy as some bloody and barbarous power”. The editor said no one had a right to come to Australia and “enjoy the benefits of our laws, unless he meant to leave behind animosities which could plunge Australia into strife”. The Advertiser also deemed the convention a failure saying the leading Irish of the colonies stayed away, a charge vehemently denied by delegates.

After one last lecture on rebellion in his home county “Wexford in ’98”, Redmond and his wife went back to Adelaide where it all started nine months earlier. He then returned to Sydney via Melbourne and gave a farewell lecture on “A Chapter of Irish History” which was also about the failed 1798 rebellion. The Sydney Morning Herald reported Redmond saying the rebellion was misunderstood. “Outside Ireland the popular theory was that it was a Popish rebellion marked by deeds of cruelty on behalf of the people,” the Herald said.

The last days were overshadowed by the Phoenix Park murder trial where James Carew turned queen’s evidence implicating the Irish National League with his testimony. As a result many prominent Irish-Australians distanced themselves from the Redmonds tour. As ever, James Dalton was a loyal exception. The press used the Carew evidence as final damning proof the Redmonds were unwelcome visitors and their vehemence, rancour and partisanship affected Redmond who commented on it for many years afterwards.

Yet as the brothers and John’s new wife left Sydney on December 6 to sail to America, they could look back on a tour largely successful in raising Irish consciousness in British Australia. For 10 exhausting months they toured the length and breath of Australia (except the west) and New Zealand. They raised ₤15,000 for the cause. Thousands heard their message directly and many more indirectly despite (or perhaps because of) the hostility of the press. As they arrived in America, the Redmonds would not be the last to realise there was no such thing as bad publicity.

Their Australian trip in 1883 was controversial but highly successful on a personal and professional basis. John and Johanna Redmond would have three children before her premature death in 1889. Redmond later remarried to Englishwoman Ada Beesley. He remained close to the Dalton family and Australian affairs until his death in 1918 as leader of the Irish Party, just as his beloved Home Rule seemed at hand. Willie Redmond died a year earlier in 1917, the only MP to be killed in the First World War. That war which delayed Irish Home Rule passed in 1914, also destroyed it, and Ireland would go through two more terrible wars to wrest independence from England at the cost of the six counties.

See also Part 1 (Adelaide), Part 2 (Sydney), Part 3 (Queensland) and Part 4 (Melbourne). I’m indebted to the research of Jeff Kildea.


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