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Patrick Moloney: the story of a Fremantle publican and his connection to the Fenian Fright of 1881

Allen Graham

Graham, Allen 2007, 'Patrick Moloney: the story of a Fremantle publican and his connection to the Fenian Fright of 1881', Fremantle Studies, 5: 40-62.

The escape of six Fenians from Fremantle Prison at Easter time in April 1876 is a well known tale in Western Australia’s history and while that event has been given considerable scholarly attention there was a little known sequel to that escape a few years later when Fremantle with its Fenian connections was again thrust on to the international stage. However, for that tale to be truly appreciated it is necessary to know something of the history of Patrick Moloney, who was the publican of the Emerald Isle Hotel when John Breslin, alias James Collins, stayed there during the time he engineered the escape of the six Fenian prisoners.

While the tale of the Fenian escape is a colourful one in its own right, the tale of Moloney’s experiences are just as interesting because his experience as a Fremantle publican provides a glimpse of the street life of Fremantle at the time the Fenians were imprisoned in Fremantle Prison. There are in fact three phases to Moloney’s life in Western Australia (WA). The first of these was spent in Perth at around the time the Fenians arrived in the colony. The second was when he moves to Fremantle for the first time and lasted until the death of his first wife. It was during this phase that the Fenians escaped from Fremantle. The third phase was when he returned to Fremantle, and it is at the end of this phase that he was implicated in the Fenian Filibustering Expedition.

Patrick Moloney first came to the colony in December 1863 when he arrived on the Dalhousie with his family to take up a position as an Enrolled Pensioner Guard, having earlier served as a private in the East India Company. Not a lot is known of his early years in the colony, but by December 1867 he had relinquished his position as a guard and had taken over the license of the John Bull Inn in Perth; this was only a couple of weeks before the Fenian Prisoners arrived on the Hougoumont on 9 January 1868. 1

The next fifteen months were important ones in the affairs of the colony, and of Australia, for it was during this time that Australia had its first experience with the Fenian movement and its sympathisers.

Certainly the fact that Fremantle was to be the place where such a large number of Fenians were to be imprisoned was a source of great concern to the locals and one of these was in a position to raise his concerns with the Governor of the colony even before the Fenians had left England for Australia.

William Burges, a long standing and respected colonist who was visiting England at the time of their departure, wrote to the Governor warning him of their departure from England and urging him to take some precautions in case the colony was attacked by sympathisers seeking to free the Fenian prisoners.

It can be assumed that Burges’ letter arrived ahead of the Fenians for in the very paper that announced the arrival of The Hougoumont, an article appeared announcing that Governor Hampton had just sent a despatch to Commodore Lambert in Sydney asking for some naval protection ‘in the event of any attempt by an armed vessel, to liberate the Fenian convicts’. 2

This request was considered favourably by Commodore Lambert who quickly despatched HMS Brisk to the colony with this vessel arriving in Fremantle in early February; it remained in WA for a month before returning to Sydney.

It was ironic that at the time WA received the Fenian convicts, Australia for the first time welcomed a member of the Royal family onto its shores. In the first half of 1868 the Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria, called at the Eastern States in his capacity as the Captain of the British naval ship, HMS Galatea. And while this was a milestone event in Australian affairs, his visit was marred when in March 1868 a Fenian sympathiser attempted to assassinate the Duke while he was attending a large public picnic in Clontarf, New South Wales.

Fortunately the Duke survived the pistol wound to his back and within a month was once again undertaking all the duties expected of him. The hapless assassin was not so lucky for he was quickly apprehended and later paid the ultimate price for his action when he was hanged at the Darlinghurst gaol. And while the Fenian movements involvement in this assassination attempt was never established, it did fan an anti-Irish sentiment throughout all the Australian colonies and given the large number of Fenian prisoners in WA the decision was made to increase the defence of the colony with the posting of a regular regiment there rather than just relying on the efforts of the Volunteers, as it had done for the past few years.

So it was that in June 1868 the HMS Virago arrived in WA. While the residents of the colony were pleased to have their defence bolstered, the soldiers got off to a less than celebrated start as The Inquirer reported:

We had hardly subsided, after the anniversary festivities, into our usual quiet- going manner when... all Fremantle was astir with the news that the steamer Virago, with the troops had assuredly arrived. 3

And while the town was excited by their arrival, The Inquirer did nonetheless record that

We hope that the uproar and drunkenness which were the order of the day upon their arrival, will not be preludes to similar scenes in the future. 4

The soldier’s wives and families arrived a few weeks later when The Inquirer again recorded its satisfaction that the troops were in the colony:

The genuine red coat gives a lively aspect to our community, albeit a little too lively at times, when ‘the men of the fourteenth’... give play to strange propensities. 5

While The Inquirer had expressed some concern about the soldiers of the 14th Regiment, it was more flattering about the officers, commenting that they ‘polished by education and large intercourse with the world, are a valuable acquisition to colonial society.’

As it proved 1868 was a year of arrivals and departures. In November 1868 the colony said farewell to Governor Hampton who left WA before his replacement arrived; it was to be another ten months before the colony welcomed his successor, Governor Weld.

Ironically, both men missed out on what would have been one of their greatest career moments for in February 1869 the colony was honoured with a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh. He was once again on a tour of the southern hemisphere and this time the itinerary included India, Hong Kong and other Asian countries. Thus in February 1869 the Duke made what was effectively a surprise visit to the Empire’s least populated colony. In fact, the arrival of the Galatea with its complement of 570 officers and crew so completely caught the people of Perth and Fremantle off guard that the Prince and a number of other members of the crew were able to use the Galatea’s steam launch to motor into Fremantle unrecognised and unannounced. The luxury of anonymity allowing the Prince the freedom to stroll through Fremantle at his own leisure.

However, with the imposing sight of the Galatea in Gage Roads, the Prince’s arrival soon became known and he made a more regal arrival the following day.

The Duke’s visit lasted five days during which a ball was held in his honour. On another day he spent some time visiting Fremantle where he watched some of a cricket match that had been arranged between a team of officers from the Galatea and a local team made up of the best players from Perth and Fremantle, with victory going to the local team.

Notwithstanding such entertainments, it was ironic that the Duke should arrive in the colony at a time of some trouble with the Fenian prisoners of the Guildford work camp who were protesting against the way they were being treated by the work camp warder. The story behind that protest is beyond the scope of this essay, but another commentator who has written with some sympathy for the Fenian movement has drawn the conclusion that the acting Governor most likely told the Duke of the trouble being experienced with the Fenians and given the earlier assassination attempt suggests this news may have made him uneasy during his visit to the colony. This commentator goes so far as to suggest ‘The Fenians had managed in one month, without planning, to drive the son of Queen Victoria out of Western Australia.’ 6

Of course the veracity of that statement cannot be tested, but another interpretation would be to say that given the state of the colony at that time a Royal visit of ve days was more than long enough and certainly long enough for the colonists to show their effusive support for the monarch and her son. Indeed, the visit had been such a memorable event that all the papers continued to write glowing summaries and editorials about it over the course of the next few weeks.

While the Guildford Fenians were making protests over the way they were being treated, it was only a few weeks after the departure of the Duke that John Boyle O’Reilly, the most famous of all the WA Fenians, escaped from Bunbury on an American whaler after receiving considerable assistance from the local Irish Catholic priest. O’Reilly’s escape went largely unreported at this time, but his name was to be later etched into WA’s folklore as one of the principal architects of the Fenian escape on board the Catalpa.

After these early troubles with the Fenians things settled down as they either became integrated into the life of a colonial prison or were pardoned by Queen Victoria, so their numbers in the colony gradually decreased. However, there were a number amongst those who remained who had no prospects of being pardoned and it was to release those prisoners that the idea of the escape was conceived and later executed.

As for Moloney, he like all other colonists was no more than an observer in these matters and over time he continued to establish himself in the hotel trade. He later moved from the John Bull to the Shamrock Hotel, which had a name that no doubt matched his Irish patriotism.

It is not known how well either of these two hotels traded at this time, but from the beginning of 1873 the colony’s licensing laws were liberalised; among other things the moratorium which had limited the number of hotels in the colony was lifted. This prohibition on hotel numbers had been introduced by Governor Kennedy from 1 January 1857, so from that date until 1 January 1873 Perth had only been allowed to have nine hotels while Fremantle had been limited to five. That may have provided the motivation for Moloney moving to Fremantle since with the prospect of increasing competition, Fremantle was a far more attractive place to trade. Fremantle was enjoying better economic conditions at the time compared to the economic doldrums being experienced in Perth.

Still, it was fortuitous that Moloney’s move to Fremantle coincided with George Baston, the then licensee of the Emerald Isle, looking to relinquish his lease of the hotel to move to Geraldton. Moloney took control of this hotel, which also carried the most Irish of names, when he assumed the license from 1 January 1873. The Herald newspaper recorded this change in management when it wrote

This popular and well conducted establishment has undergone a change of proprietors. Mr Baston who has had the hotel for the last three years, is leaving Fremantle for Champion Bay, where he will resume the charge of his own hotel. Mr Moloney, long the Boniface of the Shamrock Hotel in Perth, is the new landlord of the Emerald Isle. The outgoing proprietor kept an open house during two hours on New Years Eve and the new one gave the same treat on the first day of this young year. Mr Moloney also gave the same day a public lunch to some of his friends and hotel customers. What with good cheer, good drinking and speechifying and mutual congratulations the entertainment passed off very successfully. Mine hosts are both much respected for their good humour, and willingness to oblige. We are sorry that our old friends Mr and Mrs Baston are leaving Fremantle, but they have very worthy successors in Mr Moloney and his wife, who are determined to spare no pains to keep the house up to the standard of efficiency and comfort it has long maintained. 7

As stated above, Fremantle only had five hotels at this time, but with the removal of the prohibition on hotel numbers it was not long before applications were being received for new hotels licenses. One of the first of these to be approved was for the Pier Hotel which stood at the bottom of Cliff Street and where the hotel’s name was a clear reference to the building’s close proximity to the new jetty now well under construction.

It was ironic that whereas the 1856 Legislation had banned entry into a hotel other than through the front door, the Licensing Court when approving this application did so on the proviso that ‘he must close the door of his house which at present opens into Cliff Street, and make one on the south side of the house’ 8. The Herald reported that such a proviso was ‘... a special concession to the prejudices of some of the denizens of the aristocratic locality in which Mr Brown’s house is situated.’ 9

Cliff Street was of course the leading street of the Fremantle mercantile elite and had been since the very earliest days of the colony, so this snipe at these ‘aristocrats’ was an interesting one to note, for while those families would have had a predictable loyalty to the Governor, it had been only a few months earlier that The Herald had commented on the more widespread plebeian values of the town when it wrote of Governor Weld’s Easter visit to Fremantle, observing

His Excellency is not received with anything like cordiality by the Portonians, who seem to regard vice regality with an indifference flavoured with contempt worthy of the most ultra republicans. 10

Given that there had been no major change to the colony’s licensing laws for over sixteen years the new Wines, Beer and Spirits Act of 1872 was a seminal piece of legislation and while the publicans had hoped that they would be given a concession to conduct some restricted Sunday trading, the government continued with its prohibition on Sunday trading other than for people who were considered to be bona fide travellers. However, as the Act provided no definition of what a bona de traveller was, this was to be the bane of the hotel trade for the next hundred years. Moloney was the first of Fremantle’s publicans to be prosecuted for breaching this regulation; on being found guilty he was fined the maximum penalty of £50. 11

But that was not the end of Moloney’s troubles. The police were also rigorously prosecuting any publican who sold drink after the 10pm closing time and only a few months later Moloney was charged with this offence. This tale is one of the most colourful of its time. The charge hinged on whether the drink, which was poured into an urn for a takeaway sale, was served before or after 10pm.

This case was given lengthy coverage by The Herald which went on to question the integrity of the police in pursuing this charge as it was subsequently dismissed by the Magistrate, although not before he suggested that Moloney ‘had cut things rather fine.’ 12

After recording that comment, The Herald’s article went from being a report to editorialising

Well, perhaps in this instance he did ‘cut it a little fine,’ but didn’t the police cut it rather finer? Saturday night is the poor man’s night out here. On Sunday he is by law deprived of the possibility of getting a drop of beer to mollify his Sunday dinner. 13

By August 1874 Moloney had been running the Emerald Isle for twenty months and while he had enjoyed good success at the hotel, notwithstanding the occasional police charge and fine, he perhaps had his best piece of luck ever at this time when his young daughter survived a fall from the upper floor of the hotel. The drama of this accident was recorded by The Herald:

An accident, providentially unattended with serious results occurred a few days since at the Emerald Isle Hotel. An infant daughter of the landlord, Mr Moloney, while playing on the balcony of the Hotel, fell through an opening in the balustrade and was precipitated to the flagged pathway below. By good fortune the child turned over in its descent, and escaped, save a shaking, almost without a scratch. It is not the first accident from the same balcony, nor the first miraculous escape. 14

After that experience not much more was heard of Moloney for the next year or more, but in November 1875 Fremantle welcomed to the port John Breslin, or for the benefit of his Fremantle hosts, James Collins, who was to be the leading character in the escape of the Fenians.

When Breslin looked around for a Fremantle hotel to stay at, he would have been restricted in his choice, for while the town now had six hotels, the Emerald Isle was clearly the best amongst these.

The Freemasons Hotel on South Terrace was closer to the gaol and may have been a more convenient hotel to use as a base, but it was still on the fringe of town so Breslin’s movements may have been more readily observed if he had stayed there rather than in the west end of the town which was still the main residential and commercial centre. Besides, any hotel with a name like the Emerald Isle and a publican of Irish birth would probably have far more appeal to a Fenian plotter than a hotel with the name Freemasons which also boasted of being ‘under the patronage of the Duke of Edinburgh.’ 15

As it was Breslin must have taken a room at the hotel at the very time Moloney was making improvements there, for not long after his arrival in Fremantle The Herald recorded some changes that had been made to the hotel.

Whatever doubts may exist as to the advantages gained by the colony in subsidising the Georgette as a mail steamer, there can be no doubt about the fact that since she has been running on the coast the passenger traffic between the various ports of call, as well as between this and the other colonies, has largely increased. The influx of visitors into the town of Fremantle, caused principally by the increased facilities for travelling offered by the Georgette has lately been much what beyond what existing hotel accommodation could meet, and Mr Moloney, the landlord of the Emerald Isle Hotel, has within the last few weeks made such additions and improvements in his hotel as to justify it being considered the largest, most commodious, and most convenient hotel in the colony. A buffet has been erected upstairs in connection with the Billiard-room and hotel department, which adds much to the comfort of residents at the hotel, in such a position as to be perfectly retired and beyond the reach of noises inseparable from hotels everywhere. In addition, there are bathroom closets, and every other convenience to be found in the best hotels in any part of the world. What ever others may think of the future of the colony, it is quite clear that Mr Moloney has faith in its progress, and he deserves great credit for the spirited way in which acting upon his belief, he has endeavoured and with success, to remove one of the standing reproaches against this colony – inferior hotel accommodation. 16

Although Moloney would have been well pleased with that story, only a fortnight later he experienced the full madness of Fremantle’s low life. While he had been a publican for a number of years, perhaps nothing had prepared him for this experience which is again best told by The Herald.

On Friday evening, three men applied at the Emerald Isle Hotel to be supplied with drink, as it was after hours they were refused. Immediately after the most piteous howlings were heard, and on Mr Moloney ... going out to ascertain the cause, they found a favourite dog, belonging to Mr Moloney, lying in the street, unable to move. On enquiry, it was ascertained that that the miscreants who had applied for drink, in revenge for being refused, had thrown the poor dog over the balcony into the street, breaking its bones and shattering it in a most frightful way. It was hopeless to think of saving the dog, and it was at once put into a sack and drowned. 17

Since arriving in the colony Breslin had made himself out to be a man of means and he came to be regarded by the Western Australian colonists ‘as an intending squatter, sheep farmer or mining speculator on a large scale, after the fashion of the Yankees.’ 18

To help cultivate this identity, Breslin carried with him a bogus legal document that gave the impression that he had extensive business interests with substantial wealth to back them. This document he left intentionally exposed in his room at the Emerald Isle and predictably it was not long before he was feted in the Fremantle community.

With this ruse being successful, Breslin was free to work on his escape plan which culminated in the prisoners being snatched from outside the walls of Fremantle prison, followed by a furious dash to Rockingham where they were picked up by the American whaler the Catalpa. Of course their escape from Fremantle had not gone unnoticed but when they were finally spotted they had been taken on board the Catalpa, a fact that nearly gave rise to an international incident for when the local authorities on board the Georgette demanded their release at the risk of the Catalpa being fired upon, the captain of the Catalpa reminded his pursuers of his American sovereignty. This posturing sufficiently fazed the Captain of the Georgette to put about, leaving the Catalpa free to make her way back to Boston where the Fenians were given a heroes’ welcome.

Needless to say, this escape caused great embarrassment to the local authorities and as Breslin had stayed at the Emerald Isle throughout his stay in the colony, Moloney with his Irish background was viewed with some suspicion as having somehow been party to the escape. Such suspicions were never proved, but it is worth noting the comments made in an Irish newspaper when reporting on the escape:

... Mr Patrick Moloney, County Clare, had not been for some years in the constabulary at Ennis and afterwards at Limerick, without having acquired enough of that rare adroitness earned by commerce with such service to be a match for any policeman in the antipodes. 19

It is possible that Moloney was to some degree brought into Breslin’s confidence. Five months is a long time for any single man to be alone, so it is not surprising to learn that during his stay in Fremantle Breslin became involved with one of the maids at the hotel. The outcome of that liaison is best described by Detective Sergeant Rowe, one of the Police Officers who conducted the local enquiry into the escape:

Mary Tonduit [Tondut], a Roman Catholic of the Colony, late servant of the Emerald Isle Hotel, where Collins was lodged, was seduced by Collins and is now enceinte. She left the colony on the Northern Light. Her expenses were paid by Collins through Moloney. She is to be accouched at Sydney where further arrangements are promised to be made to take her to Collins. 20

Maybe it was not just Miss Tondut who fell for the Yankee’s charms, for a local correspondent, when writing to his family in America tells them that the attitude of the locals to Breslin was divided with ‘some being for hanging, and others – amongst them the ladies – for letting him escape'. 21

After the escape and the initial enquiries by the local authorities not much more was made of the matter by the local papers and if the Fremantle police somehow felt that they had failed in their public duty over the Fenian escape, they became far more zealous in their scrutiny of the Fremantle publicans over the next few months. They were abetted in this matter by an excessive dependence on the word of informers, and the police behaviour towards the publicans at this time was described as a ‘Reign of Terror’. 22

Not that all charges against the publicans were being laid exclusively on the word of informers for in August 1876 Patrick Moloney again had to defend himself against a charge of after hours trading which had been laid against him by an over zealous police constable.

The facts of this matter were not recorded by the papers of the day, but rather were told in an open letter that Moloney wrote to The Herald describing the treatment that he had received at the hands of the police over the question of closing time at his hotel and this was a case where he was literally saved from prosecution by the bell.

Moloney opened his letter by saying

The annoyances to which publicans throughout the colony have lately been subject by the police, and their assistant informers have been a fruitful theme of discussion among all classes. That the police are acting under instructions from their superiors there can be no doubt from the fact that, however outrageously improper the conduct of the police, they are protected and no complaint however well founded is entertained; while but scant courtesy and less satisfaction is accorded to any publican complaining. 23

In this letter Moloney told of the experience that he had with one of the local constabulary one evening when about ten minutes before closing time Moloney left the billiard room of his hotel to go to the tap room and on entering the room, found that ‘the barman had turned my customers out, refused to serve, and was closing the doors’. 24

Surprised by this premature action of the barman Moloney asked why he had closed the bar and was told that the policeman had told him that it was past ten o’clock and had ordered him to close. Moloney then checked his own watch which showed the time at eight minutes to ten and being confident that his watch was right, ordered that the bar be reopened and for the barman to continue serving.

This seemingly flagrant breach of the law was of course noticed by the policeman who again ‘persisted that it was past ten’, and the proceedings that followed are best told in Moloney’s own words

I kept my eye on my own watch, and within a few seconds of ten, I said to the policeman, if you will walk into the street you will hear the Establishment clock strike ten. The night was calm and I knew the clock would be heard. He went out and he had hardly got into the street when the clock struck ten. I then ordered my bar to be closed. 25

Moloney continued

Now here was a gross and wanton interruption to my business, which could not be otherwise than injurious to my trade and occasion me loss. Whether the action of the policeman was wilful or otherwise, I will not say, but it is clearly certain, that had the night not been so calm as to allow the clock being heard a charge would have been against me of selling after hours, and I might have found it difficult to prove my innocence as the bench here has laid it down as a rule to take the police time as correct. 26

As Moloney said in his letter, he did not know whether the action of the police was ‘wilful or otherwise’ but it has been suggested that Moloney was just about run out of town by the police because of the suspicions they held about him over the escape of the Fenians. 27 However, it would seem that suggestion is just part of the myth surrounding the escape, for considering the above references to police behaviour, it would seem that Moloney received no more attention from the police than what was experienced by the other publicans around this time.

Still, the belief that he was driven from the town may have been a reasonable one, for at the beginning of November 1876 Moloney advertised that he wished to sell off a large stock of beer and spirits, while William Marmion, the owner of the Emerald Isle advertised that he was seeking a new tenant for the hotel, as Moloney was ‘desirous to relinquish business before the termination of his lease in order to leave the colony.’ 28

These advertisements appeared only days before the local papers reprinted an account of Breslin’s tale of how he had manufactured the escape of the Fenians. The timing of these matters could have led to the conclusion formed by the other commentators, but it is also likely that the timing was just coincidence. It was not uncommon for publicans to seek to quit their licenses towards the end of a year so that their successor could take over from the beginning of a new calendar year. In any event, there were no immediate takers for the hotel and Moloney was forced to carry on with the lease well into 1877 and it was the death of Mrs Moloney on 15 June 1877 that was the spur for Patrick Moloney to leave Fremantle and return to Melbourne.

Her death was not only a sad loss to the family, but also for the town, for the Moloneys had since arriving in Fremantle in 1873 been active in the community life of the town and The Inquirer made a note of her death:

The melancholy intelligence cast a gloom over the town, and there was a general expression of sympathy for her bereaved family and especially for the sorrowing husband. 29

As for Patrick, Johanna’s death must have forced him to decide what would be best for his family, so by July he had handed over his affairs to an administrator and with his family had departed for Melbourne. 30


High Street looking west with Emerald Isle Hotel (left) and Crown & Thistle Hotel with walled front garden (right), 1880s. Both hotels had associations with Patrick Moloney. Photograph LHC 2044A, Courtesy Local History Collection Fremantle City Library.

On his return to Melbourne, Moloney soon took out the licence for a Melbourne hotel and by October 1877 he was advertising that he had taken over The Exchange Hotel and ‘will be happy to meet such of his West Australian friends as may visit Melbourne.’ 31 However, WA continued to have some appeal for Moloney and he returned to WA in August 1879. Not long after that The Inquirer reported:

The well known Crown and Thistle Hotel is about to change hands, I hear: Mr Patrick Moloney, formerly of the Emerald Isle, having arranged with the present landlords to take over the premises at an early date. 32

Nothing came of that rumour at that time and while he was later linked to the Shamrock Hotel in Perth that too came to nothing.

The Crown and Thistle had been operating for a long time in Fremantle, but even with a long history behind it, it was never the most profitable of Fremantle’s hotels. At the beginning of 1880 it was closed while it waited for somebody new to take on the management.

At the beginning of 1880 Moloney took out a lease on the hotel for the next three years, subsequently announcing his return as a Fremantle publican:

The Proprietor, whose long experience in the colony as a Licensed Victualler is well known, is determined by careful supervision to make the Hotel in point of convenience, cleanliness and comfort, second to none in the colony. 33

The Herald made particular reference to this advertisement:

In our advertising columns it will be seen that Mr P Moloney, who was some time ago the popular proprietor of the Emerald Isle Hotel, Fremantle, has entered upon the Crown and Thistle Hotel, Fremantle, lately occupied by Mr M R Meagher. Mr Moloney’s numerous West Australian friends will be glad to nd him once more in Fremantle, after so long an absence in the other colonies. 34

As it proved, not long after Moloney took over the hotel, it was offered for sale at auction. Moloney was only then leasing the hotel from the estate of Alexander Francisco who had been the long time owner until his death in December 1878.

The auction advertisement gave some details of the terms of Moloney’s lease:

Lot 1 – All that FIRST CLASS HOTEL, with the outbuildings and appurtenance, lately occupied by Mr M R Meagher, and now by Mr Patrick Moloney.
The Hotel and premises are too well known to need any very lengthened description; suffice to say that it is replete with Rooms and every other accommodation necessary for the carrying out of a very extensive Hotel business. 35

The advertisement later tells how

The Lot is under tenancy to Mr Patrick Moloney for a term of three years from the 1st January last at a rental of £160, with stringent covenants as to repairs being done by the tenant.36

The date set for the Auction of the hotel was 6 April, but the property was subsequently passed in for as The Herald reported

Mr Craig, of York, was the highest speculator upon the occasion, he having bid a trifle over £2,500. The reserve is reported to have been £3,000 – and little enough too, considering the eligibility of the position and the fact that at the time the property was first put into the market figures of from £4,000 to £5,000 were mentioned in connection with it. There is a probability, I hear, of this fine property changing hands privately. 37

As it happened, no sale eventuated and while his lease did not change, only a couple of weeks later Moloney was taken to court by Frederick Caesar of the Emerald Isle for not paying his account for lodging at that hotel. Apparently Moloney had stayed there from the time he had arrived back in the colony until the time he had taken possession of the Crown and Thistle. By Caesar’s calculations this was a period of twenty-two weeks and as reported in The West Australian, ‘The case created considerable interest owing to the popularity of the parties concerned’. 38 It is also recorded that Moloney had returned to colony to collect some debts that were still owed to him.

The question that the court had to decide was whether Moloney had simply been a lodger at the Emerald Isle who had shirked on paying his account, or whether he had truly been a guest of Caesar. It is said that Caesar treated Moloney as such until he discovered that Moloney ‘had entered into competition with him, when, out of sheer vindictiveness, he had trumped up the present claim’. 39

This case revealed a number of matters about hotel keeping at this time and one thing that The West Australian’s article showed was that a lodger in a hotel of the standard of The Emerald Isle could expect to pay two guineas for their weekly lodging which included board and breakfast. The paper also reported on Caesar’s relationship with Moloney:

He was not a particular friend of the plaintiff, nor was he a very desirable guest; on the contrary he behaved in a very obnoxious manner towards the other lodgers. He was so offensive in his habits that the servants, as well as some of the boarders, made complaints about him to the witness. 40

The case was one that saw a number of Fremantle publicans being called as witnesses for one party or the other, where each gave their opinions on whether Moloney should have been regarded, as a guest or a lodger, with James Herbert of the Freemasons telling the Court that when he had stayed at Moloney’s Melbourne Hotel, he had received no concession from Moloney and had been required to pay the full board. In the end the court determined that Moloney was a lodger for he had from time to time enquired about his account which showed ‘clearly that he himself was not under the impression that he himself was not being treated as a guest’. 41

With the decision going against Moloney he was ordered to pay £40 to Caesar as well as costs, which was most likely money that Moloney could ill afford at this time and from this point onwards things only got worst for him. Only a couple of months later Moloney suffered further financial loss when he cashed a couple of cheques that later bounced.

The circumstance of this case reveals that in such matters Moloney and most of the other publicans and storekeepers of the colony often abetted such fraud, for they were all in the habit of keeping blank cheque books under their counters which they would later offer to their customers as a way of settling their accounts. This was a practice that drew some criticism from the Chief Justice in this case, for as The West Australian reported in an editorial

His Honor the Chief Justice might well express his surprise on the occasion of a trial at the recent criminal session, as to the facilities afforded in this colony for the commission of forgeries. The case referred to was that of the man Bottomley convicted of obtaining money by means of two valueless cheques at Moloney’s Fremantle Hotel. His Honor appeared thunderstruck when the barman told him they kept the cheque books on all the local banks for the convenience of such customers as Bottomley. This, as the Chief Justice remarked, undoubtedly shows an amount of public confidence, which would be quite refreshing, but for the fatal facilities, which such a custom affords for the commission of offences, such as that of which Bottomley was found guilty. It is indeed not to be wondered at that this class of misdemeanour figures conspicuously at every session of the Court. At almost every public house throughout the colony, blank cheques are available to any customer. No value whatever is attached to these documents. They are obtained for nothing at the bank, and no watch is kept over them. In shops and stores, they are to be had for the asking, and it is very seldom that any care is taken in distributing them. 42

As it was, Moloney was carrying the burden of all these problems on his own. Although he had remarried in the time that he had been back in Melbourne, his new wife had not yet joined him in WA, so no doubt his spirits were lifted when his wife and family finally joined him in July 1880.

Her arrival marked a change of name for the hotel for Moloney now called the hotel The Crown and Thistle and Pearlers Hotel, no doubt in recognition of the burgeoning benefits that Fremantle was enjoying through the northwest pearling industry. In an advertisement for the hotel he advised that

Mr Moloney begs respectfully to inform the public of Western Australia generally, that Mrs Moloney who was detained in Melbourne by business, much longer than was anticipated when he opened the hotel, arrived by the last mail steamer, and will at once assume the direction and management of the Hotel Department and will devote her attention to the comfort and convenience of families and others visiting the hotel. 43

However, this advertisement only appeared for a few weeks and it may well have been better if Mrs Moloney had remained in Melbourne for by now Moloney was in financial trouble and within the next few weeks he quit the hotel with The Inquirer making an editorial statement on his exit:

That unlucky hotel the Crown and Thistle is again clewed up. Another victim! A competent man not only from the ‘other side’, but both sides, has fallen. The devil’s claw seems on the devoted premises. The victim on entering pays for new balconies, verandahs, etc and makes numberless improvements for the owners, but to no purpose to himself. He falls like the former occupiers of the old, ill-looking place – perhaps to rise no more. Echo answer, who is the next victim? Outsiders and creditors in particular may speak harshly of the present victim. Perhaps the shoe pinches; but many sympathise, for they are kind, civil and agreeable people – far more so than the general run. And it is not one that has fallen, but many on the spot. Fallen – the last one, I may say, just at the turn of the tide; the tide that is to flow to us Porties on the railway and other prosperities. 44

But that was not the end of Moloney’s troubles for in December he had to face a greater embarrassment:

Mr Moloney, the late landlord of the Crown and Thistle Hotel was arrested Thursday afternoon, at the suit of one of his creditors. He was at the time, engaged in seeing his wife and younger children on board the Otway ... During the course of the evening Mr Moloney was conveyed to Perth, where he still remains in detention. 45

The paper made the observation that ‘We believe, that under some rule of the Court, Mr Moloney will be unable to avail himself of the privilege of bail until the 16th inst’. 46

The circumstance behind Moloney’s arrest was that he had not settled his accounts with all his creditors so he was subject to arrest under the Absconders Debtors Act. This was an Act which had been relied on more than once and while it had been successful in meeting its objective of preventing people from leaving the colony without them first having made suitable arrangements with their creditors, it was considered a rather distasteful piece of legislation.

As it turned out Moloney was not released from gaol until 17 December 47, but that was only a temporary reprieve for in January 1881 he was forced to declare himself bankrupt and being unable to raise enough funds to meet the demands of his creditors was again forced back into gaol. 48

This too proved an ordeal for Moloney as he was then held in the Perth Gaol for just short of two months and he was obliged to engage the services of John Horgan, a Perth solicitor, to bring his case before the court in order to secure his release. Horgan himself was only a new arrival in Perth and had only just been admitted to the Perth Bar and The Herald in their report of this court case described how Horgan showed

that the object of the creditors was to keep the bankrupt in prison for an indefinite period so as to harass and persecute him... and the Bankrupt Act never contemplated that a Bankrupt should be kept in prison at the caprice of his creditors. 49

This motion to release Moloney was of course vigorously opposed by the solicitor who had been engaged by Moloney’s creditors and when it became clear that the Acting Chief Justice was ‘disposed to make an order to discharge the bankrupt’, the solicitor acting for the creditors ‘asked the Court to impose bail of a substantial kind.’ 50 However, this request was rejected as the Act did not provide for such a condition and subsequently the Acting Justice determined that Moloney should be set free.

It is not known how Moloney occupied his time immediately upon his release, but by the end of May he was finally able to put his Fremantle experiences behind when he left Fremantle on the Pioneer for Bunbury where he was to pick up another boat for Adelaide and then on to Melbourne. But while his boat may have had fair weather to Bunbury, it was an ill wind that greeted Moloney in Bunbury:

It is reported that Mr Moloney who lately left the town for Bunbury has been arrested at the Vasse, at the suit of one of his creditors with whom he had unfortunately neglected to make any arrangements in regard to the settlement of his claim. 51

The Herald gave a more detailed account of Moloney’s plight a week later:

About twelve days ago Mr Patrick Moloney arrived in Bunbury by the Pioneer..... A few days later the Italy having finished loading was ready to sail from the same port, and Mr Moloney secured his passage by her. The ship was cleared and making ready to weigh anchor, and Mr Moloney was no doubt in a happy mood, but leaving his bankruptcy creditors and his solicitor who had obtained his release from prison in a very different state of mind. However, he was at the last moment disturbed by the arrival of the myrmidons of the law who at once instituted a diligent search for Mr Moloney, who was wanted under a warrant at the suit of his late solicitor. But Mr Moloney was not to be found, though the ship was searched high and low. The search was renewed again and again, and even sulphur was burned, but all without effect. At last, a long iron probe was insinuated into the chain locker, a prod of which produced a sudden exclamation from the depths below, thus announcing the presence of the missing one. He was of course at once brought out and taken ashore in custody and the good ship Italy went on her way without him. Eventually some benevolent inhabitants of Bunbury collected the required amount among themselves, and the claim was settled, and Mr Moloney left by the Pioneer, bidding WA and his creditors a hearty farewell. 52

Ironically Moloney had left Fremantle without settling his account £17/0/2 with the very solicitor who had secured his release from gaol. 53 And it is interesting that one of the last personalities of WA who purportedly had anything to do with the escape of the Fenians also had to rely on the goodwill of the people of Bunbury to be able to leave the colony, for it was through that town that John Boyle O’Reilly had made his escape way back in 1869.

However, that Fenian ‘connection’ was not yet extinguished. Nor had Fremantle heard the last of Moloney. In October 1881 The Herald published the following telegraph which before too long was being linked back to him:

A report, which has occasioned some uneasiness, and which requires confirmation as it comes from a very dubious source but which has been circulated throughout the United States and also published in the St Louis newspapers to the effect that the Fenians have for some time been recruiting in force, intending to commence hostilities against some portions of the British Dominions. It is satisfied that three hundred men fully armed with ammunition have sailed from St Francisco for Fremantle, Western Australia; where they intend to gain possession of the Convict barracks, release the Fenian Prisoners confined there, and plunder the settlement. 54

It was not known how this report had originated and when the Fremantle Council met a few days later and the Acting Chairman was asked if the Council was in communication with the Governor over the rumoured invasion. The Acting Chairman gave an answer which brought laughter and applause from those in attendance at the meeting when he replied ‘that he was not in a position to answer the question. But he had no doubt that if the Fenians did arrive they would never see High Street’. 55

This matter continued to maintain its interest over the next few weeks and it was not until near the end of October that Moloney was linked to the telegram. This was when The West Australian ran a very long editorial on the matter wherein they attributed the rumour to a tale that was first reported in the South Australian Register and which was later given greater credence by that colony’s other newspaper The Advertiser. And it was from the information contained in that newspaper that The West Australian drew its account of the Fenian Filibustering Expedition in a very lengthy editorial:

Our contemporary allows that we have a Volunteer force in the colony to oppose the iniquitous invaders, but it has heard ... that this force is composed ‘to a considerable extent of men with Fenian sympathies.’ Let the Fenians come and they will soon find out whether our Volunteers have Fenian sympathies. 56

But The West’s editorial was more about debunking the rumour than any call to arms and it was in this part of the tale that Moloney was linked to the telegram:

... The Advertiser evidently had been very much hoaxed indeed, for it bases its gloomy forebodings upon certain supposed bar parlour confidences poured into the ear of a gentleman known in this colony, by Mr Patrick Maloney [sic], late of the Emerald Isle Hotel. It appears that Mr Maloney was grand upon the topic of his West Australian exploits; that he boasted how he had baffled the cunningness devices of our admirable detective force and triumphantly circumvented their wiles. He told how they searched his luggage for the dry bones of an exhumed Fenian, which bones were safely reposing in a carpetbag, and travelling to Albany. He told also how, some years before, to his talents has been chiefly due the successful issue of the Catalpa business, and enlarged upon the skill with which that invasion was accomplished.

But these exploits, he whispered would sink into miserable insignificance beside the glorious enterprise for which he was now preparing. He was off to San Francisco. There he would receive a thousand pounds, in payment for past services to the Fenian brotherhood. With this he would organise a party, return to Fremantle and, blow up the prison, release the prisoners and make things generally uncomfortable for everybody. This conversation is supposed to have taken place at the Imperial Hotel, Adelaide in June of the present year ... And The Advertiser thinks that it a curious coincidence that just sufficient time has lapsed between the mysterious Mr MALONEY’s [sic] departure and the Register’s receipt of the now celebrated San Franciscan telegram, to enable the redoubtable Fenian agent to carry out his threats. 57

While that tale no doubt generated a great deal of interest amongst Fremantle people, The West Australian did note how the threat had been debunked by the authorities, for

it was ascertained that the terrible Mr Maloney had never been to San Francisco at all, and that during the time when he was supposed to have been actively engaged in preparing for conflict with the British Lion, he had in reality been quietly domiciled in Melbourne. 58

While The West Australian had judged the story to be untrue, the Melbourne Age had repeated the tale as if it was true and only a few days later The Herald reported how

Last week an extract from the Melbourne Age purporting to give a full true and particular account of the close and intimate relations which is said existed between the Fenians and Mr Patrick Maloney [sic] ... was handed about. 59

The Herald also recorded that Mr Moloney had ‘instructed his solicitor, the well known Mr David Gaunson, to commence an action against the Age for libel, in which substantial damages will be claimed.’

Despite the stories, which were meant to show the fallacious nature of the rumour, and the confidence expressed by the Acting Chairman of the Fremantle Council, there were people in Fremantle that took some fright from the rumour:

The Fenian scare has somewhat subsided – after a few restless nights for many families, who considered themselves... as being located far too handy to the ‘seat of war’ and because of such fears the water police were for a time on an increased state of alert. 60

The tale maintained its momentum and in November The West Australian Catholic Record added to the tale when it reproduced an article that had appeared in the New York World. The Record captioned its article ‘The Starting of the late Fenian Rumour’ and it read as follows

The Posts Despatch published tonight an account of the efforts of a Fenian named Donovan to recruit a force of men in St Louis to join a filibustering expedition. The party was to start for San Francisco Wednesday night, but Organizer Donovan failed to meet those who had engaged to go and are still waiting. Henry Meyer, one of those men who took the oath of secrecy and had expected to go on the expedition, said, ‘Donovan, is connected with some Irish Society in San Francisco that has bought a ship of war from one of the South American Republics – I think Peru – and they are fitting it out for a descent upon Fremantle, Australia. Some of their members are in the penitentiary there and they want to come down on the place suddenly and get them out. He says that there is a mint there too, ‘chock’, full of gold, all of which will be captured and turned over for a ‘square’ divide. The ship is to go full handed.’ The whole crew will be 300 men, and he says that plenty of arms have been secured. The name of the vessel is to be the Grace O’Malley. 61

Not a lot more was written on this matter after this with The Herald having the last word on this issue in December when it wrote

We hear that Mr Patrick Maloney [sic] has taken a large hotel in Prahran, a suburb of Melbourne where he is doing a flourishing business. At the same time he is vigorously prosecuting his suit against The Age for libel in consequence of the report that newspaper lately published with reference to Mr Maloney’s [sic] alleged connection with the reported Fenian filibustering expedition. 62

Unfortunately the outcome of Moloney’s action against The Age is not known as there are no Court reports from that time to show if the matter ever went to trial, but should the full facts of that tale ever be revealed it will certainly add more to the colourful role that Moloney and the Fenian Movement played in WA’s history.

Not that this episode was to extinguish the Fenian flame that was still carried by some in Fremantle, for it was only a couple of years later that one poor unfortunate by the name of Burke ‘received a sentence of two months imprisonment for creating a disturbance at the Pier Hotel, by singing some so-called Fenian songs.’ 63

Fremantle Studies Day, October 2006


1 The Perth Gazette, 20/12/1867.

2 The Perth Gazette, 10/1/1868.

3 The Inquirer, 10/6/1868.

4 ibid

5 The Inquirer, 24/6/1868.

6 T Keneally, The Great Shame – A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New, Chatto & Windus, London, 1998, p 499.

7 The Herald, 4/1/1873.

8 The Herald, 7/6/1873.

9 ibid

10 The Herald, 26/4/1873.

11 The Herald, 12/7/1873.

12 The Herald, 4/10/1873.

13 ibid

14 The Herald, 8/8/1874.

15 Mr Herbert, the Publican of The Freemasons, had started to make this boast about his hotel shortly after the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in February 1869.

16 The Herald, 12/2/1876.

17 The Herald, 4/3/1876.

18 S O’Luing, Fremantle Mission, Anvil Book, Tralee, Ireland, 1965, p 93.

19 ibid, p138.

20 Keneally, The Great Shame, p 592. Miss Tondut left on the Northern Light on 8 May 1876. This reference will also give more information on Miss Tondut after the birth of her baby.

21 From a letter published in the New York Irish World, 19/8/1876, reproduced in O’Luing, Fremantle Mission, 1965, p 139.

22 The Herald, 15/7/1876.

23 The Herald, 26/8/1876.

24 ibid

25 ibid

26 ibid

27 Unpublished notes, City of Fremantle Local History Collection.

28 The Herald, 18/11/1876.

29 The Inquirer, 20/6/1877. Given Mrs Moloney’s standing in Fremantle’s Catholic community it is likely that the WA Catholic Record also paid tribute to her upon her death and this would have been published in the July 1877 edition of that paper. However, there are a number of pages missing from the copy that is held in the Battye Library and such an obituary has yet to be found.

30 The Herald, 14/7/1877.

31 The Herald, 20/10/1877.

32 The Inquirer, 10/9/1879.

33 The Herald, 7/2/1880.

34 The Herald, 7/2/1880.

35 The Inquirer, 3/3/1880.

36 ibid

37 The Inquirer, 21/4/1880.

38 The West Australian, 16/4/1880.

39 ibid.

40 ibid

41 ibid

42 The West Australian, 22/6/1880.

43 The Herald, 17/7/1880.

44 The Inquirer, 29/9/1880.

45 The Herald, 11/12/1880.

46 ibid

47 WA Police Gazette, 17/12/1880

48 The Herald, 15/1/1881

49 The Herald, 19/3/1881.

50 ibid

51 The Herald, 11/6/1881.

52 The Herald, 18/6/1881.

53 WA Police Gazette, 8/6/1881

54 The Herald, 1/10/1881.

55 The Herald, 8/10/1881.

56 The West Australian, 25/10/1881.

57 ibid

58 ibid

60 The Inquirer, 2/11/1881.

61 The West Australian Catholic Record, 17/11/1881. The New York World article was dated 10/9/1881

62 The Herald (Supplement), 17/12/1881. This article shows the name Maloney when in fact it should be Moloney. This has been a mistake made by many commentators when commenting on Mr Moloney’s role in the Fenian escape from Fremantle.

63 The West Australian, 7/6/1884.

Garry Gillard | New: 2 November, 2017 | Now: 16 December, 2018