Moondyne: a story of life in Western Australia
John Boyle O'Reilly
Classic Australian Works
Originally serialised in The Pilot as Moondyne Joe in 1878, and subsequently reprinted in book form, this is the story of a convict called Moondyne, a name given him by indigenous Australians who help him escape and also share the existence of vast amounts of gold with him. With this wealth, Moondyne, now known as Wyville, returns to England and becomes a respected humanitarian. The questions raised by the Irish diaspora are tackled in Moondyne not simply in the context of the Australian penal system, or even the Irish land question, but also in the manner in which it mirrors issues of social justice then being debated in the United States. Moondyne explores ideas that are far more significant than its swashbuckling tone might suggest.
John Boyle O'Reilly, born in 1844 in Ireland, was a lifelong Irish nationalist. His enlistment in the British army was aimed to foment discontent amongst the troops. His ruse was discovered in 1866 and he was court-martialled and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to life imprisonment, then twenty years penal servitude in Western Australia. He arrived there in 1868 on the last convict transport sent to the Australian colonies. In 1869, he escaped on a whaling ship to become one of the United States of America's more significant immigrants. He settled in Boston where his achievements as political activist, part-owner and editor of The Pilot, an influential American Catholic newspaper, established him as lynchpin between establishment Boston and what was rapidly becoming a city of Irish Catholic immigrants. In 1876, he was instrumental in the escape of Irish prisoners from Fremantle gaol. He died in 1890 in the USA.