Everyone knows about the Catalpa, don’t they?

No? Well in that case get along to the City of Rockingham’s Catalpa Adventure Festival this Easter weekend and find out more. Perhaps even ride in the Fremantle Ports Catalpa Dash on Easter Monday from Freo Prison to the Rockingham foreshore.

City of Rockingham is putting on the 2024 Catalpa Adventure Festival over this Easter Sunday and Easter Monday to remind us all how 6 Military Fenians managed to escape Fremantle Prison and were spirited away from Rockingham on the American Whaler Catalpa on Easter Monday 1876 – just 148 years ago.

There will be lots of Irish culture on display during the Festival, along with a film of the Catalpa Escape and a live performance telling the story.

On Easter Sunday, 31 March, you can enjoy: a live Gaelic football match with Na Fianna Catalpa GAA; Irish hurling demonstrations; free activities; and food markets at the Village Green in Rockingham.

The festival then moves inside the Gary Holland Centre from 5pm for an impressive Irish skit where you can listen to the Fenian fables followed by the screening of The Catalpa Rescue documentary.

On Easter Monday – the actual day of the rescue – the Fremantle Ports sponsored Catalpa Dash takes off. It’s a 30km historic ride which re-enacts the Fenian escape of 1876, dashing along the same route the escapees took from Fremantle Prison to Rockingham Foreshore.

The dash starts with a breakfast at Fremantle Prison from 9am and the ride leaves at 10am arriving in Rockingham in time for the official opening of the Catalpa Adventure Festival at Churchill Park at 1pm.

You can register for the ride now, which includes event entry to the festival and a commemorative t-shirt. There are also prizes to be won for the best-dressed Convict Cobbler, whatever a convict cobbler is.

A highlight of the afternoon will be the commemoration at the Catalpa Memorial and a play by Fenians Fremantle & Freedom reenacting the entire Catalpa drama with the six Fenians arriving by early 1900 carts and departing on a replica Catalpa whale chaser. That’ll be well worth the visit to Rockingham.

Bark Catalpa of New Bedford, PY0582

The Catalpa story is a super story that’s been told many times over, including in an historical account by Sir William Heseltine written from a warder’s perspective and republished here on the Shipping News just 6 years ago.

The escape from Fremantle Prison, from a warder’s and a British prison authority’s perspective, was a bit of a shambles as it was carefully planned by the Yanks to take place while all the Prison’s top brass were up the river in Perth enjoying an Easter Regatta. At the time the apparent ineptitude of the gaolers drew many a wry smile and sharp laugh from Freo locals.

We love how the refrain was soon taken up in song, as Sir William recounts –

Come all you screw warders and gaolers,
Remember Perth regatta today.
Take care of the rest of your Fenians,
Or the Yankees will take them away.

We digress ever so slightly. Why don’t you get down to Rockingham and treat the kids to some good Fenian fun over the Easter Sunday and Monday.

Better still, REGISTER NOW to join the Fremantle Ports Catalpa Dash for a mere $55.

If you are not a rider, make sure you get to the Rockingham foreshore to enjoy the Fenians Fremantle and Freedom group’s performance of the journey the lucky six took 148 years ago!

By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News


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