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John Foley

John Foley, one of 280 convicts transported on the Hougoumont, 10 October 1867

Name, Aliases & Gender

Name: John Foley
Aliases: none
Gender: m

Birth, Occupation & Death

Date of Birth: 1845
Occupation: Soldier
Date of Death: -
Age: -

Life Span

Life span

Male median life span was 53 years*

* Median life span based on contributions

Conviction & Transportation

Sentence Severity

Sentence Severity

Sentenced to 7 years

Crime: Mutiny
Convicted at: Dublin General Court Martial
Sentence term: 7 years
Ship: Hougoumont
Departure date: 10th October, 1867
Arrival date: 9th January, 1868
Place of arrival Western Australia
Passenger manifest Travelled with 280 other convicts


Primary source: Australian Joint Copying Project. Microfilm Roll 93, Class and Piece Number HO11/19, Page Number 266
Source description: This record is one of the entries in the British convict transportation registers 1787-1867 database compiled by State Library of Queensland from British Home Office (HO) records which are available on microfilm as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project.

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Community Contributions

Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

1867, 6 May: John Foley, was convicted by court martial at the Royal Military Barracks, in Dublin, of mutinous conduct – concealing a mutiny when a driver in the Royal Horse Artillery and “proved to be a Fenian and to have deserted in London to come over to Ireland for the rising” (Amos, 1987, p366). He was sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude.

It’s likely that he was held at the military prison at Arbour Hill, on a small site north of the River Liffy and near the site of the old Provost prison. Built in 1845-88, Arbour Hill served solely as a military detention centre (PD O’Donnell, Dublin Historical Record, Vol 25, No 4, p145). After his conviction, John Foley would have been dressed in convict garb and then sent to Mountjoy convict prison, also in Dublin.


Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

Fenians and imprisonment:

In his thesis, “The Fenians and Australia c1865-1880”, Keith Amos (1987) says all of the Fenians transported to WA on the Hougoumont “had been arrested, tried and sentenced between September 1865 and August 1867 for a variety of roles in a concerted but ill-fated attempt forcibly to establish Ireland as an independent republic. Immediately after the first convictions, sympathetic countrymen began to agitate for official recognition of Fenians as political prisoners, hoping that certain privileges accorded to Daniel O’Connell and the Young Irelanders might be granted, the most important being physical separation from ordinary criminals.”

Their efforts were unsuccessful.

Amos says “all Fenians were treated at first as ordinary criminals. Shortly after sentence, beards were cut off, hair cropped, clothes exchanged for prison dress, and photos taken as the prisoners held before them black slates bearing their names and numbers inscribed in chalk. Most served about three months in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, where they were lodged in separate cells and worked during the day, in solitude, picking coir. They were then shipped to England to serve a further six months solitary confinement at Pentonville or Millbank, and progressed from there to Chatham, Portsmouth, Portland, or for intractables, Dartmoor, where limited conversation was permitted during gang labour and one letter allowed each month. Conditions were undoubtedly harsh, stretching sanity to the limit under the stress of solitary confinement, and physical health to the point of collapse under heavy labour. On the whole though, most Fenians were not singled out for worse treatment than other convicts unless, like O’Donovan Rossa, they attracted attention with acts of defiance.” (1987, pp110-111)


Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

1867, 4 July: John Foley was admitted to Millbank at Westminster in London. Most likely the journey from Dublin was via the Irish port of Kingstown, for passage by boat to Holyhead in Wales. From there it was 300 miles south by road to London for the 16 military and civilian Fenians transferred at this time.

On arrival at Millbank, John Foley was listed as prisoner #3496, and a “Government prisoner”. He was 20 years old, single, able to read and write imperfectly, a Roman Catholic, a former driver in the Royal Artillery and now a labourer. His crime was “coming to the knowledge of an intended mutiny in Her Majesty’s army” for which he was “discharged with ignomy and marked with the letters BC”. By this time he had served 1 month and 27 days in special / solitary confinement (UK, Prison Commission Records, 1770-1951; Millbank Prison; Register of Prisoners 1866-67).


Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

Those letters and branding:

At some point during his incarceration in England, John Foley was more than “marked” with the letters “BC” (as noted on his Millbank record). He was branded, twice. Once with “BC” and again with a “D” (according to his West Australian Convict Record and the WA General Register).

The practice of branding was continued by the British until 1871, according to Phillip Hilton’s thesis, “Branded with a D on the left side”. Until 1829, any soldier could be branded but after that it was reserved for deserters who were “marked on the left side, 2 inches (5 cm) below the armpit, with the letter ‘D’, such letter to be not less than an inch long” (Wikipedia).

Hilton says branding deserters was “a means of humiliating offenders” (2010, p140, https://eprints.utas.edu.au/17678/2/Hilton_Thesis.pdf), but he doesn’t say how the branding happened and there are conflicting versions among writers. For example, Peter FitzSimons (2019) refers to barbaric fire brandings of the four Fenian deserters among the “Catalpa six” who escaped from WA to America in 1876, while others such as Amos (1987) describe painful tattooing using India ink and an awl.

A post on the Irish Garrison Towns website (http://irishgarrisontowns.com/d-for-deserter/) says both practices were used – hot iron/fire branding being the preferred method until around the mid-19th century when it was replaced by tattooing:

“A new device was created to mark the soldiers’ skin with ink, or even gunpowder… The large, blunt points [on the branding tool] hint at the pain it caused as a spring mechanism forced these points into the skin. Regimental doctors described the practice as ‘cupping’.”

Simon Barnard’s book “Convict tattoos: Marked men and women of Australia” (p55) has several shots of one of these spring loaded, brass “branding instruments” manufactured by John Weiss & Sons of The Strand, London. Barnard says they were used by medical officers to tattoo army deserters.

The head of the “Weiss’ Invention” model holds 47 needle points arranged in the shape of a “D”, all clearly capable of puncturing human skin. So, too, the points of the brass instrument featured on the Science Museum of London’s website. Made by Savigny & Co of London, its adjustable points “still bear traces of ink” and were pushed through the skin by a spring-powered mechanism. Savigny & Co was “better known as a major manufacturer of surgical instruments in the 1700s and early 1800s”.

The Museum says branding was abolished in 1829, except for army deserters. After this, the mark was tattooed on the body until the practice was abandoned altogether in 1879 (https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/objects/co155799/branding-tool-for-marking-deserters-london-england-1810-1850-branding-tool).

Notoriously bad soldiers were also branded with “BC” (bad character), according to Wikipedia.

Aside from John Foley, only one other man sent to WA on the Hougoumont carried the dual markings of “D” and “BC” – military Fenian Patrick Killeen.


Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

1867, 30 September: Boarding the Hougoumont

“The hired convict ship Hougoumont, which has been taken up by the Government for the conveyance of a numerous party of convicts to Freemantle, Western Australia, left the Nore on October 1, and proceeded down Channel, after receiving on board 150 convicts from the establishments at Chatham and Millbank.

The convicts from the Chatham establishment, at St. Mary’s, embarked from the dockyard on board the paddle-wheel steamer Adder, Mr. W. J. Blakely, and were in charge of a numerous party of convict guards and wardens, all heavily armed. Among the convicts shipped were a party of fifteen Fenians, who were engaged in the late conspiracy in Ireland, together with the officers and crew convicted of scuttling the ship Severn, and some others who have achieved notoriety from their crimes. The Fenian convicts, like the remainder of the prisoners, were chained together in gangs, but it was observed that they were kept apart from the other convicts in a portion of the vessel by themselves.

The steamer Petrel also took down a number of convicts from the establishment at Millbank for shipment on board the Hougoumont, in charge of a strong escort and convict guard. On Tuesday, October 8th, the Hougoumont arrived in Portland roads. Shortly before midday ninety convicts were marched down to the Government pier at Portland under a strong escort of the 12th Light Infantry. The party included twenty-three Fenian convicts, among whom it was said, was Moriarty [true, but he was a minor Fenian teenager called Bartholomew Moriarty, not the Fenian leader Mortimer Moriarty].

The Government steamer employed in the breakwater service was used for conveying the convicts on board the Hougoumont transport ship. The convicts were chained together on embarking, and on board the steamer a strong guard of marines from her Majesty’s ship St. George was formed, and saw the convicts safely placed on board the Hougoumont.

The Governor of the penal settlement at Freemantle, Captain Young, is on board the Hougoumont, and returns in that ship to his sphere of duty after paying a visit to his native land.” (Sydney Morning Herald, Thu 19 Dec 1867, p4, available at https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/28608271?searchTerm=hougoumont)


Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:


The so-called military offenders/military Fenians shouldn’t have been transported at all, had Colonial Office policy been adhered to, according to Keith Amos (1987). He says the process for selecting the Fenian transportees was conducted behind closed doors so little is known about it except that “only less troublesome Fenian rank and file were to be transported [or so the Home Office told the Governor of Western Australia]… but in fact this policy was only loosely adhered to” by the British authorities.

Amos says: “Although none were Fenian leaders, most had been severely punished; half having been sentenced to life imprisonment. All but two were convicted between March and August 1866, following exposure by informants who alerted the authorities to the fact that Fenianism had established a considerable base among British regiments in Ireland and England. Six of the seventeen had been 5th Dragoon Guards: Thomas Delaney, William Foley, Martin Hogan, Patrick Keating, John Lynch and James Wilson (real name McNally). Three were from the 61st Foot: Robert Cranston, Michael Harrington and James McCoy. From the 24th Foot, were John Donoghue and Thomas Hassett; and from the Royal Horse Artillery, John Foley and Patrick Killeen. The others were Thomas Darragh, 2nd Queens; John Shine, 60th Rifles; James Kielley, 53rd Foot; and John O’Reilly, 10th Hussars.

All seventeen military offenders had been convicted either of mutinous conduct or of failure to report knowledge of a mutiny to a commanding officer. Seven had committed the further sin of deserting to avoid apprehension. To identify this group and to remind them forever of their crime, a capital letter ‘D’, two inches in height, was engraved on the left side of their chests. The instrument used was an awl, and the scar was made indelible with Indian ink [28]. All the deserters bar one who received fifteen years [James McCoy], received death sentences – later commuted to life imprisonment. The other military offenders received sentences ranging from five years to life.

When the Hougoumont was boarded, all the military Fenians were confined with ordinary convicts, whereas civilian Fenians were allotted separate quarters of their own. It would seem that this arrangement was at least a partial recognition that the civilian Fenians, all of whom were convicted either of treason-felony or high treason, were political prisoners rather than criminals - a concession that sympathetic Irish nationalists had earlier failed to gain official recognition of. Mutinous soldiers, on the other hand, were clearly regarded by the authorities as common criminals, and perhaps more dangerous ones in view of their training.

Note 28: John Boyle O’Reilly quoted by James Jeffrey Roche, ‘Life of John Boyle O’Reilly’, New York, 1891, p. 329.” (1987, pp106-07).

Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

1868, 9 January: Off the coast of WA

In “The escape of the Fenians, Western Australia, 17 April 1867”, Ormond Waters (1997, p100) describes the transportees’ arrival off the WA coast and their transfer next day to the mainland:

“The Fenian prisoners were the last to be taken ashore from the Hougoumont in small boats and brought to ‘The Establishment’ as Fremantle Prison was called.

One convict described the scene in a letter home: ‘Very early on the morning of the 10th, we were put on shore in Fremantle, and marched through the little town of that name to our destination, The Prison. Here we lay for some two days, going through the ordinary routine of prisoners on the first reception. Dressed in a suit of Drogheda linen, ornamented with a red stripe and black bands, typical of the rank we hold in the colony. To wit, convicts.’

The prison rules were harsh. There was a long list of offences, the penalty for which was death. Cells measured seven feet by four feet wide by nine feet high. Prisoners slept in hammocks.”


Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

1868, 10 January: On arrival in WA, convict #9737 John Foley was listed as 22, single and a labourer. He was 5’4½” tall with black hair, dark brown eyes, a dark complexion and of middling stout build. The “D” on his left side, “BC” on his right side and pockmarks were his distinguishing marks (Western Australia, Australia, Convict Records, 1846-1930; Convict Department Registers (128/40 - 43)).

On his WA Convict Record, he was also listed as 22, single, literate, a Roman Catholic and a labourer. His crime was: “Having come to the knowledge of an intended mutiny in Her Majesty’s army and not having given information thereof to his commanding officer”. There was no mention of his desertion. His family or next of kin was his mother Johanna, Portland Farm, St John’s Wood, London. His physical description was as above except for his height – now 5’4¼”.

His behaviour was described as “good”. In the normal course of events he would have been eligible for a Ticket of Leave in March 1871 (Western Australia, Australia, Convict Records, 1846-1930; Convict Department, Registers; General Register for Nos 9599-10128 cont. (R16)).


1869-1870: Between March 1869 and August of the following year, he spent 45 days in solitary confinement and 29 days on bread and water for “idleness and having a newspaper”, disrespect to an officer and “general misbehaviour”, being “drunk and disorderly”, insolence and using “threatening language” to a warder.


Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

1871, 18 May: John Foley was granted a Ticket of Leave (Western Australia, Australia, Convict Records, 1846-1930; Convict Department, Registers; General Register for Nos 9599-10128 cont. (R16)).

After receipt of his TL, punishments for drinking and fighting, absence from his lodgings and being out after hours consisted mainly of hard labour and fines. Once he was put on bread and water for 6 days for being drunk.

Ticket of Leave work:

(1) Plasterer for Joseph Noonan, Perth, 4/- per day, 28/6/71. [Fenian Joseph Noonan, per Hougoumont, had been sentenced to seven years for treason-felony but received a special remission and Free Pardon in 1869. By 1875, he was a high profile builder and architect in Perth.]

(2) Labourer for J. Kearney, Perth, 4/- per day, 30/6/71. [James Kearney, also per Hougoumont, had been sentenced to 5 years for treason-felony but the remainder was remitted on 12 January, 1871. In March, he received a Certificate of Freedom. He settled in WA and was an itinerant bootmaker in the Bridgetown area, a pioneer in Nannup district, and landholder and successful farmer in the Lower Blackwood district (Amos, 1987).]

(3) Boatman for J. Noonan, Perth, 40/- per week, 31/12/71.

(4) General servant for P. Moloney, Perth, 30/- per week, 21/3/72. [Mr Moloney operated the “John Bull Inn” and then “The Shamrock Hotel” in Hay Street, in Perth, where he claimed to offer “the best ale, porter, wines and spirits procurable in the colony”, as well as “superior stabling” with “an ostler always in attendance” (The Inquirer and Commercial News, 6 Mar 1872, p1).]

(5) General servant for J. Noonan, Geraldton, 4/6 per day, 24/4/73.

(6) General servant for J. Noonan, Geraldton, £6 per month, 30/6/73.

(7) Miner and labourer, Geraldton, 1873-74. [It’s likely he worked near Champion Bay at the Geraldine Lead Mine that opened in 1849 in the bed of the Murchison River and was at the peak of its production in the late 1860s to 1878.]


Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

1875, 6 February: John Foley was granted a Certificate of Freedom (CF) (Western Australia, Australia, Convict Records, 1846-1930; Convict Department, Registers; General Register for Nos 9599-10128 cont. (R16)).


1875, 7 June: John Foley, from Vasse, joined the crew of the American whaler Islander on an expedition out of Albany (Western Australia, Australia, Crew and Passenger Lists, 1852-1930).

1875, 30 October: He sailed again on the Islander as a seaman, out of Albany (Western Australia, Australia, Crew and Passenger Lists, 1852-1930).

1876, 20 November: He was also a member of the crew of the American whaler Canton that sailed on a whaling expedition out of Albany. He was listed as a former convict (expiree or holder of a Conditional Pardon) who had left the colony. His return was noted but not the date (Western Australia, Australia, Crew and Passenger Lists, 1852-1930).


Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

From his Fremantle jail record:

FOLEY, John, #9737, arrived 10 Jan 1868 per Hougoumont
Date of Birth: 1845
Place of Birth: Dublin
Marital Status: Unmarried
Occupation: Labourer, soldier
Literacy: Literate
Sentence Place: Dublin
Crime: Not reporting a mutiny
Sentence Period: 7 years
Ticket Leave Date: 18 May 1871
Certificate of Freedom Date: 6 Feb 1875
Comments: One of 62 Fenians transported on the Hougoumont, the last convict ship sent to Australia. Its arrival at Fremantle on 9 Jan 1868 signalled the end of transportation to this country. Plasterer, labourer, boatman, general servant, miner, whaler, 20 Nov 1876. Ex Royal Artillery. Held at Mountjoy, Dublin & Millbank, England, Mar 1867. To South Australia, 27 Aug 1878 (https://fremantleprison.com.au/history-heritage/history/convict-database/).


Dianne Jones on 3rd October, 2021 wrote:

1878, 27 August: John Foley left WA from Albany aboard the Otway, bound for Adelaide. He was listed as a Fenian (Western Australia, Australia, Crew and Passenger Lists, 1852-1930). Local newspapers reported earlier that month on a temporary arrangement to establish a monthly service between Albany, Adelaide and Melbourne, for a subsidy of £6,000 per year. The contractors Lilly & Co. would service the routes with the steamships Otway and Rob Roy.

Convict Changes History

Dianne Jones on 2nd October, 2021 made the following changes:

gender: m, occupation

Dianne Jones on 2nd October, 2021 made the following changes:

date of birth: 1845 (prev. 0000), crime

This record was discovered and printed on ConvictRecords.com.au