James Hally and Margaret Casey ...

James Hally the activist

An Obituary from The Mercury, 15 July 1903, page 6.

BRIGHTON (from an Old Correspondent)

Death has fined down, almost to vanishing point, the shrunken ranks of Brighton identities. Full of years, and not barren of honour, Mr. James Hally passed away last Saturday. Younger Brightonians who knew him only as an old man, enfeebled by broken health, yet dignified in decay, might reject as vain imagining a word picture of this "Village Blacksmith" as I first knew him nigh forty years ago. 

But there are still a few left in the place that are to know him no more, who will remember what a power he was in the times before the ballot, when he won the reputation he never after even imperiled of doughty champion, uncorrupted and incorruptible.  The forge would grow cold in those days, and work might wait, while from the little holdings round about, many of those sites are now only distinguishable by tumbled heaps of stone or brick, and from bigger places farther afield, the forces would gather to back their leader's man on the hustings, and more often than not land him at the head of the poll.

A master of his craft when work was abundant and prices ruled high, he earned money easily, and spent it royally, for he was an Irishman, richly endowed with the heritage of his nation, the spirit of fun, frolic and reckless generosity. It may be a simple thing to record that no one in those later days ever addressed him other than as "Mr. Hally"; yet laboured panegyric might fail to illustrate as touchingly the kindly consideration with which we all regard him. May he rest in Peace.

The Correspondent seems to imply that James dedicated himself to the promotion of democracy for the less privileged inhabitants of Tasmania, particularly in the electorate incorporating Pontville. As a stalwart of the Pontville Catholic Church - the family had their own pew reserved - James was probably prominent, even outspoken, in the struggle for justice against the Anglican landowner ascendancy, the same kind he had undoubtedly encountered in Ireland.

Those who joined him in the struggle had their successes. The redistribution of 1885 corrected to some extent the over-representation of rural voters. But there were still considerable differences in the size of electorates - e.g. in 1886, 222 votes were cast in Glamorgan, an East Coast electorate, while in the city electorate of North Hobart 2172 votes were cast for two members (the House of Assembly had 20 single-member electorates and eight two-member electorates, with first-past-the-post voting).

In 1888, only one of the 56 MPs was a Catholic; over half of the MPs in the House of Assembly were Anglicans. The dominant political grouping, the large landowners, was starting to lose some of its power by the 1880s. Merchants represented 23.2% of the seats in Parliament in 1888. But only one member was from the unskilled or semi-skilled. Efforts to introduce the payment of members had been defeated a few years before; in 1890, payment for attendance was begun. (Tasmanian Members of Parliament of 1888 and 1938, Scott Bennett, in THRA March 1983.)

If James was so interested in the welfare of his fellow citizens from the time of his location in Pontville in the second half of the nineteenth century, there seems every likelihood that he had been similarly concerned when he was a young man in Ireland. His native place was given as Tipperary on his convict record and he was tried in Cashel, Tipperary, so it is likely that the town of Carrick with which he is associated is Carrick-on-Suir in southern Tipperary rather than Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim. If so, he would have been right on the spot for one of the major Irish rebellions of the nineteenth century.

His trial for burglary came in October 1848, just 3 months after the abortive Young Ireland uprising that led to the transportation to VDL of John Mitchell, Smith O'Brien, Thomas Meagher and their colleagues. The uprising was centred in southern Tipperary and included a meeting in Carrick-on-Suir in July 1848. In his work on the Famine, The Great Shame, Thomas Keneally says of one Irish woman's experience: “The date of Mary Shields's trial, in the autumn of the year, suggests that her crime was committed in the summer.” (p. 69) So, it is likely that James' burglary took place about three months before the trial, perhaps in late July, at the height of the agitation, or shortly thereafter.

The marks of scurvy on James’ face when he arrived in Hobart indicate he was suffering from the effects of the Famine and the four year gap between his sentence and his departure from Ireland suggest he may have been deemed unfit to travel and required an extended hospitalisation. He would have been hostile to the English regime, therefore, and it seems most likely that the young blacksmith would have participated, to some degree, in the agitation sweeping the countryside in 1848. In particular, it is easy to imagine him joining in what Christopher Koch described in his novel, Out of Ireland, as the fervour of "the first of those fatal twelve days: July 18th, when Young Ireland summoned a mass meeting, a vast and fabulous event which can never be repeated, and barely even recalled in its totality. (Barry) stood on a cart in that main street of Carrick in the late afternoon, with the mass of people around. They were confused, angry and uncertain." (pp.302, 303) "The excitement was so great the people were well-nigh uncontrollable. So we decided to lead them out of Carrick, and to march through the countryside to the town of Waterford. A great, tumbling mass of humanity hurried and struggled and pressed forward in tens of thousands. More of them kept pouring out of doorways and lanes: clenched fists raised, faces grimacing with mingled joy and rage. It was as though all the misery they had suffered in the Famine had now found a way to show itself, and to seek both relief and revenge."(p. 305)

In The Many-Coloured Land, a travel book companion to Out Of Ireland, Christopher Koch described "a peasant army of half-starved men who brandished pikes, guns and pitch-forks.” (p. 207) He quoted Thomas Meagher from his Narrative of 1848: "A torrent of human beings, rushing through lanes and narrow streets with sounds of wrath, vengeance and defiance, eyes red with rage and desperation, wild, half-stifled, passionate, frantic prayers of hope." (p. 208) "The fact was that Meagher and his comrades were trying to lead a people who were exhausted by the famine, and whose priests were warning them to do nothing - telling them the British would decimate them. So the Revolution died stillborn. " (p. 208) "Starved by the Famine, hungry for a leader, thirsting for revenge against those who had so long repressed them, the people began to be confused." (p. 220)

When the uprising failed and the leaders were captured, the young would surely have lost all their optimism and seen no alternative to breaking the law in order to survive. The workhouse was not an attractive alternative: "The Poor Law Commissioners, mainly Englishmen and Scotsmen, had been authorised to impose upon the Irish an alien form of relief. 'The poor houses were soon stocked with vermined rags, and broken hearts, with orphan childhood, fevered manhood and desolate old age.' (T. Meagher) " (The Great Shame, p. 116) "To many people a minor crime committed to deal with a needful emergency would prove preferable" (to the workhouse). (The Great Shame, p. 71)

Christopher Koch described the convicts on a transport in the late 1840s: "There are some two hundred Irish aboard, all of them young men and boys, some of them were very handsome fellows, and nearly all of them had the fine, open faces of the countryside - utterly different from the sharp grey visages of the London burglars milling around them. It filled me with pain to see them. Victims of the Famine, they had stolen not to starve; and I cursed the tyranny that had made them criminals for it, and had torn them from their homes and hillsides, and exiled them for ever." (Out Of Ireland, p. 164) Given the honour paid to James Hally decades later, it is surely feasible that such words could have been written about him.

Moreover, "experience had told employers that first-offender criminals who had made some vaguely political or industrial protest or other were good workers. Of 1 078 so-called political prisoners sent to NSW between 1800 and 1840, not one had previous convictions, and none would commit crimes in the colony." (The Great Shame, p. 44) James’ convict record indicates he was well-behaved, apart from a couple of drunken incidents when he was still a young man. Nothing is known of any previous conviction for James.

If only James Hally had committed his memoirs to paper, so that we might know more of this "doughty champion, uncorrupted and incorruptible" with his "spirit of fun, frolic and reckless generosity".

Table of Contents

  1. James Hally in Ireland
  2. James' Journey
  3. James in Hobart
  4. Margaret Casey in Ireland
  5. Margaret's Journey
  6. Early Married Life
  7. The Family
  8. Life in Pontville
  9. James Hally the Activist