Page:The Irish in Australia.djvu/240

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avowedly to refuse to recognise the Catholic religion at all, and to regard everybody in the settlement as belonging to the Church of England, whether he liked it or not. It was in pursuance of this shameful policy that the request of Father Walsh, of the Diocese of Ossory, Ireland, to be permitted to accompany the "first fleet" to Australia a century ago was churlishly refused by the reigning powers. Nothing but blind bigotry could have suggested such a refusal, for the request was an eminently reasonable one in the circumstances, and should have been conceded, not so much as a favour, but as a matter of strict right, and a plain duty towards the Catholic members of that pioneer band of exiles, going forth to found a new nation in an unsettled land 12,000 miles away. It was not until 1799, twelve years afterwards, that the Catholic population of the infant settlement were gratified with the sight of three ordained clergymen of their church. But it was not as clergymen that the home government had sent them out, but as convicted prisoners. Father Dixon, Father O'Neil, and Father Harold, along with the Reverend Mr. Fulton, a Protestant minister, were transported for their alleged complicity in the Irish rebellion of 1798. It has since been proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that these three pioneer priests of Australia were unjustly convicted, and compelled to submit to the indignity of transportation. Father Dixon was a Wexford priest and had a brother who did engage in the rebellion, but he himself exercised all his influence to keep his people within the limits of the law. Nevertheless, he had a rebel brother, and that was sufficient to condemn him in those dark days of unchecked martial law. The case of Father O'Neil was harder still. His treatment throws a lurid light on the unprincipled and unscrupulous measures that found favour