Archive for April 21st, 2009

1868: Henry James O’Farrell, would-be assassin

Add comment April 21st, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1868, the first Australian known to have attempted a political assassination received the short drop and sudden stop that often constitutes the wages of that distinguished profession.

It was March 12 — less than six weeks before — that Henry James O’Farrell, Dublin-born alcoholic vegetable merchant fresh from the asylum, had shot the visiting Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh at a picnic in the Sydney suburb of Clontarf.

Someone was smiling down on Alfred that day, because the shot was deflected by a metal buckle and inflicted only a flesh wound. Onlookers tackled the assailant before he could finish the job.

O’Farrell claimed affiliation with the Irish nationalist Fenian brotherhood, which inflamed anti-Irish passions (some cynically whipped up by New South Wales Prime Minister Henry Parkes). Paranoia redoubled when a Fenian assassin killed a Canadian politician a few weeks later.*

Under the circumstances, it was a hopeless struggle for O’Farrell’s attorney, who strove to demonstrate (probably accurately) that his charge was not so much a terrorist as a madman. Even the Duke of Edinburgh’s own intercession for clemency did not secure it, eager as the populace was to make an offering of its loyalty.**

* Irish convicts transported to Australia, especially after the 1798 uprising, formed a significant demographic among early New South Wales settlers. (Source)

** Another offering was a still-extant hospital in Sydney named for Prince Alfred.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Australia,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Terrorists,Treason

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