In 1876, six Irish political prisoners being held in Fremantle Australia escaped to freedom aboard the American whaler Catalpa. This entry in the ‘Secrets of the Dead’ PBS series follows the capture and 8 year internment of the six prisoners, the twists and turns of the Fenian organizer turned American journalist they relied on to secure their escape and the daring actions of the unassuming American sea captain on the verge of retirement whom they relied on to make it all happen.
This story is, unabashedly, told from the perspective of an Irish patriot. Historians pulled in for color commentary are almost entirely Irish, with a few American’s sprinkled in. History has, of course, come down largely against colonialism and it’s many sins, making the British in this tale easy targets. That said, an effort could have been made to present a more balanced view, one that at least included a British perspective. The Irish escapees were, after all, what we would consider today to be terrorists, who had infiltrated the British Army. The aim of this program, though, and the series in general, is to provide a rousing tale, and provide it does. Viewers willing to suspend their concerns over the partiality of the tale are in for a solid retelling of a little known but revealing episode in American and British history.
Viewers that enjoyed this tale of sea faring escape might consider Simon Schama’s fantastic A History of Britain, which includes a modern British perspective on colonialism. For those seeking more nautical daring, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is still the best in recent years. Patrick O’Brian’s novels, the basis for the movie, are always worth a look as well.
Description: A dashing take on a little known historical event.
Availability: The Lake Bluff Public Library owns this on DVD, click here to check the availability.