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Thomas Francis Meagher (1823–1867)

by G. Rudé

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Thomas Meagher, by Read & Co

Thomas Meagher, by Read & Co

Archives Office of Tasmania, U99582

Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867), Irish nationalist, was born at Waterford, Ireland, the son of a prosperous merchant, mayor of the city and its member in the British parliament. He was educated by Irish Jesuits at Clengowes in County Kildare and at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. Returning to Dublin in 1843, he became a law student, joined the Repeal Association, and won an early reputation for silver-tongued oratory in the association's debates at Conciliation Hall. By 1845 he had attached himself to the militant Young Ireland wing of the association and in the critical disputes of 1846-47 joined John Mitchel and William O'Brien in breaking with the older 'moral force' leaders. In the spring of 1848 Meagher, as a rising young leader of the Young Ireland movement, accompanied O'Brien to Paris to present a congratulatory address to the newly formed French Republic; he was appointed a member of the committee of five who directed the abortive Irish insurrection that followed. After its defeat Meagher was brought to trial at Clonmel with O'Brien and his principal associates, and in October was sentenced first to death and later to transportation for life for his part in the affairs. With O'Brien, McManus and O'Donohoe he sailed in the Swift and arrived in Hobart Town in October 1849.

Meagher was soon granted a ticket-of-leave and allowed to live on parole in the Campbell Town district. At Ross he met Catherine Bennett of New Norfolk, whom he married on 22 February 1851. They lived in a cottage on Lake Sorell, where a son, Henry Emmet Fitzgerald, was born in February 1852 but died four months later and was buried in Richmond churchyard. Meagher had already planned escape from the island and in January had written to the police magistrate at Campbell Town surrendering his ticket-of-leave and withdrawing his parole. He sailed to Pernambuco and on to New York, where he arrived in May 1852. Catherine joined him for a short while, but returned to Ireland and died on 12 May 1854 at Waterford.

Meagher married again in New York, was admitted to the Bar and became a United States citizen. He founded the Irish News. In the civil war he raised and commanded an Irish brigade, which fought on the Union side. After the Southerners' defeat, he became for a short while acting governor of Montana Territory, where his equestrian statue still stands. He died by drowning in the Missouri River on 1 July 1867. Meagher is remembered as a 'romantic hero' of the Young Ireland movement rather than for any practical qualities of leadership, although he is said to have been solicitous about the welfare of his Irish troops, who fought bravely while suffering severe casualties in the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862 during the civil war.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Cullen, Young Ireland in Exile (Dublin, 1928)
  • D. R. Gwynn, Young Ireland and 1848 (Cork, 1949)
  • T. J. Kiernan, The Irish Exiles in Australia (Melb, 1954)
  • D. R. Gwynn, Thomas Francis Meagher (Dublin, 1961)
  • Ac no 2/363 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

G. Rudé, 'Meagher, Thomas Francis (1823–1867)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Thomas Meagher, by Read & Co

Thomas Meagher, by Read & Co

Archives Office of Tasmania, U99582

Life Summary [details]


Waterford, Waterford, Ireland


1 July, 1867 (aged ~ 44)
Missouri River, Montana, United States of America

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: insurrection
Sentence: life