Despite having previously shipped Irish prisoners down under to keep them out of their hair and away from their families and rebellion, it appears the English were somewhat convinced the Irish would take over Australia following the 1916 Easter Rising. England had concerns that the Irish in Australia would take over the country during World War I and install a hostile government. At the time, Irish-Australians made up a quarter of the population.
The loss of a conscription referendum in Australia in October 1916 led to panic. After the referendum was lost, Australia’s Governor, General Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, sent a cablegram to Andrew Bonar Law, then secretary of state for the colonies, warning that “rebel Irish and syndicalists” would come to power - and that would be “disastrous to imperial unity.”
One of the factors in the loss of the 1916 referendum, as well as another referendum on conscription in 1917, may have been the British reaction to the Easter Rising, heard a conference on the Easter Rising in NUI Galway in 2016, the Irish Times reports.
Swiss academic Daniel Marc Segesser told the conference that several factors contributed to the loss of the two referendums on conscription.
He said climatic conditions may have been one factor. Australian farmers were angry over the commodity prices for grain being paid by the British during the war, but even though farmers would eventually receive a 20 percent increase in the wheat price, another referendum failed in 1917.
The conference, 1916 in Global Context Connections and Comparisons, aimed to examine the significance of the Easter Rising and other revolutionary events in 1916 “in the context of growing challenges to the global imperial system.”
Academics and researchers spoke of the parallels between the Easter Rising and other revolutionary events around the globe.
Canadian academic Charles-Philippe Courtois said that the Quebec conscription crisis of 1917 was also influenced by the Irish with Catholic Francophone nationalists giving Irish bishops’ opposition to conscription in Ireland as an example to follow.
Read more: The unfortunate Irish exiled to Australi
The conference also heard the Easter Rising was an influence in the Rand Revolt of 1922 in South Africa. The revolt began as a strike by white miners but evolved into a rebellion against British rule.
Some of the rebels even described themselves as Sinn Féiners and said the wanted to create a “second Ireland.”
Jonathan Hyslop of Colgate University in New York said that nationalists in both Ireland and South Africa gained the upper hand over labor interests.
Katja Fortenbacher-Nagel of the University of Marburg in Germany said that Ireland’s close proximity to England may have been a factor in why the Easter Rising leaders were punished so severely. She said a similar Afrikaner rebellion against British rule, the Maritz rebellion in 1914, only resulted in one execution. Most of the leaders of that rebellion only received two-year jail sentences.
According to the NUI Galway website, the conference, an initiative of the CITE – the Centre for the Investigation of Transnational Encounters at NUI Galway, is a part of the NUI Galway’s ‘A Nation Rising’ year-long program of events to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916.
* Originally published in June 2016.