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Friendship Agreement Between Passage West Museum And King Island, Tasmania

Writes Leo McMahon

Born out of the tragic story of the female convict ship ‘Neva’ that set sail from Cork Harbour in 1835 and sank off Australia with the loss of 224 lives, was the signing of a Friendship Agreement on September 17th between the Passage West Maritime Museum and King Island Historical Society (KIHS), Tasmania.

The certificates, which also feature the crests of Cork County Council and King Island Council, were signed at a ceremony in Passage West by Cllr Seamus McGrath, chairperson of Carrigaline Municipal District; Angela Murphy, chairperson of the maritime museum; Luke Agati, Deputy Mayor of King Island, curator of Currie Museum and president of KHIS and Mostyn Bruce Mills of KHIS.

The delegation also comprised artist Christina Henri from Hobart of the Roses from the Heart project; Joanne Greene, Dublin and King Island and Rose Marie Naeslund from Sweden, a close friend of the Tasmanian group.

As part of an Irish tour, the visitors stayed at the Commodore Hotel, Cobh where they were greeted by incoming chairperson of the maritime museum, Joe Healy and travelled in glorious sunshine up the harbour on board Noel O’Sullivan’s boat ‘Freya’ to the pontoon at Passage West.

Here there was another welcome from local historian and one of the museum founders Jim Murphy who showed the group a plaque unveiled in Fr. O’Flynn Park in 2014 by the maritime festival committee in memory of all those who departed from Cork Harbour including convicts, (mostly for petty crimes committed out of poverty and desperation), and state sponsored female emigrants to Australia between 1791 and 1835. (There was a minute’s silence in the museum later to honour them). The group also posed for a photograph with the Cobh Animation Team in Victorian costumes led by Claire Stack.

Following a brief tour of the maritime museum in the former Town Hall building and on the site of a former shipyard, a welcome was extended by Angela Murphy who expressed amazement that KHIS spotted Passage West museum on the internet when researching the ‘Neva’ and contacted the committee.

She thanked the county council represented by Cllrs McGrath and Marcia D’Alton and former Cllr Michael Frick Murphy plus officials Nicola Radley, Noelle Desmond and Pat O’Sullivan.

MD cathaoirleach Seamus McGrath, a native of Passage West also extended a welcome to those visiting the town and county for ‘a very special occasion’. He spoke of the rich and deep connections nautical between Cork and Australia, of which the museum was a testament, and paid tribute to its voluntary committee, especially for working with KHIS in commemorating the ‘Neva’ and the pact.

Expressing the hope there would be further links and exchange visits in the years ahead, Cllr McGrath added: ‘This friendship agreement is a wonderful way to acknowledge the heritage and often tragic history that inextricably links our two places despite the thousands of miles between us’.

Luke Agati said it was important to commemorate those who died in the ‘Neva’ and other tragedies. He spoke of the delight of King Island Council and its history society regarding the friendship agreement also the importance of nurturing their common links and rich heritage.

Cal McCarthy, Carrigadrohid, co-author with Kevin Todd from Bishopstown of the book ‘The Wreck of the Neva,’ outlined the story of convict transportation, mainly from Elizabeth Fort, the hulk vessel ‘Surprise’ off Ringaskiddy and later on Spike Island until the 1860s.

‘Neva’, said Cal, was one of only five convict shipwrecks, another being ‘The Hive’ which also sailed from Cork Harbour. He believed there was scope for further research by Irish academics on this.

On behalf of the museum, Joe Healy presented Luke Agati with an illustrated poster featuring contemporary newspaper accounts from the 1835 tragedy and Cllr McGrath presented him with the book ‘Cork From the Air’ by photographer Dennis Horgan. The MD chairperson also presented council pens to Christine, Mostyn, Luke and Rose Marie. Cal presented Luke with the book ‘The Wreck of the Neva’ and later Leo McMahon presented him with a copy of his article in The Carrigdhoun about the museum in Passage West. of which he is a committee member.

Luke Agati then presented to Angela for the maritime museum, a sculpture by Catherine Springer entitled ‘Ocean Tears’ made of marine macro algae paper on acrylic sourced from seaweed gathered near the wreck of the ‘Neva’. He then presented to the museum and county council, a poster about ‘Neva’, the book ‘The Luck of the Irish’ by Babette Smith, KHIS records about the ship plus literature about King Island. He also read a message from Mayor of King Island, Julie Arnold (see separate report).

A reception with refreshments from Elite Cuisine followed in the adjoining PACE Centre. In addition to the above mentioned, the attendance included Cork Harbour Master Quentin Ryder; John Oettinger, San Francisco; Noel Condon of Fort Camden Crosshaven; Jill Hingston, Ivan Wolfe, Michael Loring, Billy O’Connor, Fred and Judith Graepel, Noel O’Sullivan; museum volunteers Walty Murphy, Patricia Lydon, Maire Corr and Martin Collins, Donal Madden and staff member Cormac Fitzpatrick. Enquiries on museum visits etc to 087 1363588.

* In 2007, Christina Henri began ‘Roses from the Heart’, a project to commemorate all 25,566 female convict women to Australia between 1788 and 1853 by inviting people to make a bonnet embroidered with the name of one, the name of the ship she arrived on and the date she started life as a convict on the other side of the world. She said the 10th annual Blessing of Bonnets will take place in Cobh Heritage Centre, where there is currently a display, in 2020.

(Set Double Column within main article about Passage-King Island)

Greetings From King Island

At the recent signing of the Friendship Agreement with Passage West Maritime Museum, Luke Algati, Deputy Mayor and chairperson of King Island Historical Society read the following message from Julie Arnold, Mayor of King Island Council

‘On behalf of the people and the Council of King Island in the state of Tasmania, Australia, I convey our warmest greetings to Cork County Council and its residents and thank you for extending your friendship to us. King Island joins in a common bond forged by an event which neither municipality could ever overlook.

‘On January 8th, 1835, almost 185 years ago, the ship ‘Neva’ left your shores bound for Australia. Apart from the crew, the ‘Neva’s’ human cargo of 240 people consisted predominantly of Irish women and their children. These included 150 female convicts, 9 free women, 38 children and 15 infants.

‘On May 13th, 1835, at around 4am, the ‘Neva’ struck Navarine Reef, just off the northern end of King Island in the Bass Strait. Only 7 women survived to reach Disappointment Bay, some 2kms from where the wreck took place. Disappointment Bay, one of King Island’s most beautiful beaches, is the resting place of approximately 100 of the unfortunate company.

‘Although they lie buried in scattered, unmarked sand dunes on the northern end of our island, there is a deep sense of respect among King Islanders and their families who are frequent visitors and remember and protect the history of the area.

‘We are grateful and incredibly touched that our two municipalities, on opposite sides of the world, have come together today united in remembering those who came from your shores and lie in peace on ours. Yours sincerely, Julie Arnold, Mayor’.

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