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1860s convict ship focus of ECU prof's book

(Oct. 30, 2001)   —   An East Carolina University English professor who discovered an 1860s diary among papers donated to the ECU Library has turned the narrative about life on an Irish convict ship into a newly published book.
"Fenian Diary: Denis B. Cashman on Board the Hougoumont, 1867 - 1868" by Dr. Chares W. Sullivan III of ECU, was published recently by Wolfhound Press in Dublin, Ireland.
The book is about Cashman, an Irishman, who was convicted of treason in 1867 for his role in the thwarted Fenian rebellion. Cashman was sentenced to seven years of penal servitude and was sent on a three-and-a-half month voyage to Fremantle, Australia, on the last Irish convict ship, the Hougoumont.
The book includes Cashman's diary along with Sullivan's commentary about his research on the diary's author and the role that convict ships played in removing political dissidents who opposed British authority in Ireland. Selected works of poetry written on board the sailing vessel are included.
"You can call it the luck of the Irish," said Sullivan in describing how he found the material and conducted his research.
"I became interested in the diary in 1985 after reading in 'Pieces of Eight' (an on-campus news publication for staff and faculty) about the gift of the diary to the ECU library by a physician in Belhaven," he said. The gift was from Dr. Alfred Sheehy.
Sullivan clipped the paragraph about the gift and pasted it on his filing cabinet as a future project. In 1994, he decided the clipped reminder had been on the cabinet long enough and that it was time to go to the library and take a look at the diary.
It didn't take him long to realize that the diary and other papers by Cashman and donated by his descendent in Belhaven were valuable materials and the makings of a book.
His research on the documents began in earnest in 1996 when he traveled to Ireland to study whatever information he could find there. He went to Ireland again in 1998.
Records showed that Cashman was convicted in1867 for "political activities" against England. The trial came about because of an attempted rebellion mounted by the Fenians, also called the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
The convicted dissidents were sent to Australia. Cashman kept a diary and wrote poetry during this voyage.
He was pardoned in 1869 and moved from Australia to the United States in 1870. He died in 1897.
Sullivan said the information kept falling into place. He was able to locate information about Cashman's descendents. When he discovered that the Hougoumont was the last convict ship, it made his project even more interesting and important. The project has even made him consider doing another book about convict diaries.
Sullivan recently presented a copy of his book to ECU's J. Y. Joyner Library and offered his appreciation for the library's help in making information available.
Dr. Jonathon Dembo, of the library's special collection area, said the library is proud of the resources it offers to researchers and scholars. He said the library would continue to build its collection of historic documents and papers.
Sullivan is a veteran member of the ECU English faculty and is the author of several books and publications. Among them are "Welsh Celtic Myth in Modern Fantasy," published in 1989, and "The Mabinogi: A Books of Essays" in 1996. He has six other books of essays along with the "Children's Folklore Review."
He was recently named a University Distingu