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United Irish Uprising

In April 1800, rumours flew through St. John's, Newfoundland that up to 400 Irishmen had taken the secret oath of the Society of the United Irishmen. It is believed that some 80 or more Irish soldiers in the British army planned to meet and mutiny at the powder shed behind the British garrison at Fort Townshend. Their plan was to kill their officers and the leading British inhabitants of St. John's assembled for worship in the Church of England Cathedral on Sunday, April 20, 1800.

Nineteen soldiers took up arms and assembled at the powder shed behind Fort Townshend, expecting to be joined by others. Soldiers from Fort William were unable to join them, however, because the commander there had scheduled a social function that night, detaining many of the men. Word of the mutiny spread quickly, the alarm was raised, and the deserting soldiers were pursued as they fled over the barrens and into the woods behind St. John's.

Within several weeks, all of the 19 were captured, except for the two ringleaders, Sergeant Kelly and James Murphy. Four of the mutineers who informed on the others were not tried by court martial. Of the remaining 13, five were hanged and eight were sent to Halifax to be dealt with by the Duke of Kent. Within several more weeks of the mutiny, all the remaining soldiers of the St. John's garrison were transferred to Halifax.

The Newfoundland rebellion was the only one to occur which the British administration linked directly to the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The uprising in St. John's was significant in that it was the first occasion on which the Irish in Newfoundland deliberately challenged the authority of the state, and because the British feared that it might not be the last. It earned for Newfoundland a reputation as a Transatlantic Tipperary–a far-flung but semi-Irish colony with the potential for political chaos.

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