The convict ship Hougoumont was struggling through heavy seas with its cargo of 280 prisoners. The haul included sixty-two Fenians, transported for insurrection. She had reached the southern Indian Ocean: South lat 46 degrees East long 74. It was late December. The days were bitterly cold. The prisoners had endured the fetid and cramped surrounds of the ship’s hold and paralyzing monotony for weeks on end. Their vessel measured 50 metres by 10. On an average day the three-masted ship made about 140 miles on a journey of 14,000. It was Christmas time. They were getting close to journey’s end. Freemantle was a fortnight away.
Among the Fenians on board was Denis Cashman from Waterford, a married man in his mid twenties.
Denis had been a law clerk, intelligent and well educated. He kept a diary of the voyage from 1st of October when the ship set sail from Shearness on the Isle of Sheppey. Each page is written in clear neat handwriting, exactly what you’d expect from a clerk.
The diary is packed with detail: his varying thoughts and moods; the ship’s daily position; glorious sun-sets; storms; shoals of porpoises; a volcano reaching above the white clouds; flogging of convicts; a funeral or two; the capture and beheading of a shark: flying albatrosses; whales spouting water 60 feet into the air and accounts of the Fenians’ nightly concerts of song and story.