Captain Charles Fitzgerald

Captain Charles Fitzgerald
Geraldine-House, Geraldine Place, Kilkee as it is today.
Geraldine-House , Kilkee

 

 

 

EARLY LIFE.

Captain Charles Fitzgerald was born in 1795 in Kilkee. He was the son of country gentleman of Irish ancestry , Robert Fitzgerald and Lucinda Jackson and was destined for a life in service.On March 17th 1809 he joined the royal navy, passed his exams in 1815 and was promoted to lieutenant in 1826 getting his first command in 1832 with the Coastguard.He was involved in the anti slave trade and in 1839 he captured 2 slave ships flying the American flag but in reality were Spanish.He escorted the ships into Freetown in Sierra Leone but he had breached international law.His choice was to release the ships or escort them to America which he did,and placed them before an American court..His arrival in New York caused a sensation and Fitzgerald was rewarded for his efforts when the D.A.decided the ships were Spanish.Fitzgerald could take the slaves back to Sierra Leone and free them.Unfortunatley en route a violent hurricane resulted in a great loss of life.

SLAVERY.
Whilst in New York Fitzgerald became involved in the celebrated Amistad case.The slaves on that ship mutinied and took over the vessel from its Spanish crew.It drifted to the American coast and the slaves were charged with mutiny.Abolitionist lawyers needed an interpreter for the slaves so Fitzgerald released a crew member James Covey who spoke the dialect.Covey was a former slave,he had been rescued by the British and joined the Royal Navy.Covey went on to play a key role in the trial and the Supreme Court declared the slaves as free men.In Spielberg’s film La Amistad the role of Captain Fitzgerald was played by Peter Firth.
In 1844 Fitzgerald was appointed as Governor of The Gambia,a ‘problem child’ for the Colonial Office.Many liberated Africans had moved to The Gambia and were being encouraged to move to the West Indies which they resisted.Fitzgerald took their side which endeared him to the people.With his ‘can do,will do’ attitude he set about draining the swamps around the capital Bathhurst.During his 3 years as Governor 1844-1847 he was a successful and popular reformist Governor.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA.
In 1848 he was appointed Governor of Western Australia ,a position he held until his retirement in 1855.On his arrival Fitzgerald found that the colony was in a period of depression with colonists leaving at their earliest opportunity.Although Fitzgerald had reservations, Western Australia became a penal colony with on average 3 ships with felons arriving annually.Fitzgerald received an assurance that convicts would be matched by the recruitment of free settlers.Irish orphan girls arrived to work as servants and went on to marry reformed convicts or settlers.The population of Western Australia increased significantly during this time.The prisoners who arrived brought their own skill set and a major infrastructure programme was undertaken with many buildings and roads being constructed.He sponsored expeditions in order to have his whole jurisdiction surveyed for geographical knowledge and for economic expansion.
CAPTAIN FITZGERALD’S ACHIEVEMENTS:
Road networks
Drained swamps around Perth
Building of Freemantle Prison
Built hospitals,schools and an asylum,
Funding for churches
Setting up of police force
Pearl fishing in Shark Bay
Copper and lead for export
Coal beds and timber for commercial trade
Many places in Western Australia  are called after him e.g.Fitzgerald Peaks,Charles Street,Fitzgerald Street,Geraldton Bay etc.
On leaving Western Australia in 1855 he had succeeded in opening up Western Australia.
PERSONAL LIFE.
Twice married ,firstly to Lucy Austin in Barbados in 1837 and they had no children.She passed away in 1843.
Secondly he married Eleanora Elwes in 1848 and they had 2 children, Gerald born in 1849 and Lucy in 1850.Neither of them went on to marry.
RETIREMENT.
They retired to Kilkee, living in Geraldine-House which he leased from his brother Robert.In 1857 he was awarded the title Companion of the Bath which is the 4th highest honour awarded for services to the crown. In retirement they built up a library of 2,000 books which was bequeathed to the Parochial School.Captain Fitzgerald was also very interested in history and genealogy . He passed away on December 29 th 1887 and is buried in Kilferagh Cemetry on the Protestant side.A small memorial to him is in St.James’s Church. His wife Eleanora passed away in Kilkee in March 1890.

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