An Act of Betrayal

An Act of Betrayal
Sydney Punch magazine marks a dramatic moment in the Duke of Edinburgh’s tour of Australia
10 May 2019

A.L. Jackson, Australia Vindex, Sydney Punch, 21 March 1868

On 12 March 1868 a man called Henry O’Farrell shot and wounded the Prince at Clontarf in Sydney. The prince’s life was saved when the bullet was deflected by his Indian rubber braces.

Originally from Dublin, O’Farrell was an Irish nationalist who professed strong Fenian sympathies. Rumours spread that his assassination attempt was part of a larger Irish-Catholic conspiracy in the colony. Concerted government attempts to find co-conspirators failed. There was no evidence that the plot went beyond O’Farrell. The damage had been done, however, and the attempted murder was used to fuel sectarian divisions in New South Wales.

The Sydney Punch expressed its outrage at the assassination attempt with an illustration of New South Wales as a vengeful young woman. O’Farrell’s attack is portrayed as an act of betrayal. He has plunged a dagger into the back of the figure of New South Wales. The heading reads ‘Australia Vindex’ (Latin for ‘Australian Avenger’), making it clear that justice would be swift—as does the ominous hangman’s noose ‘New South Wales’ is carrying. O’Farrell was found guilty in a quickly organised trial and hanged at Darlinghurst gaol on 21 April 1868.

Australia Vindex is just one example of the thousands of cartoons kept in the collections of the National Library of Australia. You can see a selection some of the best cartoons in the Library’s collection in Inked: Australian Cartoons, currently on show until 21 July 2019.