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Joseph Holt (rebel)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Joseph Holt
black and white sketch portrait, balding middle-aged male
Holt in military uniform
Ballydaniel, Redcross, County Wicklow, Ireland
Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), County Dublin
Known forProminent leader of 1798 Rebellion

Joseph Holt (1756 – 16 May 1826) was a United Irish general and leader of a large guerrilla force which fought against British troops in County Wicklow from June–October 1798. He was exiled in 1799 to the colony of New South Wales (since 11 Jan 1800, Australia) where he worked as a farm manager for NSW Corp Paymaster Captain William Cox and later returned to Ireland in 1814.

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  • ✪ Rebellion I THE GREAT WAR Week 199
  • ✪ The Easter Rising - Ireland in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special


You lose your country; you’re invaded and occupied, and times are tough, but is it really your fault? Well, you can probably find someone to blame it on, right? And sometimes you go for that old European classic, Anti-Semitism. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the British made a daring naval raid on Ostend, hoping to blow a ship and block the harbor to German naval traffic; they were only partially successful. There was field action down in East Africa, logistical problems for the Americans in France, and a new German dictatorship in Ukraine, designed to seize the harvest. Romania signed the Treaty of Bucharest, and the Bonnet Rouge Trial continued in Paris. That trial, of seven men who worked for Bonnet Rouge, a socialist and anarchist paper, who were accused of aiding the enemy, came to an end this week. On May 11th, Captain Mornet, the prosecutor, summed up for the state. He claimed that M. Duval, a director of the paper, had been drawn into treason with Marx, the Mannheim banker, and received money from Marx to work for an early peace between France and Gian agent of the German government who had been also in contact with Joseph Caillaux, former French PM, who we mentioned a few months ago, who was arrested for treason and still awaits trial. We saw last week the cooperation between Bonnet Rouge and a German produced French newspaper in occupied territory, and two weeks ago how classified French military information was passed along through the Bonnet Rouge offices. On the 15th, Duval was sentenced to death after just half an hour’s deliberation. The other accused - including a former head of the Secret Service under Interior Minister Louis Malvy, also currently accused of treason, received sentences of from two to ten years hard labor. That wasn’t the only big trial this week. The underground newspaper Libre Belgique had been printed and distributed in occupied Belgium for three years now, seriously vexing the Germans, but at the end of January most of its distributors, 61 of them, had been arrested. They were tried May 15th, and sentenced to imprisonment for ten to twelve years. However, the paper would soon appear again anyhow, and the next issue, number 143, was produced almost single handedly by Abbé van den Hout, who printed 7,000 copies on a treadle press and arranged re-printing in Antwerp. Scheming, treason, rebellion, and mutiny were now popping up all over the place. On the 17th, 150 Sinn Fein leaders were arrested in Ireland for plotting with Germany. Next week, the British government will issue a statement exposing this. (Chronology), “Intercepted documents in possession of the British government show conclusively that negotiations between the Sinn Fein leaders and Germany had been virtually continuous for three and a half years. At first, the Irish Americans, with the help of Count Bernstorff in Washington and the German Legation in Norway, were intermediaries for most of the discussions, but since America’s entrance into the war, communication with the enemy tended to be more direct. There were, moreover, numerous private wireless receiving stations in Ireland, which are mentioned by Bernstorff in one of his messages to Berlin.” Intercepted messages and letters show that Germany had been sending the rebels money - 1,000 pounds for the defense of Roger Casement, for example - and three separate uprisings had been planned - the Easter one of 1916 which we covered in a special episode, one in February 1917 that broke down, and one now in May 1918. For this last one, German munitions had been shipped by submarine to Cuxhaven at the beginning of the month. This rising was prevented, though, by the arrest of the leaders. There was a mutiny in the heart of Austria-Hungary this week. At Judenburg. A mainly Slovene infantry platoon captured the barracks, looted the food stores, and destroyed the telephone and telegraph lines. They were saying, “Let us go home, comrades. This is not only for us, but also for our friends on the fronts. The war must be ended now, whoever is a Slovene, join us. We are going home. They should give us more to eat and end the war. Up with the Bolsheviks, long live bread, down with the war!” Long live bread; I think we can all agree with that. The mutiny was suppressed and six Slovenes executed. But mutinies were spreading; both a Serbian unit and a Ruthenian one within the Austrian army would also soon mutiny. Civilians were asserting themselves as well, even in occupied territories. On the 11th came conflict at Kiev between German troops and supporters of the Rada - the Parliament. German General Max Hoffmann would write that the occupation of Ukraine by the Central Powers was the strangest war he ever experienced. It was largely fought by a handful of infantrymen on an armored train, going from station to station and imprisoning the Bolsheviks from town to town. And something important here - Anti-Semitism was fairly strong in parts of the country, and the Judeo-Bolshevik stereotype was not only pretty commonly believed, but was a significant factor in the Ukrainian Civil War, since many people believed Jews were the “natural allies” of the Bolsheviks. Tales of Bolshevik, and thus, Jewish, brutality, rape, and torture had spread like wildfire over the spring, and when the Germans had taken Kiev back in early March, many people engaged in retribution. There were 172 cases of violence against Jews, including 22 murdered. In April, White Russian soldiers and local peasants executed some 400 Jews. This all, of course, had an impact on the occupying German and Austrian soldiers, who were there to put down the Bolsheviks. By now, they had orders to shoot just anyone who carried a weapon on the spot, and next month after the Battle of Taganrog against Bolshevik troops, they shot all the prisoners. It wasn’t just the regular troops, though. Anti-Semitism spread among the German command, and Jews were seen as a security risk because of their supposed Bolshevik and Menshevik leanings. This is part of the “Brutalization Theory” that tries to explain the violence in postwar Germany and the rise there of Anti-Semitism. Many of the German troops now in Finland, the Baltics, and Ukraine would in fact radicalize and join the right wing paramilitary Freikorps once back in Germany, would be part of the street violence there, fighting both communists and the postwar republic, and would later support the rise of the Nazis. But that’s in the future, in the present they were fighting the Bolsheviks, and they weren’t the only ones. Far away, Colonel Gregori Semenov, in Eastern Siberia, headed west from the Manchurian border to Lake Baikal to move against the Bolsheviks. Semenov is a Cossack officer who had earlier raised part of a Mongol regiment for service in Persia and Mesopotamia. Since then they’ve tried to maintain some sort of order in Manchuria and will now fight the Bolsheviks. There was other action in the field this week, though without Bolsheviks. In Eastern Anatolia, where the Armenians had retreated beyond the old 1877 border, but if they thought their troubles were over, they were in for a surprise. On May 11th, the peace conference with the Ottomans resumed, now at Batum instead of Trabzon, and Vehip Pasha, commander of the Ottoman army, declared that the old peace conditions were no longer acceptable, since the Armenians and Georgians had used armed resistance to respond to earlier proposals. The territory asked for then had now been conquered by military force, so Vehip had new demands. These included: Occupation of new territory including Aleksandropol. Transfer of control of the Aleksandropol-Julfa railway to the Ottomans, to transfer troops to northern Persia. The free use by the Ottomans of ALL Transcaucasian railways as long as war with Great Britain continued. On the night of May 14th, the Ottomans presented the Peace Conference with an ultimatum to evacuate Aleksandropol within 24 hours and to withdraw to a line 40 km east of the city. Without waiting for a reply, Ottoman troops began their advance on the town. The Armenians hastily retreated toward Delijan, abandoning huge stores of supplies to the enemy. Once in Aleksandropol, the Ottomans now controlled the junction where the railway line from Sarikamis and Kars joins the main Tiflis-Julfa line. And the 199th week of the war ends, and with it the Bonnet Rouge trial as well the hopes of an Irish Uprising this month. There was a mutiny in Austria, unrest and Anti-Semitism in Ukraine, and action near the Caucasus. We’re really seeing it everywhere now, civilian opposition, army mutinies, working with the enemy to end the war, even if that means by losing it. I understand why those conspirators and mutineers were jailed or executed, but looking back from 100 years later I can easily feel sympathy with many of them, for millions of people were dead and it’s not over, and taking matters into your own hands to try and change that, even at the risk of your own life, just shows that there was still some humanity left. We want to thank Johannes Breit for helping us with the research about the German occupation of Ukraine and the situation there. If you want to learn more about Ireland in WW1 and the mentioned Easter Uprising, you can click right here for our special episode. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Gil Tayar. Support us on Patreon if you want even cooler maps and animations. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next week.



Holt was one of six sons of John Holt, a farmer in County Wicklow. The Holt family were Protestant loyalists in Ballydaniel (Ballydonnell) near Redcross[1] who arrived in Ireland as Elizabethan or planters under James I.

Holt, upon marrying Hester Long [maternally of the Manning ("Oranger") family] in 1782, set himself up as a farmer in the vicinity of Roundwood. He joined the Irish Volunteers in the 1780s and held a number of minor public offices such as an inspector of wool and cloth but became involved in law enforcement as a sub-constable, billet master for the militia and a bounty hunter. Holt was involved in The Battle of Vinegar Hill which was an engagement during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 on 21 June 1798 when over 15,000 British soldiers launched an attack on Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy, County Wexford.

First trial

Despite Holt's apparent loyalism, he became a member of the Society of United Irishmen in 1797 and gradually began to attract suspicion until finally in May 1798, his house was burned down by the militia of Fermanagh, instigated by the local landlord, Thomas Hugo, who owed Holt a sum of money. Holt then took to the Wicklow mountains, gradually assuming a position of prominence with the United Irish, mostly Catholic, rebels. Avoiding pitched battles, Holt led a fierce campaign of raids and ambushes against loyalist military targets in Wicklow, striking at will and reducing government influence in the county to urban strongholds. The defeat of the County Wexford rebels at Vinegar Hill on 21 June saw surviving rebel factions heading towards the Wicklow Mountains to link up with Holt's forces.

Emerging to meet them, Holt was given much of the credit for the planning of the ambush and defeat of a pursuing force of 200 British cavalry at Ballyellis on 30 June 1798. However, the subsequent Midlands campaign to revive the rebellion was a disaster, and Holt was lucky to escape with his life back to the safety of the Wicklow Mountains.

Holt rallied the remaining rebels and continued his United Irish guerrilla campaign as before allegedly even solving gunpowder shortages by inventing his own concoction known as 'Holt's Mixture'. Eluding a number of large-scale sweeps into the mountains by the army following the collapse of the rising, Holt together with his younger rebel Captain Michael Dwyer, tied down thousands of troops and his forces were augmented by a steady supply of recruits, a significant proportion of whom were deserters from the militia.


Holt had largely held out in expectation of the arrival of French aid but news of the defeat of the French at the Ballinamuck together with his ill-health brought about by the hardships of his fugitive life, age and family considerations prompted Holt to initiate contact through intermediaries as his wife, Hester Long's sister worked at Powerscourt for Lord Richard Wingfield, 4th Viscount Powerscourt with the Dublin Castle authorities with a view to a negotiated surrender. Dublin Castle was eager to end the rebellion in Wicklow and allow him exile after incarceration in the Bermingham Tower without trial in New South Wales. Bank of Ireland Peter La Touche paid for his pregnant (with Joseph Harrison) wife Hester and first born son Joshua Holt's passage and for their daughter Maryanne to be educated in Ireland.


Castle Hill rebellion 1804
Castle Hill rebellion 1804

Holt went out on the Minerva, (along with Henry Fulton), and on it met Captain William Cox who had been appointed paymaster of the New South Wales Corps. The ship arrived at Sydney on 11 January 1800, and shortly afterwards Holt agreed to manage Captain Cox's farm. He always claimed in Australia that he was a political exile and not a convict. In September 1800 he was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in a plot against the government, but was soon afterwards released as no evidence could be found against him. He was successful in his management for Cox, and afterwards bought land for himself which eventually yielded him a competence. In 1804 when the Castle Hill uprising occurred Holt, who was not involved, had been warned that evening that it was about to happen. During the night he set up a defense of Captain Cox's house. He was nonetheless afterwards hounded by Governor King and many false witnesses brought against him. Although there was no plausible evidence at all against him, he was in April 1804 exiled by King to Norfolk Island, and there put to hard labour. In his Memoirs, Holt wrote a considerable amount on the horrors he saw at Norfolk Island under Commandant Joseph Foveaux. Whereas other histories merely describe Foveaux as some able and efficient administrator who became Lieutenant-Governor at Norfolk Island, Holt saw him far less blandly than that. Holt graphically described Foveaux as the greatest tyrant that he (Holt) had ever known. Holt described the joy of the inhabitants of Norfolk Island on the day when Foveaux departed. He wrote in his Memoirs (Edited by Croker, 1838): "If I could have bought or borrowed a pistol, the world, I think, would soon have been rid of this man-killer, Foveaux, and with as short a warning as he gave to the two men he hung without trial." After Holt had been there 14 weeks Governor King sent instructions that he should be recalled to New South Wales, but delays occurred and it was not until February 1806 that he arrived back at Sydney again.

Grave of United Irishman Joseph Holt (1756-1826), Carrickbrennan Cemetery, Monkstown, Co. Dublin.
Grave of United Irishman Joseph Holt (1756-1826), Carrickbrennan Cemetery, Monkstown, Co. Dublin.
1994 memorial erected at the grave of United Irishman Joseph Holt (1756-1826), Carrickbrennan Cemetery, Monkstown, Co. Dublin.
1994 memorial erected at the grave of United Irishman Joseph Holt (1756-1826), Carrickbrennan Cemetery, Monkstown, Co. Dublin.


In June 1809 Holt received a free pardon, but, as this had been given after the arrest of Governor Bligh, it had to be handed in to the government when Governor Macquarie arrived. Holt, however, was officially pardoned on 1 January 1811 and in December 1812, having sold some of his land and stock, with his wife and younger son took passage to Europe on the Isabella; also on board was Henry Browne Hayes. The ship was wrecked by a reef so the passengers and crew were landed at Speedwell Island, one of the Falkland Islands, and Holt showed great resolution and ingenuity in making the best of the conditions on the island. He was rescued on 4 April 1813 but did not reach England until 22 February 1814 as he went via the United States. Holt retired to Ireland where he lived for the rest of his life, but he regretted that he had left Australia. He died at Kingstown now Dún Laoghaire near Dublin on 16 May 1826 and is buried in Carrickbrennan Churchyard at Monkstown. His elder son Joshua Holt married and remained in New South Wales, and the younger son Joseph Harrison Holt also went there via the United States after his father's 1826 death.

Sources and further reading

  • A Rum Story – The adventures of Joseph Holt – thirteen years in New South Wales. Edited by Peter O'Shaughnessy. Kangaroo Press, 1988
  • Rebellion in Wicklow: General Joseph Holt's personal account of 1798. Edited by Peter O' Shaughnessy. Four Courts Press, Dublin 1998.
  • The Year of Liberty: the great Irish rebellion of 1798. Thomas Pakenham. Granada 1982.
  • Memoirs of Joseph Holt, General of the Irish Rebels in 1798, vols 1-2. T. C. Croker (editor), London, 1838.
  • 'Keeping up the flame' General Joseph Holt. Ruan O' Donnell. History Ireland. Vol. 6. No. 2. 1998.
  • Papers of Peter O'Shaughnessy, National Library of Australia.[2]


  1. ^ "Buried in Carrickbrennan: General Joseph Holt, Rebel, Convict & Publican". Archived from the original on 19 November 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2009.
  2. ^ "Papers of Peter O'Shaughnessy". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 26 June 2012.

Further reading

This page was last edited on 24 September 2019, at 01:38
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