People Australia

  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Cody, Michael (Mick) (1844–1922)

by Anne-Maree Whitaker

Mick Cody, 1867

Mick Cody, 1867

National Archives of Ireland

Michael Cody, Fenian and hotel keeper, was born in Dublin in 1844 the son of John Cody, boilermaker of Denzille Lane, and Dora (née Byrne).[1] He followed his father into the trade of boilermaking, but also became deeply involved in the revolutionary Irish separatist movement known as Fenianism. At the age of 21 Cody was one of a group of deeply committed Fenians who concealed themselves in a loft in Dublin armed with revolvers and planning to kill two informers. He was described by his comrade John Devoy as ‘a low-sized but extremely powerful man of great determination’ who had ‘a weakness for punching policemen’. Devoy also commented that Cody had a face that was ‘a model for an artist’. Cody became the ‘centre’ (leader) of a Fenian group in Callan, Co Kilkenny, and later President of the Committee of Safety which police considered an ‘assassination circle’.[2]

Cody was also reputed to have been in the Dublin militia and engaged in making pikes (spears). In December 1865 he was involved in the prison escape of the Fenian commander James Stephens which was masterminded by John Breslin. He also recruited British soldiers into the Fenians. Cody was arrested in March 1866 but released, and spent some time in England over succeeding months. On returning to Dublin he was re-arrested in April 1867, tried with John Flood and Edward Duffy, and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.[3] They were transported to Western Australia on the last convict ship, the Hougoumont, which arrived in 1868 carrying 62 Fenian prisoners. Among others on the ship were John Edward Kelly, who would figure in Cody’s continuing activism.

Cody did not have to wait 20 years for his freedom, as he was pardoned under an amnesty in 1871 and immediately made his way to Sydney.[4] From there he travelled 300 kilometres north-west to the goldfields at Gulgong which were discovered the previous year. The district’s population had swelled by 10,000 in a few months, and continued to grow as more finds occurred. Cody became the Gulgong agent for the Irish Citizen newspaper founded by John Flood in Sydney.[5] Also in Gulgong were Dubliner John King and Clare-born Thomas McInerney, who were joint secretaries of an appeal for Irish nationalist John Mitchel in July 1874.[6]

The Fenians in Sydney were still organising and discussing plans to rescue their last six comrades in custody in Fremantle, while a parallel plan was being hatched in the USA. The American rescue involved sailing a whaling bark, the Catalpa, a distance of 12,000 miles from New Bedford, Massachusetts all the way to Western Australia. Ahead of the ship John Breslin arrived in Sydney from San Francisco in search of allies, and his first contact was John Kelly who introduced him to John King and Thomas’s brother James McInerney, as well as summoning Cody back to Sydney from Gulgong. Cody then set off to New Zealand seeking donations to help fund the rescue while Breslin headed to Fremantle to rendezvous with the Catalpa.[7] 

Kelly later reported to O’Donovan Rossa that ‘the [Fenian] organisation has a comparatively powerful foothold in three goldfields in New South Wales, in the Middle Island of New Zealand, and in a Queensland goldfield. This is all owing to Mick C.’[8] Cody returned to Sydney from New Zealand in February 1876 with around $6-7,000 worth of gold, which King packed into a portmanteau and headed for Fremantle.[9] There on 17 April 1876, Easter Monday, the six Fenian prisoners managed to reach the Catalpa, which evaded pursuit by hoisting the US flag. The rescue became an international sensation and sparked a number of ballads celebrating the feat.[10] As a result of his organising efforts in the Catalpa rescue funding Cody was regarded by the American Fenians as the ‘head of the order in Australia’.[11]

After his fundraising success Cody had other preoccupations, and on St Patrick’s Day 1876 he was married to Bridget Curry at St Benedict’s Church in Sydney. The witnesses were Thomas McInerney and his wife Margaret. The church register named Cody’s parents as John Cody, Dublin boilermaker, and Dora née Byrne, while his wife’s parents were farmer Michael Curry and Bridget née Molloy of Limerick.[12] Soon after their wedding the Codys left for Charters Towers in Queensland, where their first four children were born between 1877 and 1884. Gold had been discovered in the district in 1871, leading to a population influx and rapid development. Cody made no attempt to conceal his identity, and in an election report the Northern Miner newspaper commented: ‘Captain Cody, we expect was not far off when this Fenian conspiracy was hatched’.[13]

Thomas McInerney seems to have had some success prospecting in Gulgong as he acquired an extensive property portfolio and is shown as the licensee of the Bridge Hotel on Pyrmont Bridge Road, Sydney, by January 1877. However his wife died in 1886 and Thomas the following year, nominating John King and Michael Cody as his executors. Having returned to Sydney Cody ran the hotel until November 1887 when he turned publican on his own account, taking over the Clare Castle Hotel in George Street West (modern Broadway) which he ran from 1887 to 1890.[14]

He then moved on to the Australian Eleven Hotel in Elizabeth Street, Redfern. In July 1891 the hotel was the venue for the formation meeting of the John Mitchel branch of the Irish National Foresters, one of the best-known friendly societies in Ireland which was beginning its expansion into New South Wales. In addition to providing health and unemployment insurance for members, they also were closely associated with Irish nationalism. As well as hosting the inaugural meeting Cody also represented the branch at the formation of the State Executive in 1892 when he was elected Sub High Chief Ranger (vice-president).[15]

The Foresters provided the network which organised the visit to New South Wales in 1895 of veteran Irish nationalist campaigner Michael Davitt. As a Fenian ‘centre’ he was involved in the abortive raid on Chester Castle in England in 1867, but evaded capture until 1870 when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Thereafter he achieved fame as a lecturer and political campaigner, founding the Land League in 1879 and serving several terms in the British parliament as well as in prison. His visit to Australia in 1895 was intended to be a fundraising lecture tour to boost his personal finances, but when a general election was called the funds were diverted to the election campaign.[16]

Michael Cody served on the organising committee for the visit, and was selected to represent the Foresters (along with John Sheehy) in presenting a formal address of welcome to Davitt when he arrived in Sydney.[17] When Davitt reached Gympie in Queensland he stayed with their erstwhile comrade John Flood, who chaired his public lecture in the town.[18] Cody continued in his role as Sub High Chief Ranger of the NSW Executive of the Foresters until 1896. When he stood down from the position at the annual convention ‘a hearty vote of thanks was accorded by acclamation to Bro. Cody, who gratefully acknowledged it.’ The convention closed with the singing of ‘God Save Ireland’, a song commemorating the execution of three Fenians in Manchester, England in 1867.[19]

The Australian Eleven Hotel, named in honour of the national cricket team, was located opposite Redfern Park and attracted harriers and election meetings as well as cricketers and locals. The old building, a two-storey weatherboard terrace, was condemned in 1902 and Cody built a new two-storey brick hotel next door, negotiating a 30-year lease with the landowner. He later claimed the new hotel cost £3000. In 1905 he joined the campaign against the Liquor Bill, alleging that the proposed reduction in hotel licenses would ruin those who had made investments such as his.[20] In 1908 he was one of five publicans nominated to the Hotel Club and Restaurant Employees Board as employer representatives.[21]

In 1905 John Devoy wrote in his New York newspaper the Gaelic American that he, along with Michael Cody in Australia, were the last survivors of the Fenians who hid in the Dublin loft in 1865.[22] John Flood, although not one of that small group, was among the last survivors of the Hougoumont Fenian exiles, and it was his death in Queensland in 1909 which inspired Cody’s last recorded public utterance. An appeal was launched to build a memorial on Flood’s grave, and the Sydney committee elected Michael Cody as Vice-President. At the meeting called to establish the appeal Cody, ‘a popular and honoured citizen of Sydney’, reminisced: 

He said it was close on fifty years since he first became acquainted with John Flood, and for very many years he was closely identified with him in political matters, from that time until they had attained their liberty in Western Australia in 1871. He had known the late John Flood, in England, Ireland, and Australia, well and intimately, and how he had laboured in the cause of his country. He knew his excellent qualities, and he was fairly staggered when he heard of his death. No one in Australia knew him longer or better than himself, or regretted his death more than he did. He was very pleased to see some steps were being taken to honour his memory.[23]

Cody gave up the license of the Australian Eleven hotel in early 1912 at the age of 68, and moved to a house he named ‘Innisfail’ in Pine Street, Randwick, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.[24] On Christmas Eve that year his wife Bridget died at the age of 61 and was buried in Waverley Cemetery.[25] Michael survived another 10 years before succumbing to senile decay and cardiac dilation on 13 July 1922 at the age of 78.[26] His death notice requested ‘American papers please copy’ but his grave remains unmarked. 

[1] Michael was baptised in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) on 6 June 1844: Catholic parish registers, National Library of Ireland, microfilm 09071/03, entry no 4397.

[2] Keith Amos, The Fenians in Australia 1865-1880, Sydney, 1988, pp 84-85.

[3] P J Stephenson, ‘Fenian Dublin 1865-67’, Dublin Historical Record, vol 1, no 4 (March 1939), pp 123-124.

[4] ‘The Amnestied’, Freeman’s Journal, 17 June 1871, p 10.

[5] ‘Agents for the Irish Citizen’, Irish Citizen, various dates from April 1872 including 31 August 1872, p 7.

[6] ‘Mitchel Fund Subscription List’, Freeman’s Journal, 11 July 1874, p 13.

[7] ‘John King’s Narrative’, The Gaelic American, 8 Oct 1904, p 1. King may have named the wrong brother in his account written decades later, as Thomas was much more involved in Fenian circles than James.

[8] Kelly to O’Donovan Rossa, 8 April 1876, Rossa Papers, Catholic University of America (Washington DC), p 6.

[9] ‘John King’s Narrative’, The Gaelic American, 8 Oct 1904, p 1.

[10] Amos, The Fenians in Australia, pp 227-257.

[11] Carroll to Mahon, 12 June 1876, John Devoy Papers, National Library of Ireland.

[12] NSW marriage certificate, 00217/1876.

[13] ‘The Election’, Northern Miner, 10 July 1880, p 3.

[14] ‘Municipal elections Forest Lodge Ward’, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 January 1877, p 2; Probate packet 3/14727, NSW State Records and Archives; NSW death certificates 4014/1886 and 3163/1887; Daily Telegraph, 30 November 1887, p 3; 21 December 1887, p 6; 11 June 1890, p 6.

[15] Anne-Maree Whitaker, ‘John Sheehy: an Irishman and a sterling Catholic’, Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, vol 41 (2020), pp 146-147; ‘Irish National Foresters’, Freeman’s Journal, 16 August 1934, p 26; ‘Irish National Foresters. Story of the John Mitchel Branch’, Freeman’s Journal, 22 November 1934, p 17.

[16] Noel McLachlan, ‘Davitt, Michael’, Dictionary of Irish Biography, https://www.dib.ie/biography/davitt-michael-a2437.

[17] ‘Arrival of Mr Michael Davitt’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 July 1895, p 3.

[18] ‘Mr Davitt’s Lecture’, Gympie Times, 10 August 1895, p 4.

[19] ‘Irish N.F.B. Society’, Australian Star, 3 March 1896, p 3.

[20] ‘“If I Lost my License” What the Publicans Say’, Evening News, 30 August 1905, p 6.

[21] Sydney Morning Herald, 1 September 1908, p 6.

[22] ‘Sam Cavanagh, Old Dublin Fenian, Dead’, Gaelic American, 6 January 1906, p 8.

[23] ‘A Hero of “’67” The Late Mr John Flood, movement to commemorate him’, Freeman’s Journal, 18 November 1909, p 24.

[24] ‘Hotels Transferred’, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 February 1912, p 5.

[25] Sydney Morning Herald, 26 December 1912, p 6.

[26] NSW death certificate 12457/1922.

Original Publication

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Anne-Maree Whitaker, 'Cody, Michael (Mick) (1844–1922)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/cody-michael-mick-32078/text39641, accessed 2 July 2022.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Mick Cody, 1867

Mick Cody, 1867

National Archives of Ireland