Easter Rising and Captain Bowen-Colthurst

Terrible DutyNext year the centenary of the Easter Rising will be marked by many commemorative events and the publication of articles and books on numerous aspects of this significant event in the history of modern Ireland. A book recently published depicts the life of a little known participant in the rising on the British side, Captain John Bowen-Colthurst, who was responsible for the murder of innocent civilians, including the well-known newspaper editor and Dublin eccentric Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. A Terrible Duty: The Madness of Captain Bowen-Colthurst (Thena Press, 2015) by Bryan Bacon is available online from Amazon. Bowen-Colthurst’s story has significance for Australians as some of his crimes were witnessed by an Australian soldier, who was in Dublin on leave when the rising broke out and who had reported for duty at Portobello Barracks, Rathmines. The soldier wrote a letter home describing his participation in a patrol led by Bowen-Colthurst during which an innocent young man was shot in the street and a number of civilians, including two journalists, were arrested and taken back to the barracks. The next morning Bowen-Colthurst ordered that Sheehy-Skeffington and the two journalists be shot by firing squad. The Australian soldier’s letter was published in the Age newspaper causing a scandal, particularly amongst the Irish-Catholic community in Australia. I tell the story of the Australian soldier’s involvement in these events in Anzacs and Ireland (pp. 68-72). Ultimately, Bowen-Colthurst was court-martialled and found guilty of murder but because he was also found to be insane he was sent to Broadmoor Asylum. Released in 1918, he travelled to Canada in 1921 where he lived a long life, dying in 1965. A Terrible Duty provides a valuable insight into Bowen-Colthurst’s life and character.

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