HOLT, Joseph (1756-1826)

HOLT, Joseph (1756-1826)
known as "General Holt"
Irish rebel
was the son of John Holt, a farmer in the county of Wicklow, Ireland, and was born there in 1756. He belonged to a Protestant family that had gone to Ireland in Elizabethan times. Holt, having married Hester Long in 1782, took a small farm, and also became overseer of public works in the parish of Dirrelossery. In 1798 he was living a life of comparative prosperity, when the Irish rebellion broke out and Holt's house was burnt down by a party of military headed by a neighbour whose enmity he had incurred, and who had denounced him as a rebel. Up to this time Holt had been perfectly loyal to the crown, but he now joined the United Irishmen and eventually was in command of a large body of men. Even after the rebellion was practically ended Holt kept together some hundreds of rebels among the Wicklow hills, and showed himself as possibly the bravest and most skilful leader in the rebellion. He did all that was possible to restrain his men from murder, and was himself on occasions able to show generosity and clemency. Realizing that the cause was hopeless, Holt gave himself up to the authorities and was transported to New South Wales. He went out on the Minerva and on it met Captain William Cox (q.v.) 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 he heard that an insurrection was about to break out and told Captain Cox of it. Holt was again informed against, and although the evidence was of the flimsiest kind in April 1804 he was sent to Norfolk Island and put to hard labour. After he had been there 14 weeks Governor King (q.v.) sent instructions that he should be recalled to New Sou th Wales, but delays occurred and it was not until February 1806 that he arrived at Sydney again. In June 1809 Holt received a free pardon, but as this had been given after the arrest of Governor Bligh (q.v.), it had to be handed in to the government when Governor Macquarie (q.v.) 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. The ship was wrecked on 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. He retired to Ireland, lived in respectability for the rest of his life, but regretted he had left Australia. He died at Kingston near Dublin on 16 May 1826. He was a man of great courage and force of character, a good leader of men, though it may not be advisable to accept all the accounts of his triumphs in his Memoirs at their full face value. His elder son married and remained in New South Wales, and the younger son also went there after his father's death.
T. Crofton Croker, Memoirs of Joseph Holt, General of the Irish Rebels in 1798; G. W. Rusden, Curiosities of Colonization, p. 38; W. E. H. Lecky, A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, Vol. V, p. 84, 1892 ed.; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vol. II.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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