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John Dunlap

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John Dunlap, New World Celt

In Strabane, Northern Ireland, around 1746, a young lad of ten years prepared to leave on a transatlantic journey. He had learned some of the printing business at Gary’s Printery on the Earl of Abercorn’s estate, a well-established publishing and printing center in the 18th century. Now he was to join his Uncle William, a printer and publisher in Philadelphia as an apprentice. His grandparents had come from Scotland nearly fifty years ago for a life in another country, and now he was to leave theirs and go to a New World.

When John Dunlap became eighteen, he took over the business from his uncle, who had become a Minister. He began publishing a weekly newspaper, The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser. This weekly soon became known as a reliable source for news concerning the Continental Congress. John married into a Patriot family, with his new great uncle being Benjamin Franklin himself!

On a hot July day in Philadelphia, 225 years ago, John began the most important “rush job” in all history at his shop at 48 High Street. He was to print a “broadside”. Broadsides- single sheets printed on one side- served as public announcements or advertisements from the beginnings of printing in America through the early 20th century. Generally posted or read aloud, broadsides provided news of battles, deaths, executions, and other current events. They were popular “broadcasts” of their day, bringing news of current events to the public quickly…. and often disappearing just as quickly.

Fighting between the American colonists and the British forces had been going on for nearly a year. The Continental Congress had been meeting since June, wrestling with the question of independence. Finally, late in the afternoon on July 4th, 1776, twelve of the thirteen colonies reached agreement to declare the new states as a free and independent nation. New York was the lone holdout. John Hancock ordered Philadelphia printer John Dunlap to print broadside copies of that declaration that was signed by him as President and Charles Thompson as Secretary.

“Benjamin Franklin himself approved the layout set up by Dunlap. The Caslon type was elegant, the headlines bold and arresting. The Colonies’ point-by-point list of outrages committed by King George III and his mercenary army spread across the page in a single column with almost biblical thunder. With only the rough draft written by Jefferson and approved by the Congress as a source, Dunlap configured the broadside to assure the greatest impact, and then added his own name to the bottom: “Philadelphia- Printed by John Dunlap”. If the Revolution failed, he would hang with Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hancock and the rest!”

Two to five hundred copies were printed that July evening. The next morning the first copies were distributed to members of the Congress and riders were sent throughout the colonies with John’s documents in hand. On July 8th independence was publicly proclaimed in Philadelphia. On the ninth, General George Washington read the Dunlap Broadside aloud to his troops to raucous cheers. Printers throughout the colonies copied the document and word spread very quickly that America was free!

The Dunlap Broadside was, in fact, the first printed copy of the Declaration of Independence. The more familiar hand–engrossed Declaration was not completed until August 2nd, 1776, when the delegates assembled to affix their signatures. By then Dunlap Broadsides had reached public assemblies in all thirteen colonies, and many British military headquarters.

John went on to become the official printer for the Congress, and the Packet became the first daily newspaper in the United States. He died a hero and a veteran, having founded and captained the 1rst Troop of Philadelphia City Calvary, used as bodyguard for General Washington at Trenton and Princeton.

There are only twenty-five copies remaining of the original broadside and museums or libraries own twenty-one of them. The last to be found was in 1989 by a man browsing in a flea market who bought a painting for $4 because he wanted the frame. Concealed behind the painting was an original Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence. Sotheby’s auctioned this copy for $8.4 million in the spring of 2000. Its message was worth much more to the people of 1776 and immeasurably more today, in 2003.  An amazing contribution by a child of Ireland: John Dunlap, New World Celt.



Ned Kelly

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Ned Kelly,  New World Celt (1854 - 1880)

On a cold June morning, more than 100 years ago a bushranger called Ned Kelly fought his final battle. He was an outlaw who rode a horse, put on a suit of armour and fought police. Today, Ned Kelly is an Australia legend.

Ned, the eldest of eight children, was born to Irish parents in Victoria in 1854. He was just twelve years of age when his ex-convict father died and his family settled near relatives at Greta, two hundred and forty kilometres northeast of Melbourne.

In Ned's time it was wild, rugged country and life was hard. The best land was held by a handful of wealthy so called squatters. But Ned's family was poor and the only opportunity they had to own land was as 'selectors'. Under the selection system families took up areas of land set aside by the government and paid them off bit by bit. As part of the scheme they also had to improve the property by clearing it, building a house, putting up fences and growing a crop. If they didn't the land could be taken away.

For many it was an impossible situation with the plots of land too small, and the soil too poor for them to make a living. Faced with poverty, selectors often stole horses and cattle from the wealthysquatters.

Ned was just aged sixteen, when he was convicted of receiving a stolen horse and served three years in gaol before being released in 1874.Whether or not he was set for a life of crime is hard to say, but one event had a dramatic effect on determining his future. In April 1878, a police officer called Fitzpatrick accused Ned's mother of attacking him and Ned of shooting him in the wrist. But whatever actually happened, the end result of Fitzpatrick's claims was that Mrs. Kelly was sent to prison for three years and a one hundred pound reward was offered for the capture of Ned. From that time on Ned and his brother Dan kept to the bush.

On the 26 October 1878, together with friends, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, they came across police camped at Stringy Bark Creek. Ned believed the police intended to kill him and Dan so he called on them to surrender. But three of the officers resisted, and in the fight which followed Kelly shot them dead. The reward for Kelly and his gang rose to two thousand pounds and would later rise to an amazing eight thousand pounds, the equivalent, today, of nearly two million dollars! But Ned had many supporters and for almost two years they helped the gang dodge police.

He called Constable Fitzpatrick a liar and explained his killing of police at Stringy Bark as self defense. He also called for justice for the poor, writing..."I have no intention of asking mercy for myself of any mortal man, or apologising, but I wish to give timely warning that if my people do not get justice and those innocents released from prison, I shall be forced to seek revenge of everything of the human race for the future."

In June 1880 Ned made his last stand. The Kelly gang was at the Glenrowan Hotel when they were surrounded by police. Prepared to fight, the four bushrangers wore suits of armour made from steel. During the battle, Ned escaped through the police lines. But rather than fleeing into the bush, he returned a number of times to fight police. He was trying to rescue his brother and friends. Eventually, he collapsed with more than twenty-eight bullet wounds to his arms, legs, feet, groin and hands. Beneath his armour a green sash he wore was stained with blood. It was a sash he'd been given many years earlier for saving a drowning boy.

Ned was the only survivor of the siege. In Melbourne gaol, on 11 November 1880 Ned Kelly was hanged. He was twenty-five years old. For many, the making of Ned Kelly the legend, raises questions about how Australians see themselves .For some he's no more than a criminal but for others he continues to be seen as brave and daring and , a bit of a larrikin, someone distinctly Australian.