Cunningham, Philip (d. 1804), United Irishman and leader of the most serious convict insurrection in Australian history, was born c.1770 at Gleann Liath (Moyvane), near Listowel, Co. Kerry. He moved to Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, in the 1790s to work as a publican and a mason. A United Irishman of considerable stature and charisma, he became acquainted with Clonmel's lord mayor before being unmasked as a key figure in the reorganisation of rebel networks in Munster and parts of Leinster in 1799. Suspected but not charged with rescuing prisoners being taken to Clonmel for execution in early 1799, he was capitally convicted of sedition at a Clonmel court martial (11 October 1799). His sentence was commuted to transportation for life on a technicality, and his fellow defendant Roger Guiry was acquitted. Cunningham was transported to New South Wales on the Anne (26 June 1800) and was punished for participating in a violent convict mutiny (29 July). Details of his early career in exile are obscure, but his attempt to escape by boat (October 1802) was foiled at an early stage. This transgression did not prevent him securing by 1804 the post of overseer of masons at the Castle Hill settlement, where he lived in his own stone house. On 4 March 1804 Cunningham was the most important of three men who led a mainly Irish convict rebellion in north-west Sydney. This occasioned the first declaration of martial law on the continent, and climaxed (5 March) in a bloody skirmish on Vinegar Hill (Rouse Hill) in which over twenty rebels were killed. Cunningham was arrested on the hill as he conferred with the military under truce conditions, and was hanged that evening at Windsor, Sydney. He was survived in Ireland by a woman named Black whom he had married in Clonmel (February 1798). A monument to the Castle Hill revolt was unveiled on Vinegar Hill, Sydney, in 1988.
NAI, 620/6/19/13, 1–29 (4–11 Oct. 1799); Sydney Gazette, 18 Mar. 1804; Thomas F. Culhane, ‘Traditions of Glin and its neighbourhood’, Kerry Arch. Soc. Jn., ii (1969), 74–101; Anne Maree Whitaker, Unfinished revolution: United Irishmen in New South Wales, 1800–1810 (1994); Ruan O'Donnell, ‘“Marked for Botany Bay”: the Wicklow United Irishmen and the development of political transportation from Ireland’ (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1996)