Newfoundland at the turn of the 19th century was heavily Irish, and its inhabitants were deeply in debt to wealthy merchants who used a system of credit that kept the working class in virtual slavery. Discontent was particularly strong among soldiers garrisoned in St. Johnís, who were mistreated by their officers.
In 1799, the colonyís chief justice estimated 400 people had become United Irishmen, a secret society plotting Irish independence from Great Britain. Many of the Newfoundland Irish came from Wexford, a region that strongly supported a rebellion there in 1798.
On April 24, 1800 a group of soldiers, intent on mutiny and led by James Murphy and Sgt. Kelly, met at the powder shed behind Fort Townsend. Unfortunately for them, only 19 soldiers of the expected 80 men showed up. The commanders quickly discovered the men were missing and chased the rebellious soldiers into the woods outside St. Johnís.
The entire group was captured within weeks, except Murphy and Kelly, whose fates are unknown. Five soldiers were hanged by the powder shed where the ill-fated mutiny began. Edward Power, Garrett Fitzgerald and Pierce Ivory were hanged in Halifax, and the rest were sent to prisons in Australia.