Auctions | May 12, 2017

Order of Surrender from the 1916 Rising Offered at Bonhams

Order of Surrender copy.jpgA typed Order of Surrender from the 1916 Rising, signed by the leader of the rebellion, Patrick Pearse, is to be offered at Bonhams Fine Books, Atlases, Manuscripts and Photographs sale in London on 14 June. It is estimated at £80,000-100,000.

The Order of Surrender is one of the most significant documents in Irish 20th century history. It ended the abortive attempt in April 1916 by Irish Nationalists in Dublin to overthrow British rule in Ireland, and establish an independent Irish State. The nationalist uprising, which broke out on 24 April, Easter Monday, under the overall leadership of Pearse, was met by the British authorities with uncompromising and overwhelming force. On Saturday 29 April, after six days of bitter fighting, Pearse, offered unconditional surrender in order to prevent further bloodshed. A schoolteacher by profession, Pearse was also leader of the Irish Volunteers and, as President of the Provisional Government, had read out the Proclamation of Independence outside the General Post Office on Easter Monday at the beginning of the Rising. 

The surrender order itself was hurriedly composed at the British army headquarters. In the name of the Provisional Government it called on commandants of the nationalist fighters to ‘order their command to lay down arms’.  Such was the haste of composition, that in the copy to be offered for sale at Bonhams the word ‘to’ appears as ‘tp’.  A small number of copies were made, signed by Pearse and distributed to rebel positions in Dublin and the outlying countryside by Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, who had acted as go between during the surrender negotiations, and members of the Capuchin community.

It is not known exactly how many typed copies were produced, but it is thought to be in single figures. Two surviving copies are held by the National Library of Ireland. Another, signed by Pearse and countersigned by James Connolly, is held at the Imperial War Museum, London. In addition, there are known to be three hand written drafts. Uniquely, the typed copy for sale bears a tricolour stamp printed by the rebels at the time of the Rising depicting William Allen, Michael Larkin and William O'Brien, the 'Manchester Martyrs', who were hung in Manchester for killing a police constable during a failed rescue attempt of two Fenian prisoners. The stamp was possibly affixed to authenticate the order, but may equally have been added at a later date.

Writing in the summer 2017 edition of Bonhams magazine the Irish writer, Ronan McGreevy editor of Centenary - Ireland Remembers 1916, which will be published in the autumn, explains the significance of the Surrender Order a follows:

“The terse document expresses Pearse’s belief that he would certainly be executed, but that all the others would be spared. Instead the British executed 15 leaders, including Pearse, and imprisoned thousands. This brutal military fiat turned Irish public opinion against British rule in Ireland exactly as the rebels had hoped”.

Bonhams representative in Ireland, manuscript specialist Kieran O’Boyle, said, “It is difficult to overstate the importance of this document to the history of Ireland. While in the short term, the surrender represented failure, the public reaction to the rising and in particular to the harsh way in which it was suppressed, galvanised the movement for independence and gave it the wide popular support it had previously lacked.”    

Image: Order of Surrender, 29 April 1916. Signed by Patrick Pearse. Estimate £80,000-100,000