August 9th — On board the “Neptune,” of Pernambuco. — Let me not omit, after all, to chronicle here the fact that Brazil cannot be an absolute paradise either for white, black, brown or red. But a few months have passed by since there was a bloody insurrection of the slaves in this Pernambuco. And, Dr. Dees tells me, the city bears ample witness to its violence in wrecked houses and the like. In the other two great cities of Rio and Bahia, also, there have been formidable insurrections of late. I see no great harm in this: the moment the black and brown people are able, they will have a clear right to exchange positions with the Portuguese race. That is to say if the Portuguese have now any right to hold the others in slavery at all.
For the actual traffic in slaves from Africa it was always sad enough to think of; but Sir Fowell Buxton (this I believe is the name of him) and his humane accomplices in the British Parliament have aggravated the horrors of it four-fold. For in order to procure the requisite supply now, in spite of the pirate cruisers of humanity, four times the number of slaves have to be shipped; they calculate on losing three cargoes out of four, but those three cargoes, if so lost to them, are not taken from them by the cruisers, and set free or “apprenticed,” — not at all — they are thrown overboard all alive, to avoid the forfeiture of the ships. When slavers are chased by a humanity pirate, and in danger of being taken they simply pitch all the negroes into the sea, together with the loose planks that make the slave deck, and then he to and invite the British officer on board. He finds no slaves, and by the terms of the treaties must let the ship go free. Then the captain proceeds along the coast of Africa again to get another cargo. But this is not the only loss the shippers have to count upon. Formerly they used, for their own sake, to provide roomy ships for the slaves, and to embark in each only so many as could be properly accommodated, with due attention to their health — if it were but pigs a man were importing from abroad, he would take care to have them stowed in such a manner as would give him a good chance of receiving them alive — but by reason of the benevolent pirates, they have now to build small brigs and schooners, with a view to speed mainly, and stow the poor creatures in a solid mass, with their heads touching the deck as they sit, and each man having another man sitting between his legs — each body being thus in actual contact with other bodies on all its four sides — every man flattening his nose against a woolly head in front, and having a nose flattening itself against his own woolly head behind. So Sir Fowell Buxton has arranged them. Therefore, about one-third of them always die, and the survivors arrive in a state of miserable debility and pain, from which many never recover.
Few persons, except some serious old women, are such fools as to believe that the British Government keeps on foot that African armament with any view to humanity at all, or conscience, or Christianity, or any of the fine things they pretend in Parliament. They have just two motives in it: one is to cut off the supply of labour from the sugar-growers of Brazil and Cuba, or make it so dear to them that they cannot compete with the planters of Jamaica and Barbadoes; and the other is to maintain British “naval supremacy” and the piratical claim of a right to search ships, and accustom the eyes of all who sail the seas to the sight of the English flag domineering over everything it meets, like a bully, as it is.
Aug. 10th. — To-day I learn that we have actually got our stores on board, and are to weigh anchor to-morrow. Had a visit from Mr. Dowsley, who is our contractor for supplying the ship. Asked him a great deal about Brazil; he says it is a noble country to live in — “and a genuine land of liberty, too,” he added. Told him I was not quite prepared to hear that; “But you mean,” quoth I, “that the laws are made by Brazilians, not by strangers, and are fairly administered, and for Brazil, not for any foreign nation: if you mean that, it is liberty indeed.” He did not exactly mean that, though that was all true — he meant that they had regular representative government and elections, “and all that.” Asked him how the elections were carried on — if there was much excitement and party-feeling — also what the party feeling was all about, and what parties they were at all.
“Party-feeling!” said he; “excitement! Oh there is nothing of all that — the whole business is managed by the police.”
“By the police? Is there not voting, then? are there not rival candidates?”
“No, no; the police provide the candidate — and as to voting, or venturing to propose rival candidates, bless your soul! the police would allow nothing of that sort — they would soon clear out the place, and shut it up.”
“The key,” quoth I, “belongs, I suppose, to the Emperor. But I understand you now; and if the laws be indeed, as you say, just and fairly administered, why, Brazil is a genuine land of liberty — only the police elections might perhaps be dispensed with.”
Mr. Dowsley tells me I have many friends in Pernambuco — so many that, said he, whenever you are at liberty to go where you like, you could not do better than come and settle here. Told him I should consider that, so soon as the world was all before me, where to choose. He gave me, also, a pleasant piece of news, if true — that my brother William has obtained a situation under the American Government, and that he is residing at Washington. There could be no mistake, he said, for the person was described in the American papers as Mr. William Mitchel, brother to the rebel.
12th. — Came on deck this morning, and saw, dimly fading off on the horizon, the long-stretching coast of South America, with its beautiful white-walled city and endless wilderness of primeval forests. It is all gone: the sun is high, and we are in blue water again. Have my eyes verily seen forests and cities on the firm continent of South America, firm, rock-based, wide-watered continent, crowned by the many-fountained Cordilleras? Or is it all a ghostly dream? A dieam indeed, and also real; I have eaten golden fruit fresh plucked from Hesperidean trees; I have drunk of cool waters that gushed out of far Brazilian mountains, where the arch-chftnist sun breeds diamond and chrysolite; I have heard the tolling of South American bells, noted the time by a South American clock, yet never set foot on South American ground. This authentic vision has passed before my face — whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell — and is gone — the wind’s wings have wafted it — the great deep has opened and swallowed it. Adieu! adieu!
There is somewhat dreamlike indeed in this life I am leading. My utter loneliness in this populous ship amidst the strange grandeur of the ocean, and for so many days — the continual bustle and work, with their incidental merriment or quarrelling, that naturally go on where four distinct communities are jostling each other — the sailors, the convicts, the soldiers and the cabin gentry (besides me who am a community by myself). And the numberless questions that arise to be settled and interests to be reconciled almost within arm’s length of me — while for me no question or interest arises at all, but all my life is in the seeing of the eye only: and then my objective familiarity with the faces, names, voices, and even characters of these soldiers who are for ever talking, laughing, and humming their tunes (the whole detachment have but three) before my open window, while they know not the sound of my voice — and then this wondrous rising, like an exhalation from the sea, of gorgeous forests and cities, and again their wondrous setting. All this makes me feel like a man before whose entranced vision some phantasmagoria is flitting by: they are ghosts, these sailors and soldiers, doing their ghostly business before me on the great deep for a season; and in the morning the cock will crow for me in some distant land, and I shall awake, and the whole rout of Atlantic spirits shall vanish speedily, shrieking on the blast. Whereupon enter other ghosts.
But do I learn nothing — find no food for thought in the movements and gibberings of these ghosts? — In the actions and relations, external and internal of these four commonwealths, in the psychological phenomena of so many phantasmic men, is there then no light, no order, nothing but the chaotic stuff that dreams are made of? Here, also is not my long neglected education making progress? Even here there is pabulum for the soul, more or less — and a harvest for the quiet eye to reap —
Bαθειαν ãλοκαδιà φρενòς καρπονμενον, Eξ ῆς (God send it!) τα κεδνα Bλαστάνει Bονλεύματα.
Sept. 11th. — A month from Pernambuco — Four months and twenty days from Bermuda, yet still more than a thousand miles from the Cape; but we have now a steady fair wind, which is often a heavy gale, and forces us to strip to our close-reefed topsails. It is here the depth of the southern winter, and as we are several degrees south of the Cape latitude, it is very cold. After the flagrant equinoctial summer we have passed, I am somewhat sensitive to the chill of this wind from the antarctic mountains — and my enemy, like a cowardly lubber, has made several foul attacks upon me; but I have defied him, and trampled him under foot. A flock of Cape pigeons never leaves us; these are, in fact, a kind of petrel, but the British tax calls them Cape pigeons. They are most beautiful and graceful creatures, as they skim, on level wings, round and round the ship (making no more account of our nine-knot speed than they do of the precession of the equinoxes), or, as they float, with their white breasts proudly undulant on the long swell. Also, we have usually three or four great albatrosses flying round, with their long, sinewy, rigid wings (twelve feet from tip to tip), bent into the shape of a Turkish scimitar. Heaven knows how deeply I envy these albatrosses their sublime faculty of locomotion, and the preternatural lungs the devils have. Is there in all the world an asthmatic albatross? I think not; for if any one of them were so afflicted, the rest would instantly set upon him and put him to death, according to that universal instinct which prevails among brutes, and perhaps ought to prevail among men also, those anomalous and fallen brutes. A herd of deer will drive the wounded one from their society, or gore him to death; poultry have no sympathy with a sick hen; your community of beavers — a well-regulated commonwealth — keeps no hospital for ailing beavers, but just sends them down the river. Even amongst mankind, the simple-minded, unsophisticated Troglodytæ carefully strangled all their worn-out and sickly fellow-citizens, but solemnly and in an honourable manner, with a cow’s tail. One of the soldiers here caught a Cape pigeon in a lasso, put a broad collar of red cloth on it, and sent if off again; it flew about the ship as usual for a while, but the others, when they observed its red deformity, fell upon the poor bird with great animosity, and he soon disappeared from their company. This is not for naught; are sick beavers to expect that the public granary will be open to them, seeing they never put a grain into it? Are invalid albatrosses, who cannot fish, to think they will be fished for? Above all, is a monstrous red-backed sea-pigeon to be allowed to deprave the breed, and in time confound the hereditary colours of the whole South Atlantic family? We are often bid to take lessons of industry from bees, beavers, ants; of faithfulness from dogs; of gentleness from lambs and doves; and why may not human statists leam something of prudent sea-pigeons and politic beavers; especially as this conservative maxim of social economy is confirmed (for I deny the story of the storks) by every beast, after its kind, throughout all zoology. Not that my mind is made up on the applicability of the beastly maxim to our case; the civilised human practice may be better for human animals, possibly — in their fallen state, as it were. I only throw out the brutal idea, that’s all — ex volucrum monedula-rumque regno. One is not bound, I suppose, to make up one’s mind on all the questions that arise.
One question, however, is easily settled. The British transportation system is the very worst scheme of criminal punishment that ever was contrived; and I seriously think it was contrived by the devil, with the assistance of some friends. Something of its working I saw and heard at Bermuda; but since I embarked on board this ship, Mr. Stewart, the “instructor,” an intelligent man, has been telling me more and more horrible particulars. He has had peculiar opportunities of making himself acquainted with the details of its operation, because, before he became a chaplain to transport ships, he was employed for years as a missionary in the pauper purlieus of London. The people there, he assures me, speak of transportation without the least horror or repugnance, merely as one of the ways of making off life, and, on the whole, as rather a good line of business. The notion of ignominy that we are accustomed to attach to it, has quite disappeared, he tells me, in the midst of the bitter poverty and hideous debasement of those regions. Amongst the prisoners brought out to Bermuda, in the Neptune’s present excursion, was one young man of rather good address, by trade a locksmith. This fellow, after he was removed from the depot prison, and put on board the Neptune, at Portsmouth, wrote a most affectionate letter jointly to his father and mother; but, as he attempted to send it privately, it was intercepted, read, and destroyed. It was to the effect that he had embarked on board ship for Bermuda — that he was in an agreeable mess; that he was never asked to do anything (like the poor devils of sailors and soldiers on board), but ate and drank of the best, and walked about “like a gentleman” — that if he had known how pleasant a thing it was to be transported, he would have turned his attention to it long ago; that he was in prime spirits; and, finally, that he intended to take a black woman at Bermuda, and would live very happily. This, it seems, is the usual way in which such matters are talked of; and one would not wonder at a man writing to his brother-burglar in this strain; but, God’s mercy! think of a fellow writing to his parents so — as an encouragement for them to bring up his brothers and sisters to the same jolly profession!
But if this transportation turns out to be no punishment at all to the criminal population generally, it is, on the contrary (and partly for that very reason) a far too severe punishment — far worse that the cruellest death — to the unhardened and casual delinquents, who have sometimes, for one moment of mad passion and sore temptation, to dree this rueful doom. No punishment, but a sure and comfortable establishment for all the tribe of professed rascaldom — but utter, final shipwreck of soul and body to the poor wanderer, who might be taken by the hand and led from the devil’s path, if only the laws were made and administered by any others than the devil’s servants.
One main feature in convict life I have ascertained to be a deep and heartfelt respect for atrocious villainy — respect the more profound as the villainy is more outrageous. If anything can add to the esteem which a man in the felon world secures by the reckless brutality of his language and manners, the extent of his present thievings, and ingenuity of his daily lyings, it is the enormity of the original offence for which he is supposed to be suffering. Several instances of this fact, which have been told me since I came on board the Neptune, remind me of a whimsical illustration of the same which I saw last year, while I passed a few days in the Tenedos hospital ship. On my arrival there, I had hardly been left alone in my cabin before a convict softly entered. He was a servant to the iassistant-surgeon, and came with a pine-apple which his master had sent me. The man was about 50 years of age, but very stout and active-looking, and highly consequential in his manner, as it soon turned out he had a good right to be.
“I trust, sir,” said he, “you will find everything as you wish here: if I can do anything for you, I’m sure I shall be happy— I’m Garrett.”
“Well, Garrett?” quoth I.
“Garrett, sir, Garrett; you must know all about me; it was in all the papers; Garrett, you know.”
“Never heard of you before, Garrett.”
“Oh! dear, yes, sir, you must be quite well aware of it — the great railway affair, you remember.”
“No, I do not.”
“Oh! then I am Mr. Garrett, who was connected with the —— railway (I forget the name of the railway). It was a matter of £40,000 I realised. Forty thousand pounds, sir: left it behind me, sir, with Mrs. Garrett: she is living in England in very handsome style. I have been here now two years, and like it very well — devilish fine brown girls here, sir — I am very highly thought of — created a great sensation when I came. In fact, until you came, I was reckoned the first man in the colony. Forty thousand pounds, sir — not a farthing less. But now you have cut me out.”
I rose and bowed to this sublime rascal. The overwhelming idea — that I should supersede a swindler of forty-thousand-pound-power, was too much for me. So I said, graciously bowing,
“Oh, sir, you do me too much honour: I am sure you are far more worthy of the post of distinction. For me, I never saw so much money in all my life as forty thousand pounds.”
“My dear sir,” said my friend, bowing back again — “My dear sir! but then you are a prisoner of state, patriotic martyr, and all that. Indeed, for my part, my little affair was made a concern of State, too. Lord John Russell, since I came out here, had a private application made to me, offering to remit my whole sentence if I would disclose my method — the way I had done it, you know: they want to guard against similar things in other lines, you understand.”
“I trust, sir,” quoth I, respectfully, “you treated the man’s application with the contempt it deserved.”
The miscreant winked with one eye. I tried to wink, but failing, bowed again.
“You may be sure of that, sir,” said he — “’tis very little I care for any of them: I enjoy myself here very much — have never had a day’s illness — very often go across to this nearest island to look after Dr. Beck’s ducks. Ah! sir, there are two or three splendid coloured girls on that island: then I sometimes correspond with the newspapers: have a private way of getting anything I please sent out, without these people knowing anything about it — should be most happy to have any document sent for you in a quiet way, you know — of course you will want to show up those rascals now and then.”
“No, Garrett,” said I, getting tired, “there, that will do, you may leave the room.”
The old monster looked a little blank, but walked off at once, and as I requested to be protected from such intrusion for the future. Dr. Hall took the order with him, and I saw him no more.
Now, this railway swindler is a man of rather good address — far better than Hudson, the head of his sect, I believe, can boast of; a portly man, a respectable man, one who understands his own high position in society, and his claims to the respect and consideration of the world — he has “done” the world out of forty thousand pounds — and it is a claim which amongst trueborn Britons is always admitted instantly. I shall not be surprised to hear of Mr. Garrett representing, a few years hence, some great commercial constituency in that majestic assembly the British Parliament, and making “laws” there. But no, I err — it is only your unconvicted felon who can aspire to that honour. If I had the ordering of the matter, however, I would transport Garrett to St. Stephen’s to represent York there, and return Hudson to Bermuda to serve as member for the North Junction Railway — or else (what would be better still) I would hang them both.
I have done. Absolutely I will lecture on convict economy no more; but only repeat here, that if a prize were offered amongst “thirty thousand cart-loads of black devils” to any devil of them who would invent the most diabolic system of criminal jurisprudence for mankind, the devil a fiend amongst them could improve on the modem and enlightened British system of transportation.
Two soldiers before my window have been disputing some matter of fact; they have freely called one another liars; as indeed they do continually. This sort of language the poor fellows are obliged to take and permitted to return; and to resent it by a blow would be treated as a serious breach of discipline. I greatly desire to know whether a French or Austrian soldier is obliged to take, and allowed to give, the he direct amongst his comrades. To me it seems that nothing is more degrading to manhood than this; except only scourging — and British soldiers have to endure both. But the British soldier, or any other British poor man, must not be indulged in the feeling of self-respect or personal dignity; that is for his betters — respect for the service he may have, jealous regard to the honour of his regiment, high pride in those fine young men, his officers — but a thought of individual honour, and the quick resentment of a personal indignity, are things far above his sphere. “An officer and a gentleman” would laugh consumedly at any such phenomenon in a private soldier, or other man belonging to one of the ungentlemanly castes.
In no country on earth is the immeasurable distance between gentry and vulgar so constantly and offensively kept in view throughout the whole social system, as in England. In a “Tour” on the Rhine, executed by Chambers, an Edinburgh literator, I remember that the writer cannot forbear from showing how much his British notions of propriety were confounded, when in some of the great frontier garrison-towns occupied by Belgian, Prussian, and Austrian troops, he saw officers of high rank nodding familiarly to the privates as they passed, or standing chatting and laughing for a while with two or three of them at a street comer. Let the human mind try to imagine one of our supercilious young gentlemen (not drunk) behaving in a manner so derogatory to the character of a British officer.
I have learned at Bermuda, and without surprise, that soldiers often intentionally exchange from the military service into the “convict service.” That is to say, they desert, knowing that if taken they will be transported, and deliberately preferring the life of a convict to the hard duty and debased position of a soldier. Once, while I was in Bermuda, a ship came in from Halifax, bringing twenty-two deserters to the hulks; and it is remarkable that their regiment had been quartered at Bermuda two years before; therefore they had an opportunity of observing the Queen’s convict service, and disliked garrison duty in comparison. I saw these men as they were brought into the Dromedary hulk, and ranged on deck — they seemed in excellent spirits. Further, I learn that deserted soldiers make nearly a fifth part of the whole number of prisoners in the colony; and that on board this Neptune are some twenty deserters or more. What wonder? Self-respect is dead already within these men, or rather machines — felony can bring them no lower. A soldier, to be sure, is told that it is an honour to belong to the glorious and immortal British service, and that hard as the life is, it is not degrading like the convict service — he is told so; but he feels his degradation — or else is so utterly degraded that he feels it not: he knows that he is liable to be flogged like a slave or a beast of burden — and what can they do to a convict more? In the haughty bearing of his superiors, he is made to feel that the gulf separating him from the respectable classes is just as wide and impassable as felony could make it. He has no franchise, no citizenship, no home, any more than a convict. Then he knows that a convict has an easier life, has good and abundant food, fewer monsters over him, is not strangled with belts and knapsack, nor choked with pipe-clay — has generally a shorter time to serve, and the prospect of a favourable settlement in some fertile colony at last.
Whether these are the considerations that commonly induce soldiers to make this exchange or not, I am told that in practice transported deserters speak of themselves as “promoted”; from the ranks, namely, to the gangs.
In the Irish Army there shall be no scourging. Deserter for first offence, shall be imprisoned, for second, shot. Note further, there shall be no pipe-clay. Men shall not be kept in perpetual clouds of white dust, labouring to conceal the dirt of their accoutrements with coats of still dirtier dirt.
I have now sufficiently vilipended two branches of the United Service — the convict and the military; the naval must be kept for another occasion. May God look down upon us all, soldiers and convicts, officers, and turnkeys; and especially the unhappy statesmen who are expected to order all these matters aright (without an idea of order in their heads, or a ray of truth in their souls); and more especially me, lonely, sea-faring patriot and martyr, who am thus austerely animadverting upon mankind, as we tear through the heavy seas under close-reefed topsail, about four hundred leagues from land. It is deep in the night. The wind roars wildly, and the waning moon shines in upon me with pale face through the shrouds. So I go upon deck to see the grim white moonshine on the tossing manes of ten thousand breaking billows. A yellow summer moon streaming soft through the whispering tops of bowery trees upon velvet-swarded glades, is one thing, and this grim white moon careering through torn and rifted clouds, on a stormy night at sea, is quite another thing, though Euler’s calculations, I believe, are said to be applicable to both. After all, the winter moon of these southern oceans is no other than the very harvest moon of Ireland, shining calmly into the room where my children are sleeping this blessed night. For we are not far from the meridian of Newry, though six thousand miles to the south; and I know that this white disk struggling here through antarctic storm-clouds is the very globe of silver that hangs to-night between the branches of the laurels of Dromalane. A thought this, compiled from somebody; I only know it does not belong to me. It was once Jean Paul Richter’s, no doubt; but is not Jean Paul dead? And has he not bequeathed this and all his other assets and effects to you and to me?
12th. — We are still clearing more than two hundred miles a day, and that point-blank towards the Cape. Some god with his broad hand is urging our keel below; either that or else this snoring northwest wind is doing it. We shall certainly make the coast of Africa within a week, if we hold on our way. Everybody on board seems more alive, as if awaking from a long doze. There is one woman in the ship, the wife of a sergeant, who is coming out as guard to the convicts. By great luck she is an Irishwoman, of the county Clare. By good luck, because for twelve months and more I have heard no other human accents than the loathsome twang of vulgar English — which is just barely human. When Mrs. Nolan, therefore, comes up to the poop for a little fresh air, I always go and talk with her a while, merely that I may fill my ears with the liquid music that distils from a kindly Munster tongue. It is well that she is so old (say half a century), else I should fall in love with Mrs. Nolan.
There are nearly two hundred Irish amongst these prisoners — the famine-struck Irish of the Special Commission; many who have not a word of English, and most of them so shattered in constitution by mere hunger and hardship, that all the deaths amongst the prisoners, ever since we embarked, have been Irish. As I am far removed, however, from their part of the ship, I seldom hear their voices, except when they sing at night on deck. And such singing is mournful beyond all caoines, coronachs, and næniæ. What a fate ! what a dreary doom has been spun and woven for you, my countrymen! They were born, these men, to a heritage of unquenched hunger, amongst the teeming plenty of their motherland — Shunted like noxious beasts from all shelter on her hospitable bosom — driven to stay their gnawing enemy with what certain respectable fed men call their “property.” And so now they are traversing the deep under bayonet-points, to be shot out like rubbish on a bare foreign strand, and told to seek their fortune there amongst a people whose very language they know not. Many of them, I believe, being without families, are glad of this escape, as they might be glad of any escape from the circle of hunters that chased them for life at home. But then there are many others (boys from twelve to seventeen years of age, and some of them very handsome boys, with fine open countenances, and a laugh so clear and ringing) whom it is a real pain to look upon. They hardly know what troops of fell foes, with quivers full of arrows, are hunting for their young souls and bodies; they hardly know, and — so much the more pity for them — hardly feel it. But in poor frail huts, on many an Irish hill-side, their fathers and mothers dwell with poverty, and labour, and sorrow, and mourn for their lost children, with a mourning that will know no comfort till they are gathered to their people in the chapel-yard. For indeed these convict bo5rs were not born of the rock or the oak-tree — human mothers bore them, sang them asleep in lowly cradles, wept and prayed for them. But Ireland was under the amelioration of British statesmen in those days, getting her resources developed by them; and so the sons of those woeful Irish mothers were rocked and suckled for the British hulks, to be ameliorated amongst London burglars, and reformed by the swell-mob, that they might help to carry British civilisation to distant continents and isles.
Thoughts like these often come upon me when I hear at night, rising from the ship’s forecastle, some Irish air that carries me back to old days when I heard the same to the humming accompaniment of the spinning-wheel; and then I curse, oh! how fervently, the British Empire. Empire of Hell ! when will thy cup of abominations be full ? But I always check myself in this cursing; for there is small comfort in unpacking the full heart with indignant words. Indignant thoughts, even, must be stifled and hushed to rest for the time. “These things must not be thought after these ways. So, it will make us mad.”
Sept. 15th. — A poor wretch who has been dying for months died outright to-day: an Irishman, by name Brophy. He is the seventh prisoner (exclusive of one sailor and one soldier) who has died since we left Bermuda.
Sept. 16th. — Within one hundred miles of the Cape: and a steady breeze is sending us along at eight knots an hour: we must make the land to-morrow morning.
So this five months’ voyage is as good as over. It has been, everyone says, very long and wearisome; yet to me it has been neither. But now that land is near, with new scenes and cities of articulate-speaking men, I must rouse myself from my blue-water dreaming, and gird up my loins to meet whatsoever new thing Africa may bring forth. Ghosts, avaunt!
Sept. 18th. — Before sunrise this morning I was awaked by three cheers from the forecastle. I knew Table Mountain must be in sight; so I jumped out of bed and went on deck. There, right ahead of us, the curtain of mist was lazily furling itself up from a rough mountainous coast not two miles from the ship: we could see the shaggy copsewood fringing the rocks, and close upon the beach two or three low houses. We could hear the surf as the long swell broke heavily upon the sand. It is substantial Africa.
But can this be the Cape of Storms? After flying along for a fortnight under a strong gale that never failed us a single hour, we find ourselves here, off the terrible Cape, where we counted on having to fight our way into port through hurricanes ingruent from all points of heaven, lying motionless on the water, with sails flapping against the masts in a breathless calm. And well for us that it is so; for we came close into the shore during the night, about four miles too far north: that is to say, we have the Cape of Good Hope still to double before we can make the entrance of False Bay: that is to say, we have missed the very thing to make sure of which vessels bound for the Cape always sail two thousand miles to the westward of their direct course. And the wind almost constantly prevailing on this coast is the south-east, with a strong current setting in the same direction: and so, if a wind stir to-day and do not run us ashore (where we must certainly go to pieces) it will drive us far to the north-west; and after being within four miles of our port, we may have three weeks’ navigation yet before we come within actual reach of it. So say sea-going men. But luck may favour us.
About noon, the mountains were all clear; and there, sure enough, is the unmistakable platform of Table Mountain pre-dominating over them all. Where we lie here we see no land but the rugged peninsula which divides Table Bay from False Bay, the outer coast of which seems to extend about thirty miles. The northern part of this peninsula is a magnificent mass of mountains; and straight opposite to where we are now drifting, the mass is cloven through by a narrow inlet called Hout’s Bay, where the cliffs seem to rise sheer out of deep water at an angle that would make the footing of a goat unsure — yet in that very inlet, as I hear, round the skirts of those grim rocks, are some of the best vineyards in the colony. I thirst for the juice of these African grapes, and refuse any brandy to-day, out of disgust.
Mrs. Nolan, the sergeant’s wife, who had thought, I believe, that the captain had missed his way and sailed into unknown seas beyond the world’s end, is in great, though quiet delight. She says Table Mountain is for all the world like Callan (a mountain in Clare — and has been thanking God all day in a low voice.
Caught some capital fish, and dined luxuriously, getting drunk afterwards on imaginary Constantia of the choicest vintage.
Saw in the afternoon a phenomenon symptomatic of the end of a convict voyage, viz., a wonderfully worn pack of cards floating alongside, very brown, and with corners all rounded off. They had been thrown overboard: this day their long service is at an end; and if one could ascertain how much money has been lost and won by their means, within these five months, it would be a curious statistic to lay “before Parliament.” Some of our worthies, too, who have been till now wearing prison apparel, of fustian or corduroy, have been taking out of the fold to-day, and trying on an astonishing quantity of new and very good clothes, which they had provided at Bermuda, with a view of entering on their campaign respectably at the Cape. In fact, there are some very gentlemanly London thieves and swindlers here: several of them have better coats and hats than I have; so that I will not be the most “respectable” convict landed at the Cape. Now, then, worthy householders of Africa, look to your door-bolts and locks; hardware of that sort will rise in price hereabouts before six months are out. Gentlemen of Africa! take care of your pockets. Assuredly it is a gross outrage upon any community whatsoever to discharge amongst them such a cargo of iniquity as we carry. But if the colonists, as I hear, be content to receive the consignment, why, let them make their profit by it as best they can.
Sept. 19th. — Hurrah! hurrah! Africa has brought forth a new thing — a right noble birth this time — and from the bottom of my heart I wish her joy.