October 16th. — Back to-day to the Campbelltown Hotel, where we are to spend the night.
17th. — This morning we took a conveyance, a sort of spring-cart, and drove sixteen miles through the valley of the Macquarie River to the Sugar-loaf; where dwells a worthy Irish family, emigrants of thirty-two years ago from the county Cork. Their name is Connell. We had promised to visit them on our way back from Avoca; and Mr. Connell had kindly sent for our horses to Oatlands, and has them ready for our ride to-morrow up to the lakes. Mr. Connell and his wife have had severe hardships in their early days of settlement — a wild forest to tame and convert into green fields — wilder black natives, to keep watch and ward against — and wildest convict bushrangers to fight sometimes in their own house. Mrs. Connell is a thorough Celtic Irishwoman — has the Munster accent as fresh as if she had left Cork last year, and is, in short, as genuine an Irish Vanithee, or “Woman of the House,” as you will find in Ireland at this day — perhaps more so; for Carthaginian “civilisation” has been closer and more deadly in its embrace amongst the valleys of Munster, than it could be amongst the wilds of the Sugar-loaf forests. Most of their laborious toil and struggle is over; their farm smiles with green cornfields and their sheep whiten the pastures; their banks are well furnished with bees, and Mrs. Council’s mead is seductive; the black Tasmanians have all disappeared before convict civilisation; and even the bushrangers are not “out” so often these late years. Still it is needful that every lonely house should be well supplied with arms: and not many years have gone by since Mrs. Connell performed, against these marauders, an achievement memorable in colonial story. An armed party of four or five men had taken possession of the house in the absence of her husband. Two of them were stationed outside; one in the house kept his gun pointed at the family, while the fourth ruffian robbed the premises. Under pretext of pointing out some valuables which the robber wanted, Mrs. Connell induced him to go into a closet upstairs — locked him up there, slipped down hastily, and entered the room where the man on guard stood — pinioned him round the arms from behind with a grip like death — then, with the help of the children, disarmed and tied him, and immediately securing the doors, began firing out upon the two rascals in the yard: they returned two or three shots, and decamped, leaving their comrades in the hands of Mrs. Connell; they were hanged of course; and the family of the Sugar-loaf (according to the usage of that period), had an additional grant of land allowed them for the exploit.
Oct. 18th. — Mounted our horses and rode straight towards a gloomy gorge of the “Western Tier,” as the colonists name the great ridge of mountains that run north and south through Van Diemen’s Land: passed some handsome houses of settlers on the plain; and at eight miles from the Sugar-loaf found ourselves among the mountains. Our guide, young Connell, now left us; and we pursued our way up a rude track which climbs amongst rocks and huge trees. The mimosa soon disappeared; shortly after the white and blue gum; and at a thousand feet above the plain we found ourselves amongst lofty, straight, and gloomy “stringy-bark” trees, a species which does not shed its bark like the other Eucalypti, and whose wood is very hard, heavy, straight-grained and durable, so that it is much used in building and fencing.
We still ascended, the mountain becoming wilder and steeper at every mile, until we were full two thousand feet above the plain of Ross. Here an opening among the trees gave us a view over the low country we had left, wide, arid, and parched in aspect, with ridge after ridge of rugged-looking wooded hills stretching far towards the Pacific eastwards. High and grim, to the north-east, towered the vast Ben Lomond; and we could trace in the blue distance that valley of St. Paul’s, where we had left O’Brien wandering on his lonely way. We were now almost on the ridge where our track crossed the summit of the western range; we had dismounted, and I was leading the horses up the remaining steep acclivity, when we suddenly saw a man on the track above us; he had a gun in his hand, on his head a cabbage-tree hat, and at his feet an enormous dog. When he observed us, he sung out “Coo-ee!” the cry with which people in the bush make themselves heard at a distance. “Coo-ee!” I shouted in reply; when down came bounding dog and man together. The man was Meagher, who had walked four miles from his cottage to meet us! the dog was Brian, a noble shaggy greyhound, that belonged to MacManus, but of which Meagher had now the charge.
We continued our ascent merrily, and soon knew — though the forest was thick all round us — that we had reached the mountain-top by the fresh breeze that blew upon the brows from the other side.
And now, how shall I describe the wondrous scene that breaks upon us here — a sight to be seen only in Tasmania, a land where not only the native productions of the country, but the very features of nature herself, seem formed on a pattern the reverse of every model, form, and law on which the structure of the rest of the globe is put together: a land where the moimtain-tops are vast lakes, where the trees strip off bark instead of leaves, and where the cherry-stones grow on the outside of the cherries?
After climbing full two thousand feet, we stand at one moment on the brink of the steep mountain, and behold the plain of Ross far below; the next minute, instead of commencing our descent into a valley on the other side, we are on the edge of a great lake, stretching at least seven miles to the opposite shore, held in here by the mere summits of the mountain range, and brimming to the very lips of the cup or crater that contains it. A cutting of twenty-five feet in depth would, at this point, send its water plunging over the mountain to form a new river in the plains of Ross. At another part of its shore, to the north-west, a similar canal would drain it into the lake river which flows along the foot of the mountains on that side. As it is, the only outlet is through Lake Crescent and the Clyde; and so it comes to fertilise the vale of Bothwell, and bathe the roots of our trees at Nant Cottage.
We pass the Dog’s Head promontory, and enter a rough winding path cut among the trees, which brings us to a quiet bay, or deep curve of the lake, at the head of which, facing one of the most glorious scenes of fairy-land, with the clear waters rippling at its feet, and a dense forest around and behind it, stands our friend’s quiet cottage. A little wooden jetty runs out some yards into the lake; and at anchor, near the end of the jetty, lies the little Speranza, a new boat built at Hobart Town, and hauled up here, through Bothwell, a distance of seventy-five miles, by six bullocks.
On the veranda we are welcomed by the lady of this sylvan hermitage, give our horses to Tom Egan to be taken care of, and spend a pleasant hour, till dinner-time, sauntering on the lake shore. After dinner, a sail is proposed. Jack is summoned, an old sailor kept here by Meagher to navigate the boat: the stern-sheets are spread with opossum-skin rugs and shawls; the American flag is run up, and we all sally forth, intending to visit the island, and see how the oats and potatoes are thriving. For Meagher means to be a great farmer also; and has kept a man on the island several months, ploughing, planting, and sowing. The afternoon, however, proves rough; the wind is too much ahead, and, when a mile or two from the shore, we give up the trip to the island, and put the boat about. She stoops, almost gunwale under, and goes flying and staggering home. The afternoon had become raw; and we enjoyed the sight of the wood-fire illuminating the little crimson parlour and the gaily bound books that loaded the shelves. Pleasant evening, of course; except when we spoke of Ireland and the miserable debris of her puny agitators, who are fast making the name of Irishman a word of reproach all the world over.
We talked much, however, of the Van Diemen’s Land election, and of the Australasian League, wherein I find Meagher takes considerable interest. We both sympathise very heartily with the effort of the decent colonists to throw off the curse and shame of convictism — not that the change, indeed, would at all affect us, Irish exiles, who would be quite sure to be kept safe at all events, but because all our worthy friends here feel so great and so just a concern about the question, for the sake of the land they have adopted for their home, and their children’s inheritance. Our interest in the matter is also much heightened (at least mine is) by the inevitable satisfaction which I needs must feel at every difficulty, every humiliation, of the Carthaginian government. For this I enjoyed the Cape of Good Hope rebellion; for this I delight in the fact that these colonists are growing accustomed to regard Downing Street as a den of conspirators and treacherous enemies, accustomed to look for nothing but falsehood and insolence from that quarter; for this I mean to publish shortly an account of the anti-convict resistance at the Cape of Good Hope, from materials collected on the spot. The Colonial Times will be sure to print it for me in consecutive numbers to any length I please.1
Meagher, also, has not been idle in this good cause; nor is his influence small at Ross and Campbelltown. I took up at Avoca Hotel the “Address” to the electors of that district, printed in large placards, and brought down here by Mr. Kermode to be posted and distributed. A pile of them was lying on the table while the candidate addressed his supporters. An expression caught my eye that led me to look further — the sharp pen of the hermit of the lake pointed every sentence: in every line I recognised the “fine touch of his claw.”
19th. — Tom Egan brought our horses along the shore as far as Cooper’s hut, and we had a delightful sail to various points of the lake. The air up in these regions seems even purer and more elastic than in other parts of the island, the verdure brighter, the foliage richer; and as we float here at our ease, we are willing to believe that no lake on earth is more beauteous than Sorel. Not so berhymed as Windermere is this Antarctic lake; neither does the cockney tourist infest its waters, as he infests Loch Lomond or Killarney; not so famous in story as Regillus or Thrasymené; in literature, as Como or Geneva, is our lake of the Southern woods. It flows not into its sister Lake Crescent with so grand a rush as Erie flings herself upon Ontario; neither do its echoes ring with a weird minstrelsy, as ring, and will ring for ever, the mountain echoes of Loch Katrine and Loch Achray. What is worse, there is no fish: not a trout, red or speckled, not a perch, pike, or salmon. But, en revanche, see the unbroken continent of mighty forest that clasps us round here. On the north frowns the peak called “Cradle Mountain,” with its grey precipices rising out of the rich foliage — one peak merely of the Great Western tier, rising not more than a thousand feet from the lake, but almost four thousand feet above the sea. Opposite, and farther off beyond the Crescent Lake, rises the grand Table Mountain. No signs of human life anywhere. No villas of Elizabethan, or Gothic, or of Grecian structure crown select building-sites along the shore. No boats carry parasolled picnic parties, under direction of professional guides, to the admitted points of attraction, and back at evening to the big balconied hotel, where dinner has been ordered at four o’clock. All along that wild sweep of the northern shore, there is a savage and utterly trackless wood, through which St. Kevin and the rest of our company once made our way on horseback, at much risk of life and limb; sometimes plunging through lake, and again leaping over prostrate trees, or pushing by main force through thickets of scrub, that almost dragged us from our saddles. One slender curl of smoke only we can see all round the shore — it is from a hut on the north-west, six miles off across the lake, where a solitary shepherd predominates over a flock that picks up its summer pasture in those parts.
Why should not Lake Sorel also be famous. Where gleams and ripples purer, glassier water, mirroring a brighter sky Where does the wild duck find securer nest than under thy tea-tree fringe, O Lake of the south! And the snow-white swan, that “On St. Mary’s Lake floats double, swan and shadow” — does he float more placidly, or fling on the waters a more graceful reflection from his stately neck, than thou, jet black, proud-crested swan of the antarctic forest waters? Some sweet singer shall berhyme thee yet, beautiful lake of the woods. To quoque fontium eris nobilium. Haunted art thou now by native devils only; and pass-holding shepherds whistle nigger melodies in the balmy air: but spirits of the great and good who are yet to be bred in this southern-hemisphere shall hover over thy wooded promontories in the years to come — every bay will have its romance (for the blood of man is still red, and pride and passion will yet make it burn and tingle until time shall be no more), and the glancing of thy sun-lit, moon-beloved ripples shall flash through the dreams of poets yet unborn.
We near the Bothwell side of the lake: we drop into the cove where stands the lowly log-built hut of Cooper, and the high sun warns us that it is time to begin our journey homeward. But I never leave the lakes without regret, and never visit them without wistfully marking out, in every green nook and sheltered bay we pass by, on the Bothwell shore, sites for my own hermitage of gum-tree logs, which, in fact, John Knox and I had often been on the very point of building. But Bothwell village seems to be our predestined home or dungeon, while we tarry in these realms of Hades.
One charm of the lake country is its elevation; high above all the odious stations, and townships, and the whole world of convictism and scoundreldom, we find ourselves, as we float on these aerial waters amongst the very mountain peaks, two thousand feet nearer to the stars than the mob of gaolers and prisoners that welter and wither below. So are we among them, but not of them. We are in a higher atmospheric stratum; and the air we breathe, untainted by lungs of lags, is wafted to us from the wine-dark Indian Ocean, or the perfumed coral-isles of the sun-bright Pacific.
We glide now about forty yards down the river which connects the two lakes, to the rude bridge where Cooper keeps watch and ward. Tricolour paws the ground impatient on the shore, and Fleur-de-lis, with her high-bred head aloft, and dilated nostril, seems to smell the stable of Nant Cottage. So with kind adieux we part. I carry a young kangaroo in a bag (a present to the children from the good family at the Sugar-loaf), and with this nursling resting on my arm find it as much as I can do to manage my horse. Madame, on Fleur-de-lis, leads the way; round the western horn of Lake Crescent we fly in spanking style; over the Clyde (which straightway hurries down into profound gorges, impervious to horses, and we shall see it no more for twenty miles); under the precipices of Table Mountain, blazing now like furnace walls before the westering sun; still descending, though gradually, for we are on the broad-backed ridge, not on the flank of the mountain range, and at last draw bridle on the green-sward of the “three-mile marsh,” which, indeed, is no marsh at all, but a lovely three-mile meadow, studded with stately trees. Before us now rises the rocky pyramid of the Quoin Hill, which presents to this side its precipitous bluff — for there is no Tasmanian hill without its breakneck bluff — and seems to taper to a rude peak, inaccessible to anything but the eagle. Yet I have seen a young lady of Bothwell, a daring Scottish lassie, ride to the very apex of that craggy peak, in derision of a gentleman who had done the feat for a bet.
Another mile, and we have reached the shoulder of the Quoin, whence Bothwell valley can be seen like a map all unrolled far below. The country seems here to descend suddenly, not presenting any uniform sloping escarpment, but broken into a chaos of wooded hills and winding glens, all clothed with noble trees, and glowing with the golden-blossomed underwood of mimosa. To our right, and far below, opens the narrow rocky gorge through which the Clyde breaks its way through the mountains; beyond, stretches, vast and gloomy, the mass of the Blue Hill; and far to the south are the peaks of the mountains beyond the Derwent, covered with snow.
We have still seven miles farther to ride; but after descending the mountains slowly, there lies before us only the level grassy plain of Bothwell, wooded like a vast park, over which our horses career like lightning, till they bury their muzzles in the clear waters of the Clyde, at the foot of Nant farm. John Knox and all the children are walking in the field with the dogs; they see us from the moment we have forded the river; they run to meet us with welcoming outcry; and there is joy at Nant over the little kangaroo.
1853, January 1st — Nant Cottage. — It is long since I have made an entry in my log-book. Of literature I am almost sick, and prefer farming, and making market of my wool. There is somewhat stupefying to the brain, as well as invigorating to the frame in this genial clime and aromatic air. A phenomenon for which I strive to account in various modes. One of my theories is the peculiar condition of the atmosphere with respect to electricity. In the three years I have wasted amongst these hills and woods, there has not been one good thunderstorm; of single peals or rolls of thunder, not more than a dozen in three years! and even a silent flash of summer lightning as rare as the phenomenon searched for by Diogenes with his lantern! How precisely such kind of atmosphere affects human blood and nerves and brain I cannot tell; but the fact is certain — there is more langour, and less excitability amongst Tasmanians, native or imported, than I have ever witnessed before. They love not walking, and are forever on horseback; they are incurious, impassive, quiescent — and what is singular, they can drink more strong liquor, without wild drunkenness or other evil effect upon health, than I could have conceived possible. We, also, John Knox and I, have eaten narcotic lotus here; and if it has not removed, it has surely softened the sting, even of our nostalgia. We, too, have quaffed in these gardens the cup of lazy enchantment, mingled for us by the hands of Fata Morgana the Witch: and if we have not forgotten the outer busy world, at least the sound of its loud passionate working comes to our ear from afar off, deadened, softened, almost harmonised, like the roar of ocean waves heard in a dream, or murmuring through the spiral chambers of a sea-shell.
Surely it is not good for us to be here. I wish at times to be awake; long for a rattling, sky-rending, forest-crashing, earth-shaking thunder-storm, and fancy that the lightning of heaven would shoot a sharper life into blood and brain. Lazily and sleepily we even look into the papers that bring us periodical news from the northern hemisphere — news perhaps four months old; and how is it possible for us to feel that keen human interest in transactions whose effects may all have been reverted, and their movers and actors all dead long before the sound of them has reached our ears? What care we that Louis Napoleon made a felonious coup d’état a year ago, and fusilladed Paris, and imprisoned and transported better men than himself? Perhaps he is guillotined by this time, or rusticating at Ham again, or gambler in London, or Emperor of France — it will be all one, I suppose, in a hundred years.
Deathly quiet is all the dreary world — asleep or swooned away under the high-piled and double-locked and bolted fetters of royal and imperial conspirators. Only a few vehement spirits hover over and around the dark and silent globe, searching for a spot where the dull mass may be touched and informed with vital flame once more. For a moment I left almost awakened when the news came to us that Louis Kossuth had left his Turkish retreat, and had sailed first to England eventually to America — and I read, almost with a sense of returning life, the glorious Governor’s impassioned harangues. Through the United States the Governor moved like a demigod; and the world once more hung enraptured on the fire-tipped tongue of a true orator, discoursing of Justice and Public Law and Freedom and Honour. But I knew not that the Great Republic had detected him as an impostor; and that the magnificent Magyar had sailed for Europe again as Mr. John Smith.
Perhaps he thinks his Smith surname will save his letters from being rummaged in the British post-office; but no, Governor Smith, you are one of the dangerous classes, and the British Home Secretary knows his duty to his god “Order.” And whither now wilt thou fly, O! Kossuth Smith? — to what powers on earth, or over or under the earth, wilt thou next appeal? Behold, this world is ruled now by Order and Commerce (Commerce, obscenest of earth-spirits, once named Mammon, and thought to be a devil), and there is no place for thee. What heart can dare now to kindle itself at thy heart of fire? What ear will trust itself to the entrancement of thy tones of power? I would. Governor, that thou wert now at Nant Cottage — as well here as in any other penal exile — and we would take thee to hunt the kangaroo, and put on thy head a cabbage-tree hat, and into thy mouth at evening the dreadful pipe of peace — we would mount thee on a steed of steeds, and sweep with thee through forty miles of flowery and fragrant forest, per diem, until the nepenthe had steeped thy soul; and thine own Hungary and Danube-stream would become to thee as the dim Platonic reminiscences of a life thou hast led in some former state of being, before thy latest mother bore thee.
— A year ago, our comrade Meagher formally withdrew his parole; and then, with the assistance of friends, made his escape. He is now in America; and has been generously hailed and welcomed there. I have seen some of his speeches and lectures; and one may easily guess that he will keep most of the favour he has won. There is no other change of consequence amongst our friends here. O’Doherty is still at Hobart Town, acting as resident-surgeon of St. Mary’s Hospital; and sometimes he steals up to Bothwell, to visit us and breathe some of our high mountain air.
O’Brien is at New Norfolk again for the last year. His health is quite restored. I often hear from him; and sometimes go down with one of the boys to see him. Next week, I mean to make such a journey, but in the meantime am busy mowing my hay.
Now here is my entry for New Year’s day, 1853. Probably I shall not jot down another memorandum till next New Year’s day; for this diurnal has gradually changed, first to a hebdomadal, next to month’s-mind, and at last to an annual.
1 Mitchel carried out this intention, and published the portions of his Journal dealing with the Cape in the Colonial Times. It stimulated the successful resistance of the decent Tasmanian Colonists to the continued use of that country as a British convict depot. This was the first occasion of any publication of the “Jail Journal.”