Bothwell, April 20th, 1850 — Under the guidance of John Knox (as O’Doherty insists on naming Martin), I have been exploring the district of Bothwell on every side. The hills are all similar in shape and structure — all with a gradual slope at the side, and a steep “bluff,” broken sometimes into grand precipices at the other: and herein every hillock resembles the great Table Mountain, or the huge ranges of the south-west. Never country was so uniform as this, both in structure and in garniture. There is an extensive bed of sandstone lying at or near the base of all the hills, worn into caves where the edges of it are exposed in the precipitous bluffs. Over this there always rests a mass of green-stone, which ascends to the summits, and is often formed into rude columnar blocks, as in the precipices of Table Mountain.
We have ridden to a lonely region, known as the “Blue Hill,” being a succession of small hollows lying westward of a high mountain which bounds our valley at one side. Went up to the first settler’s place we came to, a rather humble wooden house; but with a large bam and offices near it. John Knox approached the door like a man who knew the way, and was received most joyfully by the proprietor, one Kenneth M’Kenzie, an ancient settler, from Ross-shire. He brought us in, sent our horses to the stable, introduced me to his wife (one of the MacRae’s), a true Gaelic woman of tall stature and kindly tongue, who speaks Erse better than English, though thirty years an exile here. She has never been in Hobart Town since she passed through it on her arrival, and hardly even in our metropolis of Bothwell for many years. Here is a genuine family of Tasmanian Highlanders, trying to make a Ross-shire glen under the southern constellations. In the parlour stands a spinning wheel. On the wall hangs an ancient and highly ornamental dirk, which one of the girls unsheathed for us, and then sheathed again, in the Highland manner, by a difficult but graceful movement of the wrist. Delicious milk was set before us, such as has frothed in Highland quaich since the death of Cineadth Vich Alpine; and as we sat round the table, and the tall youths and maidens came in, and were addressed by such names as Colin, Jessie, and Kenneth, I could almost fancy myself in some brae of Balquhidder.
24th. — I was very glad this morning to receive a kind, frank, and interesting letter from Smith O’Brien. It is dated “Darlington Probation Station, Maria Island.” He says, of his refusal to give his parole (which is the reason of his close confinement on Maria Island),
“My determination was formed after full consideration; and as I had resolved to refuse my parole, even in case I should be offered a free range over the Australian settlements, you may suppose that I did not feel much tempted to abandon that determination, when I found that in exchange for the pledge exacted we were offered only a sort of mock liberty, in a district about as large as a couple of parishes. I do not regret, but on the contrary rejoice, that I refused to give the pledge required. My resolution, however, very nearly cost me my life. I am persuaded that if the diabolical regulations framed by Dr. Hampton [the ‘Comptroller’], with reference to my confinement, under which I was deprived of opportunities of exercise, and even subjected for an unlimited period to absolute silence and solitude, had continued to be rigorously enforced, I should long before now have been either in my grave or in a mad-house. Nor can I consider my present prospects as very brilliant.”
Speaking of the behaviour used towards me, J. M., he says: —
“I cannot believe that public opinion in England, ungenerous as it has been in reference to Irish patriotism, will tolerate the exceptional vindictiveness which the Whig Government have displayed in your case, and which has denied to you the indulgence granted to the lowest class of felons who have undergone sufferings far less acute than those which you have sustained. I fully expect, therefore, that you will receive a ‘conditional pardon’ before long,”
etc., etc. He has not, I fear, accurately estimated how much or how little the generosity of the British public can tolerate in the case of an Irish rebel. Perhaps, if he lives long enough, he will have opportunities of judging in that matter more correctly.
His letter came to me sealed with the “Comptroller-General’s” seal, which imports that it was read by that functionary. Of course it makes no allusion to political affairs in Ireland (if there can be said, indeed, to be any such thing as political affairs there), moreover, even if we had an opportunity of talking together face to face, we should be sure to differ widely. He cannot endure my root-and-branch revolutionism, nor I his moderation.
But what a ghastly correspondence is this! It is miserable to think of that proud soul, striving gallantly to stand — though set in a frame gradually weakening and sinking — still to stand, “like Teneriffe or Atlas unremoved,” holding at bay a Comptroller-General and his whole pack of hell-dogs. They evidently mean to break his spirit, and force him by mere dread of so hideous a death, to accept their “comparative liberty.” Knox and I do heartily wish he would yield the point. This confinement is as rigorous and humiliating as mine was at Bermuda: and I believe he is more sensitive than I. We have sadly smoked the pipe of deliberation over this affair (sitting in the bush, at sunset, upon a prostrate gum-tree), and find no solution. Yield, or bend, he will not — endure the torture long, he cannot. He will die there. On this we mused, with little interruption by conversation, save a curse or two, until our own “comparative liberty,” even in these glorious forest-solitudes, became irksome, wearisome, loathsome to us. Sunset was bathing those gloomy woods of the Blue Hill in a flood of purple and crimson and gold; and the clarion note of the “white magpie” rang clear and mellow through the still evening air. For us in vain. We wished ourselves in one of the “Probation Stations”; and feel that the aspect of a surly jailor, and the grating of bolts in our doors, would be wholesomer sights and sounds than all the glory and music of these evening woods.
Meantime we are to make up a small parcel of books which he has expressed a wish to have in his dungeon — they must first, however, be subjected to the censorship and criticism of Dr. Hampton; and if he think them inoffensive they will be placed in the hands of his ward and pupil. We must also write him, and try to shake his resolution about the parole. Yet, I fear, in vain.1
Some of the principal settlers in the neighbourhood of Bothwell have called upon me; and we have spent some agreeable evenings in their houses. They are all large landed proprietors, and have myriads of sheep and cattle upon a thousand hills. The convict class, who form the majority of the entire population of the island, are strictly tabooed. But by common consent we Irish rebels are excepted from the proscription. It gave me a sort of home-feeling, when I found myself, for the first time in two years, seated in the pleasant parlour of Ratho, the home of a most amiable and accomplished Edinburgh family; the social tea-table presided over by one of the most graceful and elegant of old ladies; the books, music, flowers — and the gentle converse of high-bred women, could not fail to soothe and soften an exasperated soul in any but its very darkest hour; and I walked home to our cottage dreaming, dreaming how blessed a privilege it is to have a home.
Yet I have written to Ireland, still dissuading my own household from coming out here.
April 26th. — Some Irish newspapers. I can hardly bear to look into them. But John Knox diligently scans them, with many wry faces, and sometimes tells me part of the news. “Conciliation Hall” still stands, still spouts, still gathers money, though not much now, and still sends up an evil smell into the general nostril. Also another small opposition “Conciliation Hall,” named “Irish Alliance.” It spouts also and gathers money, in humble imitation of its great parent on Burgh Quay; and though fresher now than the real old Hall, is destined I think, to decompose and putrefy even sooner. In America, which swarms with our refugees of ’48, there have been pitiful quarrels and even riots; in which, however, neither O’Gorman nor Dillon (now residing in New York) has taken any part whatsoever. I do not mean to censure all the parties to these quarrels; because I know not the merits or demerits of the questions at issue. One of the questions, it is humiliating to me to know, is about the relative importance of me, J. M., compared with other “leaders.” Nevertheless, some of those who are named as engaged in these disputes I know to be honest and able men. At this distance I cannot presume to blame them for a course of conduct which may have been forced upon them. It is easy for me, here at the antipodes, cut off the whole scene of bustling life as by the shearing scythe of death — with the whole mass of the planet lying between me and my former work and life — easy for me, sitting placid under a honeysuckle tree, basking in the balmy air of these meadows of Asphodel or Lotus, facing the Magellan clouds and starts unknown before, to smoke and philosophise with tranquil mind, and to look down upon the petty squabbles of mankind with superior smile. This, perhaps, is not well. Those refugees are exiles, too — have suffered, as well as we, the demolition of home, and means, and hopes. Moreover, they are still present in the scene of our failure; still stung by the coward taunts of our enemies, and feeling the onus on them to do somewhat, to move somewhither — a burden which has fallen from our shoulders for the present — yes, and no doubt maddened, too, by the poisonous rumours and “preternatural suspicions” that hover round and haunt the ruins of a baffled cause. Ah! we can all meet here, by the margin of the smooth lake, and under the greenwood tree, with brow as unruffled as the lake, smile as genial as the riant landscape — but place us in the very heart of that mean turmoil, even in the refugee city of New York — expose us to the keen daily torture of conscious helplessness, while so much is to do, to the conversation of sinners, the canonisation of nonsense, and the outrages of a triumphant enemy — all together, and then, who knoweth his own heart?
April 28th. — Rebels went to church, this being Sunday. The post of Episcopal clergyman for this district is now vacant — the last incumbent (who was a most mediaeval “Puseyite”) having been removed in disgrace; disgrace not for Puseyism, but for swindling. The preacher, therefore, upon this day was Mr. Robertson, a Scottish Presbyterian divine; who is a real literary man, has a good collection of books himself, and has got up a decent village library besides.
So long had I been absent from religious services of all sorts, that I had forgotten the practice of praying for the Queen of England and all “Governors,” etc.: — why, this includes Lord Clarendon, and the Sheriff of Dublin! One could not rise and leave the church, because we ought to have known this would be done, as a certain part of the service, just as the British “national anthem” is played in Theatres Royal, between play and afterpiece: — and a man has no right to go into a church to disturb the congregation. Therefore, I contented myself with cursing as the pastor blessed.
30th. — At the lakes yesterday and to-day. I ride a horse lent me by Mr. Reid, of Ratho; John Knox, his grey pony, a half Arab; St. Kevin, a beautiful and fiery little black horse; and Meagher, a brown pony. We have had some wild bush-riding, the practice of these laking-parties being to ride at furious speed through almost trackless woods, and the consequence is sometimes disastrous. Meanwhile, St. Kevin leads us all upon his little black steed; and any shepherd who might see us careering in this dashing style, with laugh and jest, might say in his heart — There goes a merry party! But let not the shepherd envy us too much, or be very sure of our merriment. Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd ? Dost thou know that black Care mounts behind the horseman?
Yet this life, in respect it is in the woods, pleases me well.
We cannot with safety to the flocks, bring dogs with us through this country. A dog, of what breed soever, unless very carefully educated indeed, will occasionally dart aside to rush amidst a “mob” of sheep (so they term their flocks), and before you can call him, he will have worried a couple or so. We have not, therefore, had a kangaroo hunt yet; and, indeed, I have seen but one or two kangaroos. They are growing scarce; for although there are very few human inhabitants in these parts to persecute them, yet every human inhabitant is a shepherd or stock-keeper, with a double-barrelled gun and plenty of time on his hands; and then, unluckily for the kangaroo, his skin is worth certain shillings in the market; and to collect kangaroo and opossum skins is one of the methods by which the rural population here procure money to gamble with, and solace their leisure hours with rum.
“Rural population!” It is almost profane to apply the title to these rascals. All the shepherds and stock-keepers, without exception, are convicts — many of them thrice-convicted convicts! There is no peasantry. Very few of them have wives; still fewer families; and the fewer the better. Their wives are always transported women, too: shop-lifters, prostitutes, pickpockets, and other such sweepings of the London pavements. Yet, after all, what a strange animal is man! The best shepherds in Van Diemen’s Land are London thieves — men who never saw a live sheep before they were transported; and, what is stranger still, many of them grow rather decent — it would be too strong to say honest — by their mere contact with their mother earth here. They are friendly to one another — hospitable to travellers (partly because they thirst for news), and otherwise comport themselves partly like human beings. Yet human they are not. Their training has made them subterhuman, preterhuman; and the system of British “reformatory discipline” has gone as near to making them perfect fiends, as human wit can go. One is perpetually reminded here of that hideous description of Van Diemen’s Land, given by a person who knew it well: —
“Let a man be what he will when he comes here, the human heart is taken out of him, and there is given to him the heart of a beast.”
What a blessing to these creatures, and to mankind, both in the northern hemisphere and the southern, if they had been hanged!
Rode down this evening. A storm of rain and sleet. The Tasmanian winter is approaching.
July 22nd. — Have had a serious consultation with John Martin, as to whether I should at length allow my wife and family to come out to Van Diemen’s Land. None of our friends, except Mr. O’Brien, seem to regard my speedy release as a thing at all probable. I may have to live the remaining twelve years of my sentence here, unless some chance arises of effecting an escape honourably. To escape otherwise, that is clandestinely, would indeed be easy to all of us at any time; but it is not to be thought of.
It is grievous to think of bringing up children in this island; yet by fixing my residence in this remote, thinly-peopled, and pastoral district, engaging in some sort of farming and cattle-feeding, and mingling in the society of the good quiet colonists here, we might almost forget at times, the daily and hourly outrage that our enemies put upon us in keeping us here at all; and enjoy the glorious health which this matchless climate would be almost sure to inoculate our veins withal. Several families (one especially, in which I have grown intimate) express a strong wish to see my family residing with me here. I could devote a good deal of time, also, to teaching the children; and, in short, I do so pine for something resembling a home — something that I could occasionally almost fancy a real home — that I have written this day to Newry, inviting all my household to the antipodes. Pray God, I have done right.
Visit from Terence MacManus; he has ridden up the valley of the Derwent and Clyde from New Norfolk, to see us by stealth. If discovered outside the bounds prescribed to him, he would be probably placed in custody and subjected to some punishment. He came to our door in the evening, and sent in his name (Dr. Smith) by the little girl. We go up to the lakes again the day after to-morrow, and have induced him to prolong his trip so far along with us, though he will then be sixty-five miles from his dungeon; but the temptation of meeting Meagher and St. Kevin, and of seeing an actual congregation of five Irish rebels together again (more than enough, by law, to make a “riot”) is too strong for him to resist. When we shall have drawn together such a power, we hope to be strong enough, if not to make a revolution, at least to shoot some ducks. The lakes swarm with a very fine kind of duck, the “black-duck,” besides the “mountain-duck,” a small kind with splendid plumage, teal, musk-duck, a very large but uneatable bird, not to mention jet-black swans, which swim either in pairs, or in fleets of five or six.
30th. — MacManus made some days pass pleasantly for us, but he is gone home — that is, to his dungeon district. We have ridden about twelve miles north-west from Bothwell, to see the Shannon. All the way, the country, the trees, the hills, have that sameness in figure and colour which makes the island so uniform — valley and bluff perpetually repeating its own features, and every wooded hill mirroring the wooded hill that stands opposite. On all the road, we passed but one house; a piece of Tudor barbarism in yellow stone, lately built by an eccentric settler in the dreariest spot he could find within many a league. At last we arrived at the brink of a deep valley, beyond which, on the western side, the hills rose more wild and mountainous. The valley spreads just below us into a grassy plain, with a few fine “black gums” dotting its green floor; and as we descended, we soon heard the murmurous dashing of a river hidden yet by the trees. It is the Shannon, a rushing, whirling, tumultuous stream that derives its waters from the “Big Lake,” a noble reservoir some thirty miles farther to the northwest, lying high on a desolate plateau of Tasmania. It is the greatest lake in the island, and is said to measure ninety miles round. Through the whole of its course this river runs very rapidly, having a fall of two thousand feet in those thirty miles; and like all the other Van Diemen’s Land rivers, it is icy cold.
All my life long I have delighted in rivers, rivulets, rills, fierce torrents tearing their rocky beds, gliding dimpled brooks kissing a daisied marge. The tinkle, or murmur, or deep-resounding roll, or raving roar of running water is of all sounds my ears ever hear now, the most homely. Nothing else in this land looks or sounds like home. The birds have a foreign tongue: the very trees whispering to the wind, whisper in accents unknown to me; for your gum-tree leaves are all hard, horny, polished as the laurel — besides, they have neither upper nor under side, but are set on with the plane of them vertical; wherefore, they can never, never — let breeze pipe or zephyr breathe as it will — never can they whisper, quiver, sigh or sing, as do the beeches and the sycamores of old Rostrevor. Yes, all sights and sounds of nature are alien and outlandish — suggestive of the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle — save only the sparkle and the music of the streams. Well I know the voice of this eloquent river: it talks to me, and to the woods and rocks, in the same tongue and dialect wherein the Roe discoursed to me, a child; in its crystalline gush my heart and brain are bathed; and I hear, in its plaintive chime, all the blended voices of history and prophecy and poesy from the beginning. Not cooler or fresher was the Thracian Hebrus; not purer were Abana and Pharpar; not more ancient and venerable is Father Nilus. Before the quiet flow of the Egyptian river was yet disturbed by the jabber of priests of Meröe — before the dynasty was yet bred that quaffed the sacred wave of Choaspes, “the drink of none but kings” — ere its lordly namesake river, in Erin of the streams, reflected yet upon its bosom a Pillar Tower, or heard the chimes from its Seven Churches, this river was rushing through its lonely glen to the southern sea, was singing its mystic song to these primeval woods.
“Oh! Sun-loved River! wherefore dost thou hum
Hum, hum, alway thy strange, deep, mystic song Unto the rocks and strands? — for they are dumb
And answer nothing as thou flowest along.
Why singest so, all hours of night and day?
Ah I river! my best river I thou, I know, art seeking
Some land where souls have still the gift of speaking
With Nature in her own old wondrous way!”
I delight in poets who delight in rivers; and for this do I love that sweet singer, through whose inner ear and brain the gush of his native Aufidus for ever streamed and flashed — how some perennial brook of crystal glimmered for ever through all his day-dreams! how he yearned to marry his own immortality with the eternal murmuring hymn of that bright Blandusian fount! Wisely, too, and learnedly did Clarence Mangan discourse with the rivers, and attune his notes to their wondrous music. How gloriously he interprets the German Moerike and his melodious theme! —
“What on cold earth, is deep as thou? Is aught?
Love is as deep. Love only is as deep:
Love lavisheth all, yet loseth, lacketh naught;
Like thee, too. Love can neither pause nor sleep.
Roll on, thou loving river, thou! Lift up
Thy waves, those eyes bright with a riotous laughing!
Thou makest me immortal!
I am quaffing The wine of rapture from no earthly cup!”
So, too, with Mueller; he delivers himself and you up to the entrancement of the Naiad: —
“There danceth adown the mountain,
The child of a lofty race:
A streamlet, fresh from its fountain,
Hies through the valley apace.
Some fairy hath whispered, ‘Follow’
And I have obeyed her well:
I thread the blossomy hollow,
With my pilgrim staff and shell.
On, on, behold me straying,
And ever beside the stream,
As I list its murmurous playing.
And mark how its wavelets gleam.
Can this be the path I intended?
Oh! Sorceress, what shall I say?
Thy dazzle and music blended,
Have wiled my reason away!
No mortal sounds are winging
Their wonted way along;
Oh, no! some Naiad is singing
A flattering summer-song!
And loudlier doth she flatter
And loudlier, loudlier still —”
But, behold! plump into the water, just under the bank, tumbles a Platypus, uncouth, amphibious quadruped, with broad duck-bill; and shrill from a neighbouring gum-tree yells the “laughing jackass” — a noisy bird so named by profane colonists.
We are in Australia, then! Knox has been sitting on the bank, musing with dreamy eyes on the passing waters: but now we awake, and see that the dusk is approaching, a dusk that will call forth stars which never glassed themselves in the other Shannon. So we mount for our “registered lodgings” in Bothwell, and reluctantly leave that most lovely glen.
Yes, in Australia, indeed! We overtake on our track homeward, a man and woman — the woman, a hideous and obscene-looking creature, with a brandy-bloated face, and a white satin bonnet, adorned with artificial flowers. She is a pass-holding servant, just discharged from some remote settler’s house, and she is going to Hobart Town in custody. The man is a convict constable: he carries a musket on his shoulder, and his blue frock is girt by a belt, on which hang and jingle a pair of handcuffs. He knows us, and touches his cap as we ride hastily past.
May 8th, 1851 — Bothwell. — For many months I have not jotted down a date or incident. Our life here has been uniform and dull, and our main object has been to kill thought by violent exercise on foot and on horseback. We still go to the lakes and meet with Meagher, and this is our chiefest pleasure; but O’Doherty has removed to Hobart Town, and has employment in his profession.
To-morrow, I go, by permission of the gaolers, to Hobart Town also, to meet my wife and family, who are due by this time: but I have yet no information as to the ship they have sailed in, or whether Hobart Town is the port they are bound for. The moment they arrive, then back to the bocage of Bothwell! Quod exeat bene!
1 About five months after this, however, Mr. O’Brien did give his promise; and came to reside at New Norfolk, intending, however, to revoke the parole after a time.