May 21st, 1851 — Hobart Town. — An excursion yesterday to Brown’s River, with St. Kevin. He borrowed a horse for the occasion. I have here my own Fleur-de-lis (pretty chestnut mare, destined for my wife); so, after breakfast, I gave myself up implicitly into the hands of St. Kevin, and we sallied forth from the town in a southerly direction, by the Sandy Bay Road, leading along the shore of the estuary. On the right, mountains that form the roots of Mount Wellington; on the left, the broad blue Derwent. For some miles the road is studded with pretty villas, the country residences of some of the wealthy Hobartonians; and all these have luxurious gardens. Gardens, indeed, are a luxury to which this soil and climate afford all facilities and temptations. All the flowers that grow in English gardens, and many of those which must in England be protected by green-houses, thrive and flourish here with little care; and some of the ornamental flowering shrubs, for instance, the common hawthorne and sweet-briar, which have been brought from Europe by the colonists, blossom in Tasmania more richly than at home. There is now hardly a settler’s house without hedges of sweet-briar; and they are more uniformly and all over radiant, both summer and winter — in summer with roses, in winter with scarlet berries — than I ever saw hedges before. Besides the imported European flowers and shrubs, there are some very beautiful native trees, generally found in deep mountain valleys, which add much to the glory of the gardens; but the colonists usually seem to prefer surrounding their new houses with something that will remind them of the old; so that all over the country, round the cottages, instead of the gorgeous golden-flowered mimosa, you may see the more lowly, but not less golden gorse, called in the North of Ireland, whin.
No individual plant in all of Van Diemen’s Land is identical with any European plant; even the grass is altogether different — much less green and succulent, but far more nutritive to cattle in proportion to its quantity. The best native grass is of a greyish-yellow colour, and grows in little, short, woolly tufts, which turn almost white at the top in summer; so that wherever one sees a field of the true emerald green, he may be sure it is artificial grass, grown originally from European seed. The native flowers are abundant, and many of them splendid, especially up in the lake country. One of them is superb, the Waratah; but it grows only on the very summits of some high and almost inaccessible mountains. The whole bush, however, is adorned with a wonderful variety of plants, like heaths (yet not the true erica), bearing purple, crimson, scarlet, white, or rose-coloured bells. The finest of them all has no bell or visible petals at all, but round scarlet berries, about the size of a pea, which cluster so thickly on it as nearly to hide its rich dark green leaves; and the savage rocks are sometimes found clothed all over with this imperial Tyrian mantle.
In our wanderings through the woods John Knox thinks he has discovered one European plant the common flax. Certainly in the marshy land, near Lake Sorel, we have plucked stalks of the veritable flax, with its blue flower and slender graceful stem, but shorter than Irish flax, which, however, may be imputed to the dryer climate. I do not believe this flax is indigenous. There are a thousand ways in which grains of flax-seed may have come out here, mixed with com or grass seeds, and cattle have long been grazing, and even some oats were formerly grown,, at Lake Sorel.
The genial kindness of this climate towards all sorts of animal and vegetable life, is admirable to behold. Twenty years ago there was not a bee in the island. Some settler brought a hive; and now the land sings with them. It seems the flowers of the fragrant gum and mimosa furnish food for them. The Tasmanian honey is the best in the world; every settler’s garden has a long row of bee-hives (which, in fact, are nothing but old tea-boxes); and they need no care either in winter or summer. One man here, in Bothwell, advertised last year for sale three tons of honey, all produced in his own garden.
In this gracious southern air, too, all breeds of dogs grow larger and handsomer, in the second dog-generation. Of sheep-dogs there are immense numbers; and instead of the rough and shabby looking collie, the sheep-dog here is a large and handsome dog, with silky, glossy long hair. The dogs, also, as well as the horses, are more good-humoured than at home: young horses, though with quite as high spirit, have far less vice; and that this circumstance is due to climate there can be no doubt, for the same difference in temper is very observable in the human race of these parts. Native Tasmanians, both men and women, grow up frequently tall, straight, and handsome, with a mild expression of countenance, and manners always affable, gentle, and kindly. They have, however, the same languor that is said to characterise all the Creole races of America and the West Indies — that soft, luxurious, voluptuous languor which becomes the girls rather better than the men. On the whole, our species grows to a splendid perfection here; but the finest specimens of the genus are those who have been born in the northern hemisphere and who came hither children. They have both the European stamina and the southern culture in so matchless a clime, and the result is sometimes marvellous. A young lady there is, now in Hobart Town, born in France of English parents, and brought out here at three or four years of age, upon whom, after Europe had given her all it could, the southern stars must have rained their choicest, rarest influences. She is a most superb and imperial beauty, a beauty proud and puissante, whose first overpowering glance would turn you pale, and stop your pulse for a beat or two. One loves to see how far Nature can go, how much Nature can do, giving her the most favourable conditions, materials, and influences she can ask, and letting her work her very best. This woman, I apprehend, is her chef-d’oeuvre — she will never beat this: yet it is praiseworthy to be always making the attempt, and she ought not to be discouraged — doubtless she will yet turn out pretty pieces of workmanship. In the meantime it is one of the fasti in any man’s life when his eyes have seen the most beautiful — and the first day of such a vision is a white day in his history.
But in this kind of rhapsody I must not forget that St. Kevin and I are now on horseback, on our way to Brown’s River. On we ride, along the skirts of the right-hand hills, or on near the strand of the left-hand river; the road sometimes crossing deep ravines, that bring some of Mount Wellington’s thousand rivulets trickling to the Derwent. The day is gloriously bright and warm, though early in winter; the trees glittering and shivering with all their polished leaves in the sun and wind; the parrots all awake, chirping, screaming, flashing in their ruby and emerald radiance from branch to branch. At six miles from Hobart Town, all the suburban boxes and their gardens have ceased and vanished; the metropolis of scoundreldom lies behind us; and so lonely are the forests on our right and the broad bay on our left, that St. Kevin thinks himself riding by the shore of Lake Sorel, or, peradventure, even dreams he wanders, once again.
By that lake whose gloomy shore, Skylark never warbled o’er.
St. Kevin is sometimes gloomy and desponding; and the mood is on him now for a few minutes. There dwells in Ireland — I should have known it well, though he had never told me — a dark-eyed lady, a fair and gentle lady, with hair like blackest midnight; and in the tangle of those silken tresses she has bound my poor friend’s soul; round the solid hemisphere it has held him, and he drags a lengthening chain. The potency of those dark glances, darting like electricity through the dull massive planet, shooting through crust and centre, strikes him here, and flashes on his day-dream.
Now we approach the brow of a deep glen, where trees of vast height wave their tops far beneath our feet: and the farther side of the glen is formed by a promontory that runs out into the bay, with steep and rocky sides worn into cliffs and caves — caves floored with silvery sand, shell-strewn, such as in European seas would have been consecrate of old to some Undine’s love — caves whither Ligea, if she had known the way, might have come to comb her hair; and over the soft swelling slope of the hill above, embowered so gracefully in trees, what building stands? Is that a temple crowning the promontory as the pillared portico crowns Sumium? Or a villa, carrying you back to Baiæ? Damnation! it is a convict “barrack.” And as we follow the winding of the road through that romantic glen, we meet parties of miserable wretches harnessed to gravel carts, and drawing the same under orders of an overseer. The men are dressed in piebald suits of yellow and grey, and with their hair close cropped, their close leathern caps, and hang-dog countenances, wear a most evil, rueful, and abominable aspect. They give us a vacant but impudent stare as we ride by. I wish you well, my poor fellows; but you ought all to have been hanged long ago!
May 23rd. — A letter from Adelaide, in South Australia. It is from my wife. They have arrived there (my whole household) in the ship Condor, from Liverpool, seven in number, including a servant. It seems they took passage to Melbourne, in Port Philip, whence there is communication twice a week with Van Diemen’s Land, and did not know, till after the ship was at sea, that she was to touch first at Adelaide, and discharge some cargo there; a business which will hold them a full month. My wife is uneasy and impatient, and announces to me that she will quit the Condor, and take passage in some of the small brigs or schooners plying either to Hobart Town or Launceston, so that she may now be at sea on this second voyage.
25th. — More news from Adelaide. A ship-captain found me out to-day at my lodging: told me he commanded the Maid of Erin, just arrived from Adelaide — that my family were to come on by his vessel, but thought they would not have sufficient accommodation in her — that, therefore, they had taken passage in a brigantine, bound for Launceston: and, said the captain, “if you intend to meet your lady on her arrival, you had better go to Launceston at once.” No more need be said. I take my seat in the night mail coach for Launceston — one hundred and twenty miles off.
Longford, June 9th. — Longford is a village on the South Esk, twelve miles from Launceston. The brig that bears all my care has not yet arrived; and the weather has grown, for the last week, furiously tempestuous. Bass’s Straits are formidable in this sort of weather: so that wrecks and disasters are looked for. I am on a visit here with an old schoolfellow, a Mr. Pooler, formerly of Armagh, who is now an extensive merchant of Tasmania, and has at Longford the largest grain-stores in the island.
For one day and night I was in prison at Launceston, which fell out thus: — having got sudden information at Hobart Town that my family might be looked for at the north side of the island instead of the south, I went to an official person (the Deputy-Comptroller), who has charge of such matters, told him I must go at once, and was by him exhorted to lose no time. The formal documents authorising my change of place would be forwarded by him through the post, so that no delay need intervene at Hobart Town, nor any inconvenience happen to me at Launceston. I was obliged to the official person for his civility (because he might be uncivil if he liked), and hurried off without a minute’s delay; travelled all night; arrived at Launceston by nine next morning, and put up at the Cornwall Hotel; walked up the hill where stands the signal flag-staff, and awaited all day the reports of the signal-master. It was rainy and stormy; nothing came up the Tamar, which is a winding and dangerous estuary, forty-five miles long from Launceston to the sea. Next morning I bethought myself that I had better report my presence in Launceston to the police magistrate of the town; and accordingly proceeded to the police-office, which I found crowded by the town’s people getting police business transacted. I walked in; asked the clerk if the police magistrate of Launceston was present.
“Yes, sir,” he said, pointing to a tall, elderly, and very ill-favoured person, who occupied the bench, and who now gazed at me with evident curiosity, as to what urgent business I could have, which might justify me in stopping his court-business.
When he was pointed out, I said, “My name is John Mitchel. I have come here to tell you that I am now in Launceston, and that I stay at the Cornwall.”
Mr. Gunn seemed in consternation whenever I mentioned my name — because it was from Launceston, and from within his jurisdiction, that MacManus had happily escaped only a few weeks before. He asked me, with some agitation, what my errand was in Launceston.
“To meet my Wife and family, now due, and expected at this port.”
“Have you had permission to come here?”
“I have had no notification of it.”
“Can’t help that.”
“Sir, I tell you I know nothing of your being permitted to come here.”
“Sir,” I replied, “I did not come to discuss the matter with you, I came to tell you that I am John Mitchel, that I am in Launceston, and that I stay at the Cornwall Hotel.”
With that I turned and left the office: but I knew very well I should hear more of the matter; for it was now clear to me that my polite friend in the Comptroller-General’s office must have forgotten to forward the needful paper to this old Gunn.
It befel as I expected. An hour after leaving the office I was walking with the aforesaid Mr. Pooler in Brisbane Street; when a man dressed in somewhat gentlemanly style came up, and said, “I believe, sir, you are Mr. Mitchel.”
“Mr. Gunn has directed me to require your attendance in the police-office. I am the chief-constable of Launceston.”
“Am I in custody, then?”
He bowed, and said he would show me the way. When we entered the police-office, Mr. Gunn was looking very formidable and determined.
“Pray,” he said, “have you any written authority to be in Launceston?”
“Then, Davis (the chief-constable), make out the examinations.”
“Now, sir,” he said to me, “I shall teach you to pay proper respect to a magistrate on the bench. When you came into this office, an hour ago, your deportment was exceedingly incorrect: it was haughty, sir; it was contemptuous, sir; it was insolent, sir. Davis, have you that examination ready?”
I asked him what he was going to do with me.
“Send you to jail, sir.”
“Very well, I suppose you have the power to do so; my behaviour may have been contemptuous; but I did not intend, whatever I may have felt, to let it appear in my manner.”
“Davis, read the examination.”
The document was read. It bore that I, a prisoner, holding a “ticket-of-leave,” had come from my registered residence — namely, Bothwell, to Launceston, without a passport; and after two or three questions asked of the police, I was brought off by three constables and thrust into Launceston Jail. A special express messenger was at the same time despatched to Hobart Town, inquiring what was to be done with me.
The police magistrate, I suppose, could not have acted otherwise; a want of papers and passports is certainly suspicious; and contemptuous behaviour irritating to the magisterial mind; at anyrate, the affair was wholly indifferent to me but for one circumstance — my wife might arrive that very day; and our first meeting, after nearly three years’ separation, might be as our parting had been, in a British dungeon. But for this chance I would have considered my imprisonment a wholesome and tonic mental medicine. There is a danger of us growing too soft, good-humoured, and balmy, in our present bush life, breathing an air so luxurious, and seeing the face of no present gaoler; therefore to hear the wards occasionally grating in a British lock I regard as a salutary stimulant, and think of taking a course of it once a year while I remain in captivity.
After spending twenty-four hours in jail, however, during which time the good-natured gaoler, knowing how the case stood, gave me very considerate usage, I was released. The official person in Hobart Town had only missed a post, or, I believe, two posts, — for the birthday gala was overwhelming — and then had sent forward the needful documents.
When I returned to my hotel, I found that my friend Mr. Pooler had, without my knowledge, obtained leave for me to visit him at Longford; and accordingly here I am for the last week.
When the circumstances of my arrest came to be known, some of the newspapers commented severely on the harshness of the treatment used towards me; and particularly the Colonial Times, a well-conducted Hobart Town paper, which warmly urged that meetings should be held, and petitions adopted by all the colonists, both of Van Diemen’s Land and Australia, praying for the “pardon” of all those gentlemen known as the “Irish State Prisoners.” When I saw the article this morning, I immediately wrote a short letter to the Times, commencing thus — I suppose it will be accounted another act of “contempt” —
(To the Editor of the “Colonial Times.”)
Launceston, 9th June, 1851.
Sir, — I have just seen a paragraph in your journal, commenting on the short interruption of my “comparative liberty” which has occurred at this place. For the kind feeling which prompted your remarks, accept my thanks; but as to your suggestion that the inhabitants of the Australian colonies should petition the Queen of England to pardon the Irish State prisoners, I must take the “comparative liberty” of requesting, in case of such a petition being made, that my name may be excepted from the prayer of it. I have no idea of begging pardon, or of permitting any one to beg pardon for me, if I can help it. In arresting me, I presume the worthy police-magistrate did no more than his duty — perhaps even less than his duty. I do not, indeed, know what may be the duties of British official persons; and, not having the honour to be a British subject, do not study to inform myself; but I am inclined to conjecture that it was his duty, on this occasion, to put me in chains. My misconduct, it seems, was very glaring — making such haste to come to Launceston, that I arrived here before the official notification of my journey had reached Mr. Gunn’s hands. If he erred in this matter, through excessive lenity and urbanity, I trust it will not be remembered to his hurt. etc.
18th. — After nine days more, spent uneasily in waiting at Longford, I had a letter from St. Kevin to-day informing me that the brig Union had arrived in Hobart Town, carrying my expected consignment, all well. Have written to ensure their meeting me at Greenponds, being the point of the public coach road nearest to Bothwell, I set off for Greenponds by to-morrow night’s coach.
20th. — Greenponds. — To-day I met my wife and family once more. These things cannot be described. To-morrow morning we set off through the woods for Bothwell.
21st. — We made a successful journey this day, though the weather is snowy and rainy. I hired a spring-cart for the rest of the household, and myself rode Fleur-de-lis, who has been waiting for this journey for the last three weeks at Greenponds. As the cottage where John Knox and I have been living for ten months back, is too small for us, is almost unfurnished, and lies six miles from the township, we have betaken ourselves for the present to the comfortable hotel of Mrs. Beech — incomparable cook of kangaroo — in the village itself. Knox was waiting for us; and we spent such an evening as seldom falls to the lot of captives.
Bothwell, after six weeks’ absence, has a wonderfully homelike aspect to me, returning to it now with all these materials and appliances of home. Methinks I shall have something like a fireside again. Not on any consideration would I go now to take up my abode in any other district of the island: here we have pure air, glorious forests, lovely rivers, a thinly-peopled pastoral country, and kind friends. To-morrow I commence my research for house and farm wherein to set up my ticket-of-leave penates.