August 26th, 1851 — Nant Cottage, Bothwell. — Here we are established, at last, on a farm of two hundred acres, nearly three miles from the village, situated on the Clyde, which runs along the eastern end of the land. From the windows we command a noble view of the valley stretching about three miles northward to the base of Quoin Hill. The land is capital pasture: and I am stocking it with sheep and cattle. Four hours every day are devoted to the boys’ lessons; then riding, or roaming the woods with the dogs.
We set out, my wife and myself, to visit Smith O’Brien, who has been staying some months at Avoca, a district in the mountains in the north-east. He accepted the “comparative liberty” almost a year ago (of course giving his parole at the same time), and resided first at New Norfolk; but wanting some occupation, he removed to the house of Dr. Brock, a settler at Avoca, and has undertaken the instruction of his sons. We have not seen him for three years and a half; and from Meagher’s description, I fear we shall find him much altered.
In this place I may narrate one of Sir William Denison’s acts of vigour. When Mr. O’Brien was about to leave New Norfolk for Avoca, he wrote to Martin and me about a fortnight before, to say that as Bothwell and Lake Sorel lay both straight in his way, and as this was, in fact, the shortest road to his destination, although there are here no regular roads or public conveyances, he would send his trunk round by the mail-coach, and would himself make his way to us at Bothwell, spend one or two days here, then ride up to the lakes with us to visit Meagher, who would bring him on from thence to Campbelltown, which is in Meagher’s district, and from whence he could easily get across the country to Avoca. None of us saw any objection, or foresaw any interference. On a former occasion, MacManus, having the same journey to make, had taken the same road without calling forth any remark. And, in fact, the real criminals, in passing from one part of the island to another, habitually select their own route and take their own time.
Of course, we were both delighted with the prospect of seeing him, even for a day or two, and mentioned that we expected this visit to our acquaintances at Bothwell, who seemed to look forward to it with almost as much pleasure as ourselves. We were to meet O’Brien at Hamilton (twenty miles south of Bothwell), and to lead a spare horse for him to ride up. But it came to the ears of our head gaoler: and, three days before our appointed meeting, the police magistrate at New Norfolk received an official order to be communicated “to the prisoner named in the margin” (O’Brien), giving him peremptory command — that on leaving New Norfolk to proceed to Avoca, he should quit his then present residence on the same day on which he should give notice of his removed at the police-office; that then he should repair to Bridgewater, the nearest point at which the coach-road from Hobart Town passed by his district; thence proceed upon his journey by that coach-road, diverging neither to the right hand nor to the left — and that he was “not to loiter by the way.” The effect was, to compel him to take a circuitous route instead of a straight one; and all to prevent our meeting with our friend. This was the meanest piece of malignity of which the old gaoler had yet been guilty, and it proves that he has the soul of a turnkey.
Since my family came out, however, I have been distinguished by special favour, and almost put on the footing of the real convicts holding tickets-of-leave — by being permitted to go about from one district to another on taking out a “pass” for that purpose (describing my height, the colour of my eyes, &c.), which I am to exhibit at the police office of any district I may visit. It may be supposed that I do not avail myself often of this handsome privilege. But on the present occasion, for the sake of making this excursion to Avoca, I have regularly taken out the passport.
Yesterday, I saw in one of the Van Diemen’s Land papers, an extract from some London periodical, in which, as usual, great credit is given to the “Government” for their indulgence and clemency to the Irish prisoners. Now, the truth is, the exceptions which are made in our case to the ordinary treatment of real convicts, are all exceptions against us. There are three or four thousand ticket-of-leave-holders on the island, who may all live how and where they please; and are only required to report themselves twice a year, not personally. We, on the contrary, are restricted in all our movements, and required to report ourselves personally once a month in our respective police-offices. And, in addition to all this irritating surveillance, they exact our parole; under the false pretence, I presume, that in return for this guarantee, they forbear to set us to work, and to hire us out to settlers, like assigned servants. This, I say, is false. We would all be glad to be placed to-morrow on the footing of the genuine convicts, because we would then escape instantly; and the governor knows that every colonist on the island would aid us to do so. The alternative is not, parole or work — but parole or death in a dungeon — parole, or such custody as I endured at Bermuda, and O’Brien at Port Arthur.1
This morning we set off, my wife and I, on horseback: we had twenty-four miles to ride through the woods to Oatlands, where we were to take the coach. The horses, Tricolor and Fleur-de-lis, were in high order, and devoured the bush. The spring day has been most lovely, and the mimosa is just bursting into bloom, loading the warm air with a rich fragrance, which a European joyfully recognises at once as a well-remembered perfume. It is precisely the fragrance of the Queen of the Meadows, “spilling her spikenard.” At about ten miles’ distance, we descend into a deep valley, and water our horses in the Jordan. Here, as it is the only practicable pass, in this direction, between Bothwell and Oatlands, stands a police station. Two constables lounge before the door as we pass, and, as usual, the sight of them makes us feel once more that the whole wide and glorious forest is, after all, but an umbrageous and highly-perfumed dungeon.
Climbing the hill on the other side of the Jordan valley, we are once more in the wild bush; and in due time arrive at Oatlands Hotel. At one o’clock up comes the Hobart Town and Launceston day coach, which, in all its appointments, is precisely like what an English stage-coach was before the railroads had swallowed them all up. The road is excellent, the horses good. The coachman and guard (prisoners, no doubt) are, in manners, dress, and behaviour, as like untransported English guards and coachmen as it is possible to conceive. The wayside inns we passed are thoroughly British; even, I regret to say, to the very brandy they sell therein. The passengers all speak with an English accent; the guard, on entering a village, performs upon his bugle the last popular negro melody. It is hateful to me, when some urgent occasion requires me to come down from our remote pastoral district of Bothwell, to mingle in the unclean stream of travellers by this public road. Bothwell, being bounded on the west and north by unsubdued forests and desolate mountains, is on the way nowhither; and in its rural quietude one can sometimes forget, for a little while, the horrors of this dreadful life. Every sight and sound that strikes eye or ear on this mail road, reminds me that I am in a small misshapen, transported, bastard England; and the legitimate England itself is not so dear to me that I can love the convict copy.
We rested for the night at the principal hotel in Campbelltown, a very elegant house, and splendidly furnished, which would be a credit to Bray or Kingstown. From hence’ we are to take a public conveyance the day after tomorrow to Avoca, where Mr. O’Brien is to meet us.
An election is approaching; the first election of representatives under the new Constitution, granting to the colony a legislature — one-third nominees of the crown, and two-thirds elected by the people. Of course there is great excitement; everybody being delighted to have another opportunity for mimicry of the “old country.” Walls covered with placarded addresses to the independent electors; rosettes of blue ribbon, or else of red, fixed to the ears of coach-horses, and in the bar windows of inns; flags flying at the tops of high poles, expressive of the political predilections of those who sell bad spirits or brew nauseous beer under the said flags; in short, all the mechanical helps and appliances for creating mobs — a thing somewhat difficult in so sparse a population — and for promoting large consumption of drink — a thing not so difficult. There is but one political question now existing — the transportation system. Most of the decent colonists, having families growing up, and feeling the evil effects of the moral and social atmosphere that surrounds them, and the ignominy of having no country but a penal colony, no servants, no labourers, few neighbours even, who are not men fairly due to the gallows — ardently desire to use this new Constitution, such as it is, to make vigorous protest against the continuance of the penal system. The late discovery of gold mines in Australia, which tempts multitudes of our Tasmanian ruffians over the strait, interests the colony of Port Philip very vehemently in the same cause; and an “Australasian League” has been formed, embracing the best colonists of New South Wales, Port Philip, South Australia, Van Diemen’s Land, and New Zealand; with their banner of five stars on a blue ground; with large funds, able writers at the press, and almost all the talent of the Southern hemisphere enlisted on their side. This starred banner now flies from many a mast-head in the inter-colonial traffic, and floats over all anti-transportation platforms in Van Diemen’s Land. On the other side, the governor at Hobart Town, and his large gang of highly-paid officials, having a deep interest in the continuance of probation stations, chain-gangs, and the like, are using all the resources of patronage, corruption, and intimidation in their power to get up some presentable body of public opinion in their favour, but without brilliant success. The governor, however, has his “organ,” too, the Hobart Town Advertiser, the proprietor of it being, I am ashamed to say, an Irishman, and its principal writer (the head scribbler, indeed, of the party) being no other than Balfe, one of the Government informers of ’48, once an ultra-revolutionary member of the Irish Confederation, but now, in reward for some unnameable service, Deputy Assistant Comptroller of Convicts, and Justice of the Peace, with a handsome salary and large grant of land.
The policy on which the governor and his party rely is almost too base and diabolical for belief. It is to represent the anti-transportation movement as a thing hostile to the prisoner-population and their descendants, instead of being, as it is, the first step towards gradual obliteration of the social distinctions (which must for ever subsist while the country is an actual jail), and the amalgamation, within a generation or two, of all the people; so would the stream of this colonial life begin to run clear; the pure air of a new country, and the blessed influence of our kindly mother earth — for I have strong belief in the potency of these material agencies upon human life — would absorb the foul elements, and infuse new and fresh ones, till men might safely forget the abominable fountain from whence the current flowed at first. Sir William Denison, conscientiously working for his “Government,” and for his gaoler-salary (poor devil!) is trying, through every agency at his command, to get up a convict esprit du corps: for this purpose, veritable Government mobs of convicts, organised by convict officials, have actually begun to threaten the peace of Hobart Town. The Advertiser, and another newspaper (conducted by another Irishman) are their organs. Balfe is their literary Coryphoeus: a miscreant called Gray, son to the Monaghan murderer of that name, and himself transported for forgery and subornation of perjury, is their mob-leader. They are taught to call themselves “the people,” to speak of themselves as a “class of society,” and when duly excited by drink and nonsense exaggerating the natural brutality of their manners, and emboldened by the idea that they are “Government-men,” and under the special protection of his Excellency, these fellows are not a little dangerous to honest people.
Surely, it is no wonder that the decent, free colonists should desire to be rid of the system which breeds this misrule. Some of them, indeed, for a quiet life, are leaving the country either for Port Philip or England; but most of the residents seem determined to put the thing down, and to run all risks and make all sacrifices to do it. The main agency on which the colonists rely is, of course, the approaching election, at which they hope to return a pledged anti-transportationist for every constituency.
I am reminded of all these things to-day by the sight of a sort of procession passing our hotel windows, to escort the Government candidate, or transportation candidate, for the district, a Mr. Allison, to the village of Ross, where a meeting of his supporters comes off this day. One carriage, a drag with four horses, several spring-carts, and gigs, make up the cortege; and there is much display of red ribbon and British convict enthusiasm. To-morrow the opposite, or country party, are to meet at Avoca, so that we shall have an opportunity of witnessing their proceedings. Their candidate is Mr. Kermode, son of one of the richest settlers of the place, a man of great zeal and earnestness in the cause, therefore, very obnoxious to the government; and the election for Campbelltown district is accounted the most critical in the colony.
October 15th — Avoca. — We came to-day, in a spring-cart twenty-one miles, through the wild valley of the South Esk, bounded on the north side by a range of mountains overtopped by the tremendous precipices of Ben Lomond, a mountain five thousand feet high, and therefore much grander than its Scottish godfather. At Avoca itself, the South Esk is joined by the St. Paul’s River, and near the angle of their junction rises “St Paul’s Dome,” a noble round-topped mountain, belted with magnificent timber. These valleys and mountains remind me more of scenery in Donegal or Down than any other part of Van Diemen’s Land has done. Our fellow-passengers were going to the Avoca meeting; and a gentleman rode alongside with a large bundle strapped before him on the saddle, which on close survey I discovered to be the five-starred flag of the League, destined to wave that day over the independent electors of Avoca.
We alighted at a decent hotel, and in a few minutes a gentleman passed the window, whom, after nearly four years, we had some difficulty in at first recognising for William Smith O’Brien. We met him at the door as he entered; and our greeting was silent, but warm and cordial, although the last of our intercourse in Ireland had been somewhat distant. He seems evidently sinking in health; his form is hardly so erect, nor his step so stately; his hair is more grizzled, and his face bears traces of pain and passion. It is sad to look upon this noblest of Irishmen, thrust in here among the off-scourings of England’s gaols, with his home desolated, and his hopes ruined, and his defeated life falling into the sere and yellow leaf. He is fifty years of age, yet has all the high and intense pleasure of youth in these majestic hills and woods, softened, indeed, and made pensive by sorrow, and haunted by the ghosts of buried hopes. He is a rare and noble sight to see: a man who cannot be crushed, bowed, or broken; who can stand firm on his own feet against all the tumult and tempest of this ruffianly world, with his bold brow fronting the sun like any other Titan, son of Cœlus and Terra; anchored immovably upon his own brave heart within; his clear eye and soul open as ever to all the melodies and splendours of earth and heaven, and calmly waiting for the Angel Death.
“For near him lies his grave, hidden from view
Not by the flowers of Youth, but by the snows Of Age” —
We were at breakfast when he came in; and that over, he proposed a walk, that he might lead us up the glen of the South Esk. We wandered several hours, talking of ’48. He gave me a more minute account than I had before heard of his own movements in Tipperary; and attributed his failure, in great part, to the behaviour (what shall I call it? — the cowardice, the treachery, or the mere priestliness) of the priests. Priests hovered round him everywhere; and, on two or three occasions, when the people seemed to be gathering in force, they came whispering round, and melted off the crowd like a silent thaw. He described to me old grey-haired men coming up to him with tears streaming down their faces, telling him they would follow him so gladly to the world’s end — that they had long been praying for that day — and God knows it was not life they valued: but there was his reverence, and he said that if they shed blood they would lose their immortal soul; and what could they do? God help them, where could they turn? and on their knees they entreated him to forgive them for deserting him. So they slunk home to take care of their paltry old souls, and wait for the sheriff’s bailiff to hunt them into the poor-house. On the whole, O’Brien accepts defeat — takes desertion or backwardness of the people, and the verdict of the Clonmel jury, such as it was, for a final pronouncement against armed resistance; and therefore regards the cause as lost utterly, and the history of Ireland, as a nation, closed and sealed for ever. So do not I.
He is well aware that he would be released upon making ever so trifling a submission; and distinct intimations to that effect have reached him indirectly, through members of his own family. He is too proud for this; and cannot endure the thought of begging pardon; yet, with his views of the meaning and moral of his failure, why not? If I could bring myself to believe, for one minute, that the country had really pronounced against us and condemned our intended rebellion, and moreover that I had been tried by my countrymen and afterwards found guilty of that attempt — that is to say, if I believed Queen Victoria to be really the sovereign of Ireland and not a foreign tyrant, I would certainly beg her pardon. At least, I at present think I should.
Then he related to me the whole story of his attempted escape from Maria Island. It seems he was allowed to walk over the island attended by an armed constable; and sometimes went to a distance of five or six miles from the station. When his friends in Hobart Town had bargained for the vessel, a small schooner, they contrived very secretly to communicate to him what they had done, and to let him know that a vessel would appear off a certain point of the island about a certain time, and would send a boat ashore, leaving it to him to elude or overpower his keeper, so as to be at liberty to jump into the boat, and push off. Delays occurred at Hobart Town; and the poor prisoner walked daily for several weeks to the same point, straining his eager eyes to the southern horizon. He did not know that, in the meantime, Ellis, the skipper of that schooner, had gone to the Government House, and there had sold him for certain moneys — that the gaolers on Maria Island itself were in full possession of the whole plot; and that every step of his daily walk was duly watched and taken note of.
At last, as he wandered on the shore, and had almost given up all hope of the schooner, the schooner hove in sight. To give time for her approach he walked into the woods for a space, that he might not alarm his guardian constable by his attention to her movements. Again he sauntered down towards the point, with apparent carelessness, but a beating heart. San Francisco was to be his first destination; and beyond that golden gate lay the great world, and home and children, and an honourable life. The boat was coming, manned by three men; and he stepped proudly and resolutely to meet them on the shore. To be sure there was, somewhere behind him, one miserable constable, with his miserable musket; but he had no doubt of being able to dispose of that difficulty, with the assistance of his allies the boatmen.
The boat could not get quite close to the beach, because they had run her into a kind of cove where the water was calm and encumbered with large tangled weeds. O’Brien, when he reached the beach, plunged into the water to prevent delay, and struggled through the thick matted sea-weed to the boat. The water was deeper than he expected, and when he came to the boat he needed the aid of the boatmen to climb over the gunwale. Instead of giving him this aid the rascals allowed him to flounder there, and kept looking to the shore, where the constable had by this time appeared with his musket. The moment he showed himself, the three boatmen cried out together, “We surrender!” and invited him on board; where he instantly took up a hatchet, no doubt provided by the ship for that purpose, and stove the boat.
O’Brien saw he was betrayed, and, on being ordered to move along with the constable and boatmen towards the station, he refused to stir, hoping, in fact, by his resistance, to provoke the constable to shoot him. However, the three boatmen seized on him, and lifted him up from the ground, and carried him where-ever the constable ordered. His custody was thereafter made more rigorous; and he was shortly removed from Maria Island to Port Arthur Station.2
So conversing we returned towards our hotel. A large black snake, the first I have seen this summer, lay upon our path; and my wife would probably have walked over it, but that O’Brien, who saw it first, pushed her back, and jumped forward to kill the snake with a staff. It glided away, however, as they will always do if they can, amongst some dense tufts of iris, and we could not find it.
Oct. 16th. — This morning we were apart. Mr O’Brien had fourteen miles to walk up the St. Paul’s Valley; and asked us to go with him about two miles that he might show us a beautifully-situated cottage and farm, on the St. Paul’s River, which he advised me to rent; for I may now live in any district I please, as independently as any ticket-of-leave rick-burner in the land.
We sauntered and lingered as long as we could in that beauteous valley. At last it was necessary for us to part, he on his way to Dr. Brock’s residence, where he must give certain lessons this evening; we, back to Avoca, to take the public spring waggon for Campbelltown. We stood and watched him long, as he walked up the valley on his lonely way; and I think I have seen few sadder and few prouder sights. Oh! Nicé, Queen of Carthage! pour thou upon that haughty head all the vials of thy pitiful revenge; heap on that high heart all the ignominy that can be imagined, invented, or created by thee — and that head bows not, that heart breaks not, blenches not. Of honour and dishonour, thou, O Queen! art not the arbiter or judge; and the Parliament, platform, pulpit, press, and public of thy mighty people, know nothing about the same.
We turned slowly away — I, with a profound curse, my wife with a tear or two, and came back to Avoca. To-morrow we start for Bothwell; and are to take Lake Sorel on our way, visiting Meagher’s fairy cottage.
1 It is with reluctance I publish these passages of my Journal, describing the exceptional rigours of our captivity. But I find that, even yet, English newspapers speak of us as having been the objects of “clemency” and indulgence; and there is no harm in letting the facts be known. If the British Government had shown us “indulgence and clemency,” I should despise it, inasmuch as the thing we sought was not a mild execution of our sentence, but a real trial before our countrymen — was, in short, not “clemency,” but justice. This, I think, was not unreasonable to demand at the hands of a Government which professed to be administering and vindicating law. But, inasmuch as there was no trial at all, and the execution of the false sentence was more atrociously rigorous than any of their real criminals undergo, what is to be thought of this British cant about indulgence?
2 Ellis, the captain of the schooner, was some months after, seized at San Francisco by Mr. MacManus and others, brought by night out of his ship and carried into the country to undergo his trial under a tree, whereupon, if found guilty, he was destined to swing. MacManus set out his indictment, and it proves how much Judge Lynch’s method of administering justice in those early days of California excelled anything we know of law or justice in Ireland — that Ellis, for want of sufficient and satisfactory evidence then producible, was acquitted by that midnight court under that convenient tree.