Jan. 3rd, 1853 — Bothwell. — I have not yet, in this veritable record, described any of our kangaroo-hunts — and what is Van Diemen’s Land without a kangaroo-hunt? Therefore, here goes.
Sometimes, when Sir William Denison comes to the country for “high hunting,” with his aides-de-camp and secretaries, I am told he hunts with a pack of beagles, and a great field of horsemen; but this is not our style, nor indeed the usual style. The proper dog for this sport is a kind of powerful greyhound bred for the purpose; and two of them are enough. One day, not long ago John Knox and I rode out with Mr. Reid and his two dogs, one a small thorough-bred greyhound, the other a large strong kangaroo dog, very like what is called in England a lurcher, but of finer make and taller stature. We took the direction of the Blue Hill, westward, and soon found ourselves in a hilly, rocky, desolate and thickly-wooded region, much encumbered by dead, prostrate trees, and cut up by hundreds of precipitous gullies running in all directions; and the little hills all as usual so like to one another, that to fix a landmark is impossible. Save by the position of the sun, you cannot tell towards what point of the compass you are going. The trees are so dense, also, on the sides of all the hills, and the ground is so rough with broken and burned stumps, rocks, and holes, that fast riding is out of the question.
The dogs kept close to our horse’s feet, as we slowly penetrated this wilderness, until at last, from behind a huge decaying log, with a shrill chirrup of terror, bounded a kangaroo. In three huge leaps, springing on hinder legs and nervous tail, he was out of our sight, and away behind the bushes and down the rocky gorge. But from the moment his mouselike ears appeared as he rose to his first bound, the dogs were on his trail. “Hold him. Dart!” “Into him. Dean!” (for one of the dogs is named after the mad Dean of St. Patrick’s). The hounds also are out of sight in an instant; and we hold in our horses, and stand motionless awaiting the result. In five or ten minutes they will have either worried him, or lost him altogether. In either case they will come straight back to where they left us; and, the moment they appear, we shall know by the expression of their countenances whether they have done their business. If the kangaroo has got away, they will slink back with drooping ears and penitent eyes, and lie down to pant at our feet. If they have slain the enemy, they will come bounding through the trees, with their heads high and their jaws bloody, and before coming quite up to us, they will turn and trot off, and so bring us to the spot where he lies dead with his throat cut, and his spine broken at the neck.
We listen, and for a while can hear the crash of the dead branches as the dogs rush on — then, occasionally, a short angry bark — then dead silence — and, presently after, the contrite Dean and shame-faced Dart come panting along; they do not dare to look us in the face, for your dog is a reasonable and accountable creature, but approach in a zig-zag manner, and lie down on their sides, heaving as if their ribs would burst. We do not reproach them — their own failure is punishment enough; and, in fact, in a country like this, if the kangaroo can get a rocky descent to make for, with a rough and scrubby place at the foot of it, he is almost sure to get clear off, because his spring is much longer going down hill, and the rocky encumbered ground would cut the dogs to pieces if they put on their full speed. But if they can once get the rogue before them, in full view, and on a partially clear and level place, they will be upon him in a few leaps. For the actual speed of a kangaroo is by no means equal to that of a hare.
We proceed still further amongst the hills, and presently another “brush” breaks cover. Again the dogs disappear in a twinkling. We hear a sharp, angry, almost constant barking — then there is silence, and then from a distance of a quarter of a mile rings the loud yell of one of the dogs. They are worrying the enemy; and by that yell we know he does not fall entirely unavenged. We dare not move, however, in that direction, lest we should miss the dogs among the winding gullies, but wait impatiently a minute. The dogs come up! they assure us it is all right; but Dean has his face torn open from the ear to the muzzle. For when a powerful kangaroo is driven to bay, he sets himself against a tree, holds his head back, and fights with his long hinder feet, which he raises up before him, like a man kicking, and the middle toe is armed with a formidable claw.
But now comes an incident that shows the training and pluck of one of these fine dogs; for, just as we are moving on to follow the dogs to their slaughtered prey, another kangaroo leaps out in full view. The dogs, though tired and panting, stretch out again; but Dean, old, lazy, and wounded, after a few springs, gives up, comes back, and asks leave to he down, which, in consideration of his age, character, and services, is granted. Dart is far out of sight, and we wait for him a quarter of an hour. We listen for his bark, but hear nothing save the shriek of a cockatoo, or the bugle-note of a white magpie. At last he approaches with slow steps and trailing tail, yet with a placid triumph in his eyes. “He has him,” said Reid; “Well done. Dart!” “Good Dart!”
Now, I asked, “Which kangaroo will he show us? There are two killed, and they he in different directions.”
“You shall see,” was the answer.
So Dart led us over several hills, through several ravines, and presently stood still at the foot of a rock. There we found the second kangaroo — yet warm, with the hot life-stream still flowing from his neck. We strapped him on one of the saddles. And now for the other! Will Dart ever find his way to the spot where the first victim lies? for the two runs had commenced from the same point, but in directions at nearly right angles with one another. Reid, however, now said to the dog, “Go on, old fellow! go on! go on!” and the intelligent creature, giving first a look all round, though he could see nothing but the trees and rocks immediately around us, started off quite confidently in the direction he had selected. He did not even bring us back to the point whence the two chases had diverged but moved steadily, as straight as the crow flies, through several narrow valleys, over three or four small hills; and, after following him half a mile, we found the first killed kangaroo lying at the root of a gum tree. It was a very large female, and must have weighed full 50 lbs. She must have been hard run; for we found in her pocket one of her young ones, that she had not time to throw away. The females, always as they rise from their lair, at sight of an enemy, put their hands in their pockets, and throw their young ones into some place of safety, that they themselves may run lighter. This one had fought desperately for her life and her little joey, as the young are called. Old Dean’s face will bear the furrow ploughed by her claw till his dying day. Round her lay a plenteous pool of blood; her head was almost torn off; and in her side was a deep wound, through which Dean’s vengeful muzzle had drank up her life. We tied her up, and slung her across another saddle.
In the course of about three hours we started five, out of which the dogs lost two and killed three. This is now considered rather a good day’s sport; for the kangaroo is becoming scarce all over the inhabited parts of the island. They are much sought after, not only for their dainty brown flesh, which much resembles hare, but also for their skins, which, in Launceston and Hobart Town, are tanned into very fine soft leather, by means of the mimosa, or wattle-bark. This is the best tanning material in the world; and of late years the mimosa has become of considerable commercial importance, as many cargoes of the bark are annually sent to England. It is one of the very loveliest species of acacia; and, unlike the acacias of the northern hemisphere, can endure a cold climate; even at the lakes, here in Van Diemen’s Land, I have seen it flourish, more than 3,000 feet above the sea. However, this is a treatise of kangaroo-hunting, not of botany. A kangaroo has strictly no connection with the wattle-tree, more than a calf has with a lemon-tree; yet, as a loin of veal may legitimately suggest a lemon, so may a kangaroo skin associate itself with the graceful tree whose bark is used to dress it. Wonderful and subtle is the association of ideas — a “laughing jackass” (grey bird, about the size of a thrush) brays and giggles on a branch near by; if one should only let his mind run along the chain of associations linked with the name and the senseless guffaw of this creature — where would it stop? Such and so philosophic are our reflections, as we sit upon a prostrate tree, near a spring; and, content with our day’s hunting, take a moderate sip from the tiny brandy flask. Then to Bothwell, and to dinner at Mr. Reid’s.
January 5th. — I am prosecuting my hay-harvest diligently, with the aid of two or three horrible convict cut-throats, all from Ireland — and all, by their own account, transported for seizing arms. This is considered, amongst these fellows, a respectable sort of offence. The rascals can earn ten British shillings per diem, at harvest-time; and they live all the year round like Irish kings, not to speak of Irish cut-throats. They don’t like to work too hard, and require a good deal of wine. They come early from their work, smoke and chat with one another all evening in the yard, and go to sleep in their opossum rugs in the bam. Yet, with all this high reward they receive for their crimes, this paternal care to make thievery happy, and munificent endowment of rascality, the creatures are not utterly bad — not half so bad, for example, as the Queen of England’s Cabinet Councillors. They are civil, good-natured with one another, and not thievish at all — partly because they are so well off that there is little temptation, and partly because the punishments are savage. However, it is a remarkable fact, which I will set down, that in nearly three years, during which time I have been in Van Diemen’s Land, for most part in a lonely cottage, with windows all round close to the ground, and quite unsecured, and with two or more prisoner-servants always about the place, my family have felt as secure, and slept as peacefully, as ever they did in Banbridge; and save one double-barrelled gun, nothing was ever stolen from me. It would be pleasant enough to see these creatures comfortable, and tolerably decent in their behaviour, but for the thought that this whole system is in truth a fruitful “breeder of sinners,” and that the same hateful Government and state of society in England, which so richly reward these men for their villainies, punish, starve, and debase the poor and honest, for being poor and honest. Many a time, therefore, as I look upon these quiet, well-behaved men reaping, not too arduously, singing, or smoking in the fields, or cheerfully “following the plough upon the mountain side,” or tending their masters’ flocks in the fair forest pastures, like human husbandmen and simple Arcadian shepherds — instead of rejoicing in their improved conditions and behaviour, I gaze on them with horror, as unclean and inhuman monsters, due long ago to the gallows-tree and oblivion; and then the very sunlight in this most radiant land takes a livid hue to my eyes! the waving, whispering woods put on a brown horror, like the forests that wave and sigh through Dante’s Tartarean vision. The soft west wind that blows here for ever, has a moan like the moan of damned souls! the stars look dim; and on the corner of the moon there hangs a vaporous drop profound. The Devil’s in it.
This subterranean and altogether infernal mood of mind is helped by some of the names that the early colonists have given to hills and rivers. In Bothwell district we have a ravine called “Hell’s Gates,” through whose dismal shade you pass to a hill overlooking the junction of two rivers, a steep and grassy hill, embowered with thickets of mimosa, but bearing the awful name — “Hill of Blazes.” Into the Derwent, near New Norfolk, flows the river “Styx”; and Charon’s ferry-boat never touched the banks of Asphodel meadows so fair as the tufted hills that are laved by the crystalline waters of this Tasmanian hell-stream, named of hatred. Flows here, too, the real Lethe; and men grow like Lethe’s own fat weeds, that rot themselves at ease. There is darkness around us, and a sulphury smell. How horrible to live here! How horrible to die! I pray, as prayed the bearer of the Seven-fold Shield, Oh! slay me at least in daylight!
Tartarean reapers of Erebus! ye are reaping, with your damned sickles, a harvest of hell; and preparing the ground in these Cimmerean regions of outer darkness to yield crops of abomination and horror, some thirty-fold, and some sixty-fold, for generations of unborn men. — For is not the human species making “Progress?”
7th. — Letter from Reilly; very welcome to me, though it has been long on the way. He writes from New York, where he seems to have endured many a struggle and agony that might well have crushed and subdued any less fiery spirit. Truly, we think our own case hard, chained here under the Southern Cross; yet on the whole, our poor friends who escaped the talons of British law, have had a far worse time of it. The letter is in his usual style, glowing now with a wild, rollicking eloquence, melting with brotherly tenderness (for we are brothers, indeed), raging with the savage indignation that gnaws his heart — full of hope, full of despair; merry and miserable. I have read it with much laughter; and if I had yet tears to shed, they would have flowed over it.1
First, he addresses himself, poor fellow! to console and encourage me: —
“Now, that your wife and babes are with you — that you have sheep and ducks and lambs, and goslings, you ought to be as happy as any man can be, born on the Acropolis, and banished to Arcadia. Would you make yourself Touchstone, and sigh for courts and the busy world? For shame, man. It is well for you, at all events, for the last two years, that you have been tied up by your enemies.”
— Be it so: but who told you that I was a Touchstone, and sighed for courts, my dear friend? Courts, quotha? I sigh only to set fire to them; and as for being “happy” here — come and spend one year with me at Nant Cottage, and see how it will agree with you! Here is the account he gives (the letter is dated April 24th, 1852) of the European republicans in those days. The strange narrative of his interview with the intellectual Kalmuck, Kossuth, will give a vivid page to my memorandum book.
“Garibaldi carrieth hides and corn, somewhere in your vicinity, on the Pacific, between South America and California. Mazzini has allied himself with the English ‘Liberals’ and ‘Protestantism,’ disowned the Chartists, abused the French Socialists, and avowed himself for the establishment of a ‘liberal consolidated Italian unity,’ and against popery as a religious creed. He is dead and done for, and will have to go, with his ‘liberals’ and his ‘Protestantism.'”
— This, to me, oh Devin! is not so clear. There is no harm, I suppose, in a man’s being against popery, or against Protestantism, “as a religious creed” — no harm, I mean, in a revolutionary sense, and for this world’s business (for of course his soul will “go,” as you call it). But, if I mistake not, Thomas Jefferson (no bad revolutionist) was against popery as a creed. However, enter the Kalmuck —
“Kossuth has played the devil with himself — allied himself with the English Liberals, too — breakfasted, dined, tea’d, and was led round by Lord Dudley Stuart, and that rascal crew [let me interpose here to remark that Lord Dudley Stuart is not rascal, but only ninnyhammer, amadán and mooncalf] — then came to this country with a suite, in uniform and livery, put on a devil of a lot of airs, made magnificent and telling speeches in the good cause, but beslavered the English and their Constitutions, advised the Irish to unite with them, and help the great English people, from Palmerston down to the voter, ‘to free Europe!’ — and may now be considered to be snuffed out, or flickering. I must confess this is an inconstant people, especially to distinguished strangers: after bepraising them, bedining them, and bespeeching them, lest the rogues should, on their return to Europe, repay their hospitality by abusing them, as Dickens and Moore and others of that kidney did, they take time with the whip-hand, and anticipate the poor devil they have honoured by immediately abusing him themselves — [And why not? It is acting upon the ancient receipt, to prevent one’s self from being tossed by a bull, ‘Toss him.’]. It is a national characteristic, founded on wit and policy, and experience of distinguished strangers. But, at the same time, Kossuth has not done well or wisely. He has gathered some money, and considerably injured a good cause. He is as precipitate as a vixen, puts on sagacity in public, as a foolish girl would a hood, and keeps eternally looking out at the bystanders, to see if they know him under the disguise.”
Well, I cannot say that the above paints the Hun to my eyes very life-like; but here comes the governor in person. Reilly continues:
“I had a private interview with him of some length. He reminded me of Urquhart. No doubt he set me down for an Irish idiot; but. Lord! it was a comical scene.… He is a fine-looking fellow: has great eyes, half-a-dozen foreheads round his head, and probably one at the back, stuffed with all sorts of ‘languages,’ including the ‘language of flours and luv’; dark hair, and brownish-black beard, both roughcast with grey, like imitation granite, and the latter as stiff as a heckler’s steel comb, and sticking out huge, round and round, like rays of the light of darkness; light made, middle-sized — a most intellectual Calmuck.”
Now, that will do. The man is posed; he is mis en scene. Now for your interview of some length. Go on.
“They had slavered him here at such a rate that when I proceeded to argue with him he bounded off his chair, cooled himself with a cigar, fore-fingered a fellow (like Urquhart, you know), and proceeded to show me in the usual dogmatic manner that that was thai. Dixi. So did I, just the same; gave him Dixi for Dixi, with a profound dip and a flat contradiction. Lord! if you had seen him then! — ten hundred Urquharts ‘rowled into one,’ were nothing to him. So we came to figures; he calmed, and became placid. I begged him not to precipitate the whole cause of Europe on himself and his country. No? his letters informed him that in three months insurrection would be in France, and a true republic. I hinted my experience in programmes, upon such occasions especially as to dates. Like John Martin, he propounded the orthodox dogma that I was a ‘young man’ — my experience was nothing. He had played with the blood of nations on the battle-field. (Lord! how that stung! but he did not see it. If we had only fought, somebody else, too, would have played with at least two units of the blood of nations) — but my experience, he continued, might come yet. Then I would know what it was to hear the cries of a nation sinking unto death. In three months, his standard would be above him — in three months the armies of the true French Republic would be — and so forth. Within three weeks and less, the news reached us that Louis Napoleon had mastered the French people by a coup, a razzia at night, and a battue on the general public for ten days after.”
My dear fellow! all this I know, through “the usual channels of information”; for the immortal printing-press executes its holy mission even here also. Therefore drop contemporary history, and give me more about the Magyar. I can fancy these two strange interlocutors — a Celtic O’Reilly of Brefni-O’Reilly, and a Calmuck Tartar, whose forefathers pitched black tents on the steppes of the Yenisei, meeting in one room in that busy New York City, so indifferent to both Celt and Calmuck — and trying, by help of cigars and gesticulation, to bring about an agreement between themselves as to how this globe was to be rescued from the kings and the devils. I wish I had been there to make a trio. But go on, Devin.
— “The Irish and priestly organs here had opposed him and his country (they now toast and bless Louis Napoleon for having saved ‘Order’ and Religion), and so I told him that I wished at all events to assure him of the deep sympathy and affection of all Irish republicans. I explained to him, however, exactly, and in plain terms, what he would get — refusal, in the way he sought help. Whether it was that my always eloquent method of public speaking came to my aid, or that it was the first honest and true word he had heard here (but I think it must have been the public speaking), he hung his head for a minute, was silent, and the big tears stood in his eyes. ‘Then,’ he said, ‘my mission’ (what fools to have missions! But probably it is the way they speak commonsense and manhood in England, and among the ‘liberals,’ that taught him the damned idiom) — ‘then mine mission is lost — defeated — I may return to mine country and die.’
I fear he will go back with a very bad idea (in both senses) of the real springs of policy in this country. However, he has extinguished himself, and will never lead in Europe again [be not too sure of that, O! Devin Reilly], and being so, you can fancy the above interview [Yes, I can] — this child on one side, and a, Calmuck Urquhart made of indiarubber, jumping about, one moment sinuous as a pickpocket or a rattle-snake without the rattles — then ricochetting on his chair at the smallest contradiction, using arms, legs, head, face, eyes, tongue, beard, forefinger, cigar, and back-bone in joints, in his tremendous eloquence.”
Ah! it is enough. Shady is the vale of Clyde, and rural the cottage of Nant; but, without meaning disrespect to the South Pole, I would that I were smoking a cigar with that Calmuck and that Celt in that Excelsior Knickerbocker city! Stay, here is still more of the Magyar, from another part of the letter. Sayeth the Celt of the Calmuck —
“He ‘prays to God’ too much, speechificatorily, carries his tears in his pocket, and can weep, and can actually wet his handkerchief, as mere touches of rhetoric and good points. His thanks for anything and everything he gets (a Rev. Mrs. O’Donohue, of Cincinnati and pork, presented him with her infant son as an offering to Hungary — he would be taught to raise his little hat and feather to the cause of Hungary, when he would hear in his little ears of her being freed by the great Kossuth; and he took it, and made a prayer — O Lord, what a prayer! — if He who sitteth in the heavens heard it. He must have laughed — pray Grod that blessed infant may not be tempted to try experiments with the hat and feather, as naughty Master Gargantua did with the lady’s ruff; for it might tear his tender flesh with the cruel buckle, and so defeat the hope of Hungary) — pardon this parenthesis, Master John [now, what is the use of a second parenthesis to excuse the first; which provokes this third parenthesis from me?] — in capacity to take anything he gets, and to appraise it in thanks, he is as good as O’Connell. But I tire you with this long description.”
Why, yes; a little. Take up another man: say yourself, my dear friend. He (Reilly) is now, it seems, writing in the Democratic Review; and from the tone of much of his letter I perceive that he is exerting every nerve of body and brain, labouring as did never Hercules in his combat with the hydra of Lerna — to kill, to crush, to smash, blow to atoms, turn inside out, and trample into the earth, a gang of desperadoes (they must be the enemies of the human race) whom he names Old Fogies. Now, the usual channels of information have not brought me information who these old sinners specially are: but I sympathise with my friend’s animosity, and hate them in advance. He gives a sad account of himself before the reviewing came, and this deadly fight with the Fogies. He says —
“When I received that letter of yours, I was in the depth of poverty and misery of mind, yet struggling to compass this position I have now attained. My heart was too sore, and I was too anxious to tell you some good news, to answer it. Then, as the prospect brightened, and I saw before me an eventual success in my efforts to get the Review, I began to scribble and scrawl, in fits and starts, my plans; and the accumulated bulk of prospective intentions is now in part condensed in the columns thereof.”
He has found an Irish wife, too, in America; and in all his “soreness of heart,” his poverty and misery, this treasure of a wife seems to be his best guardian, guide, and tower of strength. On her is lavished all the passionate tenderness of his exaggerative nature: and he loves her as he hates an Old Fogy. In doleful strain he goes on:
“In my worst misery I lost my boy, called after you; then in my first month of editing I had to rise from my writing to bury my little daughter. I thought God, or fate, was going to strip me stark naked for the combat — and that long ill-health, fretting, poverty, and these accumulated sorrows, were about to deprive me even of the last vesture, my wife.”
Here follows a record of more, and more touching sorrows; but let them be sacred. God or fate never smote a stouter heart; and from that sore smiting, stripping bare, and crushing fall to earth, the young earth-bom Titan will spring up more Titanic still.
Soon he leaves his own sorrows behind him; and begins to tell me eagerly and earnestly about a certain “Douglas.” Now, who the mischief is Douglas?2 Enter Douglas, introduced by Devin Reilly —
“A fine little fellow, about forty, or five-and-forty, squat-built, of great eloquence and rare abilities as a statesman, a thorough democrat, and hates England very well for an American.”
One begins to take an interest in this small man of great eloquence; and on reading further, I discover that Reilly and his Review want to make him no less than President of the United States.
“It was a desperate move, to carry a nation by storm; and we may be killed in the very heart of the citadel [I hope not, Tom]; but it was the best move on the board; and once carried, all was pretty certain afterwards. Douglas, if he attain power (he may be, and is, timid and wavering in the method of getting in, but), once in, I am persuaded, if the Maker of men does not sell wooden nutmegs, that he will prove spicy to the core, and ride roughshod over all antagonists, native and especially foreign [From which I infer that this Mr. Douglas is, at any rate, not an Old Fogy]. It is now acknowledged we, that is, T. D. R., that is The Democratic Review, have killed dead the Old Fogies, and carried for him in convention the State of New York.”
What this last carrying in Convention may mean or amount to I know not — but I am glad the Old Fogies are dead. John Knox indeed, as he smokes by the fire, while I read him the letter, often lifts his eye-brows high, and sometimes takes the pipe our of his mouth to exclaim, “God bless me! who are these poor Fogies?” He trusts their sins may be forgiven them; but I, on the other hand, insult their ashes, in sympathy with the fury of my friend; and drink to-night to the success of Douglas, small of bulk, but spicy to the core.
1 Thomas Devin Reilly is dead. The largest heart, the most daring spirit, the loftiest genius of all Irish rebels in these latter days sleeps now in his American grave. Many a reader will be glad to see how, and in what terms, he wrote of the men and scenes around him, to a friend at the antipodes.
2 I beg pardon now [New York, August 1st, 1854), for the excusable ignorance betrayed in the above ejaculation; which, however, may be somewhat palliated by my retired way of life some years before. — J.M