June 20th, 1853 — Westbury, V. D. L. — I have been now a week at Burke’s farm-house, and in the closest privacy. Even the few friends in this district, who know of my whereabouts, do not dare to come to the house in daylight; but the staunch O’K —, on whose own house a strict watch is kept by the police, contrived last night to evade their vigilance, leaving home in the afternoon, riding first in some other direction, and then making a circuit, so as to come down upon Burke’s after midnight. With him came a Launceston friend, who brought me a note from Nicaragua Smith. Nicaragua is now in Hobart Town, and has not been molested, although it is well known that he was with me at the Bothwell police office; but as no violence was actually done, nor even arms exhibited, there is nothing to endanger him. However, all his movements, also, are under strict surveillance.
He assures me, in his note, that the enemy have not the slightest suspicion of my having come to this part of the island, and the impression is general that I am already at sea. Bets are pending in Hobart Town as to the direction I took — as to my having sailed, or not — and if so, by what ship. In the meantime, he is negotiating about a brigantine, the Don Juan, one of Mr. Macnamara’s ships. She is to sail shortly from Hobart Town, bound for Melbourne; and he hopes to arrange it so that she will call on the north side of the island, in some lonely bay, to take me up — I to make my way to the rendezvous as I best may.
22nd. — Special messenger from Nicaragua. The Don Juan is to call at Emu Bay, five days hence; the distance is about eighty miles from my retreat; but there are four rivers to cross, and no road, no bridges. And now. fate has apparently declared against me; for within the last two days. Emu Bay has become totally inaccessible by land. The winter floods have begun. It has rained furiously in the mountains; and the Forth, Mersey, and Don, all fordable in the summer, are rushing down now, in raging torrents, that would sweep us into the sea if we were mounted on elephants. Then, if we go down to the sea-shore, and attempt to pass westward, by crossing the mouths of the river in boats, a difficulty arises — there are generally no boats to be found there, except the police boats; and every river mouth is watched by constables, who have all received a special warning to be on the look out for a man thirty-five years of age or so, with dark hair, stature five feet ten inches, etc., etc.
What is to be done? The Don Juan will certainly call in at Emu Bay, and wait there two days. My Launceston friend devises a plan. He has hurried off to Launceston, to employ the captain of a small coasting smack, as a messenger to Emu Bay, with directions for the Don Juan to come eastward again, if the weather permit, and to lie off and on at a solitary beach, between West Head and Badger Head; a little to the west of the Tamar mouth. To that place I can go without crossing any river except the Meander. The plan does not look feasible, because the weather has grown wild, and the Don Juan, if she can even leave Emu Bay, and coast eastward, may find it impossible to lie to, off that dangerous coast. It is determined, however, that I am to try the chance.
The country between this place and Port Sorel is wild, marshy, rocky, and desolate — all the better for our purpose, if we can only cross the Westbury road, and get through the settled country south of the Meander, without exciting suspicion. Our course is to be due north — the distance nearly seventy miles; we are to set forth about ten o’clock at night, and if possible, to reach the sea the next day.
Latest accounts from Bothwell tell me that all is well at Nant Cottage; all our good neighbours of Bothwell are delighted at my escape (which they think is an accomplished fact already), and kindly attentive to my family. My wife, however, knows that I am still on the island, and every morning expects to hear either of embarkation, capture, or death. If I should even have the good fortune to get on board the Don Juan, my adventures will have only begun. For she goes to Melbourne. At Melbourne there is doubtless a warrant against me, long since in the hands of the police, with description of eyes, hair, and stature; and, since the discovery of gold mines there, careful note is taken by the authorities, of every passenger and every sailor coming from Van Diemen’s Land. Many captures are made every week. To get into Melbourne, and to get out of it again, will be about equally perilous; but the “work of the hour” is to get out of Van Diemen’s Land.
24th. — We start to-night. It is gloomy winter weather; the country having been first thoroughly drenched, is now frozen; but the moon is out and on duty. I am to have a considerable cavalcade and body-guard: the two Burkes, Mr. Wood, and his brother, O’K —, O’Mara, brother-in-law to my host, and Foley, a powerful Tipperary man, somewhere between six and seven feet high. If we meet a patrol of constables either on the journey or at the coast, the meeting will not serve the cause of “law and order.”
I have written two letters, one to my wife at Bothwell, one to my mother at New York — a kind of provisional adieu, indeed — for I scarcely hope to meet with this Don Juan; and, failing her, I shall have to disperse my party, and retire from the coast again with all speed and secrecy. Mr. Wood, in that case, proposes to send me to a very remote “station” of his, among the mountains of the north-west, to spend the winter there, and let all thought of pursuit die out. Meanwhile, my kind hostess, Mrs. Burke, is busied in preparations for our departure, and in providing what is needful for our journey. Amongst other things, the good creature gets some lead and judiciously casts bullets. Her husband comes with us, as well as his brother; and their father lends me a good horse.
26th — Port Sorel, Bass’s Straits. — We are here, but the Don Juan is not. The night before last, as had been arranged, about ten o’clock, after taking farewell of Mrs. Burke and her little boy (whose principal nurse I have been for a fortnight), I rode away accompanied by the two Burkes, O’K —, O’Mara, and Foley. We were to meet the Woods on the Westbury road, at a given point. It was cold, but clear, and the moon shone brightly on the hoar frost. Having been joined by the Woods, we rode nearly due north; and some time after midnight descended through some dark and winding gullies to the valley of the Meander. Just on the farther bank, and in a very solitary place, stood the house of our friend O’K —. He is a respectable farmer, an intelligent, well-informed man, who emigrated hither, after Lord Hawarden’s great extermination of tenantry in Tipperary. O’K — was one of the tenants turned out upon that occasion; and saw his house pulled down, while all the neighbours on the adjoining townlands were warned not to shelter him, or any member of his family. Some natural tears he shed, and uttered some natural imprecations; but shot neither landlord, nor agent, nor sheriff’s officer — which would have been natural, too. With the help of some good friends he found means to emigrate hither, and has a good farm, far from Lord Hawarden; but still hates with a holy hatred (as in reason he ought) the British aristocracy and British Government. Of course he takes an interest in Irish rebels, and was Meagher’s faithful companion and guide on his last Tasmanian excursion. The river was high and rapid; the banks were steep and rough; but O’K — knew the ground and led the way; the flood dashed up to our horses’ shoulders; but in a few minutes we had scaled the opposite bank, and galloped up to O’K —’s door.
Here we halted to sup and feed our horses. The family were asleep: but ere long, a roaring fire blazed, beef-steaks hissed, and at the head of his rough but kindly board, O’K — welcomed me (he hoped for the last time) to the hospitalities of the Tasmanian bush.
One of the peculiarities of Westbury district is that you find Irish families, and whole Irish neighbourhoods, associating together and seldom meeting foreigners: for even the assigned convict-servants whom these people select are all Irish. Thus they preserve, even in the second generation, Irish ways and strong Irish accents; and but a few weeks have gone by since, in this very house, on the death of O’K —’s old mother, a regular wake was held, and experienced crones raised a true caoine over the corpse, startling the cockatoos with their wild and unwonted ululu.
The two Woods are native Tasmanians, of English stock, and do not fully understand the Tipperary enthusiasm and Munster demonstrativeness of O’K — and his wife. They are men of very large property, bold horsemen, indefatigable bushmen, and seem to have come into our present enterprise for the sake of the excitement as well as from a sincere regard for Irish rebels. They sat smoking and looking on in silence, while O’K — narrated the black story of the clearing of his village in Tipperary.
At last, it was time to mount once more. The moon had gone down and the night was dark. Seven miles farther on we found ourselves near a hut which Mr. Wood recognised as the stock-hut of his nephew, young Lilly. He said the owner was in it, and insisted that we should all dismount, knock him up, and demand some tea. I objected, supposing that there might be other strangers in the house, and it was not expedient (seeing I was almost certain we should miss the Don Juan) that my journey in this direction should come to be known. In vain I objected. Wood only laughed, and said it was all right, and thundered with his hunting-whip on the hut door. After some grumbling in the inside, the door was cautiously opened by a man with a gun. Four men were within, including Lilly, the proprietor, who had come that way to give directions to his stock-keepers. He quickly tumbled out of his opossum-rug, recognised my friends, but did not know me, and invited us all to partake the usual bush-fare.
Though displeased at the delay and risk of blabbing, I went in: and we remained an hour; so that dawn was breaking before we resumed our journey. Young Lilly was informed, before I left, of the nature of the excursion, and undertook to keep his shepherds, and also a strange shepherd who was there, closely employed about the place for some days, lest they should spread abroad the intelligence that such a party of horsemen had been riding coastward upon such a night.
When the morning reddened in the sky, we found ourselves in as wild and impervious a country as I have yet seen in Van Diemen’s Land — no mountains, but countless hills, divided almost uniformly by dangerous marshes; rocks, dead trees, deep “creeks” with rotten banks; such, without intermission for forty miles, was the scene of our tedious travel. The only comfort was, that no constables would venture into those wildernesses in winter.
Once O’K —, who was mounted on a powerful black mare, sunk unexpectedly deep into a morass, covered with treacherous herbage. He flung himself off the saddle; and, by dint of some desperate plunges, the mare was extricated. We came into a narrow gorge, very rocky and entangled with almost impassable “scrub.” Down the gorge flowed, or rather oozed, through the slimy soil and prostrate decayed trees, a kind of creek, which we must cross: but never in all my bush riding had I seen so hideous and perilous-looking a task for a horseman. Last winter, the floods had been peculiarly heavy hereabouts; and the channel had been much deepened and widened. Immense dead trees lay along and athwart it in all directions; the banks were high and composed of soft red soil; and in the bottom, wherever the bottom could be seen, there seemed to be nothing but unfathomable red mud. We struggled a full hour along the bank, looking for a point where it was possible to cross; and every moment going farther out of our way, as was too apparent by the sun.
O’Mara, who was mounted on a fine young bay horse, once dashed at the creek, shouting, “Follow me!” He went down the slope safely; and in a moment we saw the noble horse springing up against the opposite bank, O’Mara leaning over his neck and urging him with spur and voice. He gave two or three tremendous bounds, but the soft earth always gave way under his feet; and, at length, with his fore-feet pawing wildly in the air, down he went backwards to the bottom; but O’Mara, grasping a branch of a dead tree, swung himself from the saddle, and thus saved himself from interment in red slime under his horse. We spent an hour in extricating the poor animal, which, by dint of main force, we accomplished; but it was too clear that was not a place for crossing.
Over the creek, however, we made our way, and late last evening, came out from the hills upon the broad tide-water of the Tamar, near a small settlement called York. Avoiding the houses, which might have contained disaffected persons — to wit, constables — we proceeded about a couple of miles into the woods beyond, but were still five miles from the sea-coast at Badger Head.
Darkness came on; and the country before us was almost impassable even in daylight; so we bivouacked in the wood. Fortunately it was a grassy place, and the horses could pick up something to eat. We lighted a good fire, roasted upon forked sticks certain pieces of mutton we had carried with us from O’K —’s, finished the supply of brandy, and having duly smoked our pipes, fixed saddles under our heads for pillows, and slept.
At daybreak this morning we were astir; for we all thought it quite possible that the Don Juan, if her captain had received the message recalling him, might have been off the designated beach yesterday evening; and if so, the wind of last night, blowing in towards the shore, would have obliged her to work as far to seaward as possible, otherwise, the rocks of Badger Head would be fringed with her shivered ribs this morning. It was calm and mild weather as we started from our lair; and, after four miles’ difficult journeying, through marshes, we heard the roar of the sea, and saw Badger Head towering to our left. Still, the water was invisible, for the shore was bordered by a line of high sand-hills, clothed with honey-suckle trees and boobialla. We scaled the sand-hills; and there was the blessed sea — but as far as the eye could sweep it, not a sail!
We gazed blankly into one another’s faces. Determined, however, to wait there all day, and look out for a sail. The coast here makes a fine sweeping curve between the two rocky promontories; and there is a broad smooth beach of sand.
A vessel suddenly hove in sight, round the point of Badger Head. A brigantine! She was four miles off, and we had no doubt, from her apparent tonnage and rig, that she was the Don Juan. She stood out to sea, and seemed to be coming out the Tamar mouth, where she had probably taken shelter last night.
Now we eagerly watched her movements, expecting every instant that she would tack. From the distance, we were unable to see whether she had Macnamara’s signal-flag at her masthead: but we gathered some dried branches, and set fire to them and to the long grass that covered a sand-hill. Soon a pillar of smoke rose into the air that might have been visible thirty miles. The insensible brigantine made no sign, nor swerved from her steady course, steering direct for Melbourne. In an hour she was out of sight, and we took counsel what we should do next. There we could stay no longer, if only for want of food; and it was necessary that the party should separate. Mr. Wood renewed his proposal of sending me to his stock-station among the north-western mountains, where I might stay all winter as a stock-keeper. In the meantime we agreed to ride in the evening to the house of a gentleman named Miller, about nine miles to the west of us, on the shore of Port Sorel inlet; stay with him all night, and consult with him in the morning.
The coast all along is totally uninhabited; and we did not see a human creature all day. Half a mile from Miller’s, we halted, and Wood rode on to make sure that no strangers were about the place. Miller himself returned with Wood. He had never seen me before; but seemed delighted that we had come to him. He assured us that as he had no servants at that time, and as his house was quite off all tracks and roads, I might, if necessary, remain three months there unsuspected. On the other side of Port Sorel inlet, which is not half a mile wide at the mouth, stands a township, with police office, magistrate, and the rest of the apparatus; and Miller says the last stranger who appeared at his house was a constable from Launceston, bearing the despatch a fortnight ago to all the stations along that coast, announcing my departure from Bothwell and enjoining vigilance for my sake.
“All special messengers,” said he, “bearing despatches from Launceston, must come to me, and request me to put them across the water in my boat, which is the only boat on this side. So, you see, it is all right; you can stay here in perfect safety.”
O’K — declared he could not see how this made all right; for said he, “If our journey in this direction comes to be known, as it must be in a few days, your next visitor will be another express constable.”
“The very thing,” said Miller, “that we want. The fellow can’t go over without my help: — I can make him drunk here, and take the despatch from him, or bribe him to return and say he delivered it; or drown him, if you like, in the passage.”
This did not appear a very satisfactory prospect; yet, as we must separate, and as the Don Juan may still appear to-morrow or next day, I have resolved to stay with Mr. Miller, and keep a look-out for it. All my escort are to go to their several homes to-morrow, and Burke is to communicate with Nicaragua Smith.
Miller is an Englishman, long resident in London; but, like all the other honest people in this country, he cordially abhors Sir William Denison and his government, and will go any length in my service; not, perhaps, that he loves me more, but that he loves Sir William less.
27th. — Before sunrise this morning, I went with O’K —, took an excellent telescope of Miller’s, and went over the sand hills to get a view of the sea. Not a sail in sight. Wind steady from the north-west, and likely to remain so. This is a fair wind for the Don Juan, coming from Emu Bay towards Port Sorel; but I begin now to despair of her.
After breakfast, all my friends went off — all promising to return if required. They leave me Burke’s horse, the same that I rode from Westbury.
They had gone about four hours, and Miller and I were sitting on the sand-hills smoking, when a sail came in sight, from the westward; we watched her eagerly, but she turned out to be a barque. Here, then, I remain, within a mile of a police barrack; Miller’s land forms a point which runs out far to meet the opposite shore of the inlet: the point is well wooded; and immediately on the shore the hills of sand are thickly fringed with a dense shrubbery of boobialla, a small, beautiful tree, rising to a height of seven or eight feet, and forming a close screen with its dark green leaves, which greatly resemble the leaves of the arbutus. From behind this shelter I can see the sleepy-looking village, which seems to be peopled mostly by constables, sauntering about with their belts and jingling handcuffs.
July 1st. — Four days at Miller’s. No Don Juan: no news from Launceston, or from Nicaragua Smith. Though my host is well-informed and agreeable, I begin to execrate this lurking life. The suspense and terror at Nant Cottage must be grievous. I despise myself as I sit here behind my boobialla fence, and am very much inclined to cut short the business by some coup. Mr. Miller proposes a plan. He says there is a vessel in the mouth of one of the rivers, fourteen miles west, taking a cargo of sawn timber on board for Melbourne. “She will be cleared,” continued Miller “by our friend over the way, the chief constable. Now, I have a brother in Melbourne, lately arrived from England. I have been expecting him here to visit me; and Mr. Nicholls, the police magistrate, and the chief constable are aware of it. If you choose, I will bring you over to the village, the day before the ship is to sail; introduce you as my brother to the worthy magistrate; he will ask us to dine; he will give you a certificate; in the evening, you and I will go along with the clearing officer himself, across the country to the river Forth. You will be put on board in due form of law, as Henry Miller, and proceed upon your travels respectably. Does the magistrate, or any of the constables, know your appearance?”
“How can I tell? You know they are always changing the constables from one district to another. However, I think my disguise is complete.” Miller ran to his boat, sculled across, and within an hour returned, laughing — “I have told Mr. Nicholls that you are here; and I think he will feel that it is only civility to come over and visit you. I also mentioned you to the chief of police, telling him that, although you have been so short a time here, you are tired of the country (which is true), and want to go to Melbourne. I told him you did not much like the idea of travelling back to Launceston, to take your passage in one of the steamers, and asked him if there were not a good vessel shortly to sail from some of these rivers. ‘There is the Wave‘ said he — ‘the very thing for your brother.'”
“Well,” I asked, “what more?”
“Why,” said Miller, “he is going over to the Forth to-morrow, will go on board the ship, and will bring us back full particulars as to the accommodation, fare, etc. Then you and I are to dine with the police magistrate, on our way; and the clearing officer will have an interview with you in the police office, and will make all smooth for my brother. This thing will do. You must come.”
“I agree to everything but the dinner party at the police magistrate’s. I will not sit down at any man’s table under a feigned name; but let us impose on him otherwise, if you like.
“You agree, then, to go as my brother?”
“Certainly; I am tired of skulking about; though your society and conversation, my dear fellow, are —.”
“Hurrah!” said Miller, running to tell his wife of our plan. He seems rejoiced beyond measure that he is to have the whole credit of taking me off, when all my Irish friends had failed, and swears he will go with me to Melbourne. To-morrow he goes across to the village again, to learn all the particulars about the cabin of the Wave, “for we must pretend to be very fastidious about our accommodations.”
2nd. — To-day he pushed his boat over again. “It is all right,” he said, when he returned — “everything arranged. We sail on the 8th. The police magistrate will come over in the meantime to visit you.”
So the matter stands, then. If I do not hear of some better arrangements made by Nicaragua Smith, or my friends in Launceston, before the Wave lifts anchor, I shall sail as Henry Miller.
Miller has two magnificent kangaroo dogs. His son George and I rode out to-day upon Badger Head, taking the dogs with us; and, in the scrubby hollows of the promontory, we raised two kangaroos; but, I grieve to say, lost them both. The “scrub,” was too close for the dogs to run. We saw, on our return, three superb eagles, poising themselves on moveless wings, high in the air. The lambing season has commenced; and these three murderers have come down from the mountains to keep an eye upon Miller’s young lambs.
5th July. — About eleven o’clock to-day two horsemen were seen approaching through the trees, from the direction of Badger Head. An unusual sight; for the last eight days no human being has appeared on this side of Port Sorel, and it happened that the foot-prints of one solitary man had been seen on the sand, the very day we came here, which kept Miller’s family speculating and wondering ever since. So there was commotion in the house, when one of the boys ran in to tell us of the approaching horsemen. Miller locked me up in my own room, having first warned me to look to my pistols. He walked out to meet the strangers. Presently I heard well-known voices, and came out — the two Burkes have come, to bring me to Launceston. My indefatigable friend Dease, a merchant in that town, has bargained it seems, with Capt. —, of the steamer —, to bring me from Launceston to Melbourne; and my passage has been secured on board the steamer, in the name of Father Macnamara. I must be in Launceston to-morrow evening; go on board at once, and remain there all night. Next morning the steamer sails. They tell me no time is to be lost, for it begins to be rumoured that I am still on the island, and the police have a nose like the nose of the behemoth that pierceth through snares.
Launceston is fifty-five or sixty miles off; and the country is, in this season, altogether execrable. They have only ridden to-day from the Tamar mouth (about fifteen miles), and propose that I start at once, and go so far this evening as a certain hut they know. To-morrow to Launceston.
Farewell, then, to my kind English host and hostess; and once more in the saddle. Miller says that I had better go by the Wave, and be his brother Henry.
8th. — On the 6th we slept (the two Burkes and I) at a hut in the woods. On the 7th, a wet and stormy day, we made good our way, though with great labour and fatigue, to Launceston. Went to the house of —, and got rigged up instantly as a Catholic priest — shaved from the eyes to the throat; dressed in a long black coat, with upright collar, the narrow white band round the neck, and a broad black hat, I waited for Mr. Dease to come and bring me on board. Dease came, accompanied by Connellan of Hobart Town.
This plot also miscarries; and they all fear the case is almost desperate. Capt. — says positively that he dares not take me on board at Launceston, nor even anywhere along the river on his way down, at least until after his ship has been cleared at Georgetown, forty-five miles below Launceston: — says the rigour of searching has been greatly increased since I left Bothwell, and that the police magistrate at Georgetown has got very special orders: so that he (the captain) cannot take me, even concealed in his own cabin — that retreat, which used to be a sanctuary, being now subject to the narrowest scrutiny. In short, he said, I must go down in an open boat this night — so as to find myself below Georgetown, between the very capes of the river’s mouth, to-morrow about three o’clock. There he will take me up.
Dease had come to tell me that a boat was ready for me, and that I must start at once. It was a dreadful night, wet and stormy. I had ridden fifty miles, mostly through rain, rivers, and morasses, and was thoroughly tired. I declared I would go on board in the morning openly at the quay, as Father Macnamara, and run all the risk; but my friends overruled this, and almost carried me down to the river.
It was profoundly dark. Two boatmen were waiting for us at the water side. Dease and Connellan came with me. I threw myself along the bottom of the boat, in ten minutes was fast asleep; and so we started on our nocturnal expedition of about fifty miles.