9th July — Launceston, V. D. L. — We have come back here. Baffled again.
To resume the story of our almost desperate attempt to get out of the river Tamar in an open boat: — We were rowed nearly all night after leaving Launceston, and a little before dawn arrived at a point of the river (or rather estuary), where it is above two miles in width. On the right bank, just here, lives a worthy colonist, named Barrett, to me unknown, but for whom my companions vouch as well affected. We put the boat ashore, and walking up to the house, in the dark, thundered at the door without ceremony. Barrett came down. We asked him for his boat (a good gig), and people to pull it, intending to leave the little skiff that had brought us down at his place, until my friends should be returning up the river, after depositing me on board the steamer at the river mouth. The boat, the men, everything was at our service. We stayed an hour or two, breakfasted, and then Mr. Barrett volunteered to go with us himself, and to see me fairly at sea. There was good daylight when we started, and we had only sixteen or seventeen miles to go to Georgetown. So we dropped down the river at our leisure. It is a most winding and dangerous estuary, varying in breadth from a quarter of a mile to three miles, bordered by hills, all covered with unbroken forest, except where a small farm has been cleared here and there.
Before coming quite opposite to Georgetown, Mr. Barrett put me and Connellan ashore for a while in the woods on the western bank, and went himself over to the village, in order that he might see the chief of police, and give him some account (a false account of course) of his errand down there with his boat. Unless this precaution were taken, he said, the police would assuredly take notice of the strange boat, and send an armed police boat to question us.
We remained an hour in the woods; Barrett was to return to our side at a point two miles lower down the river than the place we landed, to take us up there whenever the steamer should appear. He had scarcely pushed across to Georgetown before the black funnel and its streamer of smoke came round a wooded promontory within three miles. The usual custom is to delay these steamers about an hour at Georgetown, while they undergo a thorough and final search, so that we calculated on having abundance of time. The captain had directed us to be in the middle of the river in the boat, after he should have got rid of the searchers, and he would lie to and take me on board. I had my priestly garments and broad-brimmed hat along with me, so as to enable me to act the character of Father Macnamara with proper dignity and sanctity.
But while Connellan and I were making our way to the point at which Barrett was to take us up again, and just after we had seen the police boat come out to overhaul the ship, we saw, to our utter dismay, that the boat left her again instantly, and she, without stopping, steamed away down towards the Heads. Barrett’s boat had not yet left Georgetown to come over for us; half an hour passed, and the boat did not come. The steamer was now four miles down the river, and there, close by the light-house, we saw her stop.
Now, we thought all was right. Barrett’s boat at last approached, pulled with desperate energy by four men. We jumped in, and put off, still keeping our eyes on the steamer, when, at that moment, up went the steam again. The captain evidently had come to the conclusion that something must have happened to prevent me from keeping my appointment; and he had waited full fifteen minutes. We were too far off to be visible from the ship, close under the shore as we were; and, just as our rowers were stretching to their oars with all their force, the steamer moved slowly off before our eyes, swept round the lighthouse, and away on her straight course for Melbourne.
The chance was lost. The sun set in a red and angry sky; it was certainly to be a stormy night; and there we were, far from shelter, opposite one of the strongest and most vigilant police stations of the island. Back to Launceston we must absolutely make our way, and that before morning. Moreover, as Mr. Dease one of our companions, had been left in Georgetown, Barrett must call for him. I objected to go in the boat to Georgetown; but said I would go on shore again with Connellan, on the west bank, and let Barrett come for me, after taking up Dease.
We accordingly went into the woods again, and watched the boat going across. Half an hour, at the utmost, would suffice to bring her back. Half an hour passed, but no boat came. It was now dark. An hour went by, two hours, still no boat came. We knew that something was wrong, and conjectured that some of the boatmen had got drunk, and let out the secret. “In that case,” said Connellan, “the first boat that comes over will be a police boat.” Another hour elapsed, and we had made up our mind to spend the night in some very secret part of the forest, and walk next day, by West Head and Badger Head, back to my friend Miller, when we heard in the darkness the sound of oars working in their rowlocks. Presently the prow of a boat ran up against the gravelly beach; but it was impossible to see anything at one yard’s distance. I told Connellan to go down towards the place where he heard the sound, and if all was right to sing out “Coo-ee“; but, if it was a police boat, then to make no sound, but try to rejoin me instantly. In the meantime I put caps on my pistols.
“Coo-ee!” It was Barrett’s boat; the delay was caused only by two of the boatmen getting drunk; but there had been no blabbing, so far as Barrett knew. To my surprise, I found also Dan Burke, of Westbury, in the boat. He had taken his passage in the steamer, and was to have gone with Father Macnamara to Melbourne. Says that the steamer did not delay an hour, as usual, only because the chief of police at Georgetown, called the “clearing officer,” had happened to be in Launceston, had come down on board the steamer, and had made his researches on his way; so, when the police boat came alongside, he had nothing to do but drop into it, and go ashore. Burke says that the captain had then no pretext for delay — that if he had stopped anywhere nearer to Georgetown, he would be sure to be visited again by the police — that when he did stop, down at the Heads, he had anxiously kept looking out with a glass, to see whether our boat appeared; and at last had given us up. The failure, therefore, was not the captain’s fault, but is due to the “Fates and Destinies, the Sisters Three, and such branches of learning.” Burke himself had left the steamer at the Heads, and had come back in the pilot-boat.
We had a weary pull up the river again. The night came down in a horrible storm, and we were twice on reefs. Reached Barrett’s about one o’clock: took our Launceston boat and boatmen again; bade adieu to poor Barrett, who is very desponding about my fate — these repeated failures being, as he thinks, a pronouncement of heaven against me — and then we set out for Launceston. I was now fully resolved to stay no longer on the north side of the island, but to make my way to Hobart Town, and put myself in the hands of some ship-owner to be smuggled away like contraband goods, as he in his wisdom should think best. The storm roared and raged more furiously every moment; in the windings of the channel we were several times driven ashore; yet, as the wind was with us we kept the sail set, hoping to get up to the town before morning. The rain came down in torrents; the woods groaned and even shrieked; and, through the blackness of the night, we could see nothing but the glimmer of the white foam. When we were yet sixteen miles from Launceston a dreadful squall came down upon us, and before the men could drop the lug-sail we were driven violently ashore. The boatmen declared that they would not go to Launceston till the storm was over. We were in a perfectly trackless wood; the earth was soaked, the trees were dripping; but we did not care for that, having been drenched to the marrow of the bones some hours before. Five or six hours we spent in those dismal circumstances, deriving an imperfect consolation from smoking; but so thoroughly exhausted were we, that every one of us lay down and slept, under the pouring rain.
Embarked again this morning; and of course, reached Launceston in broad day. I was put ashore a mile from the town, and was to walk up, accompanied by Dan Burke, and proceed openly to the house of Father Butler, behind the Catholic Chapel, where the others were to meet me. There is nothing like coolness. We walked quietly into and through the town: and the man of five feet ten, dark hair, and so forth, passed quite unchallenged, through the streets — probably, because there are so many men whom that description fits. In truth, if my wife had met me in that walk, she could not have suspected me. So I reached the worthy priest’s house safely.
When Connellan, Dease, and his brother came, they all agreed with me, that the north side of the island has grown too hot to hold me. The two Launceston boatmen, who have just brought us up, though my name was never mentioned before them, must, at least, suspect. Barrett’s men knew me well enough. Besides, the long journeys of the Burkes, to and fro, must have been noticed; and I, therefore, tell my friends that I am resolved to go straight to Hobart Town, and by the public coach. The distance is 120 miles, the coach road passes through seven or eight townships, and by a dozen police offices. Yet, still relying on my clerical character I think this safer than any other mode of travelling.
Connellan has gone to take two places in the night mail, for the night after next, one for himself, and one for the Rev. Mr. Blake. In the meantime, the good Father Butler proposes to conceal me in the belfry of his church. How can I ever acknowledge the great services rendered to me by all these kind people?
12th July — Hobart Town. — The Rev. Mr. Blake has accomplished his perilous journey. The night coach started from Launceston at half-past five p.m., when there is still daylight, and Father Butler would by no means hear of my going to the coach office in the most public part of the town. He, therefore lent me a horse, and rode with me out of town, to wait for the coach at Frankland village. As we rode on we approached a turnpike gate. “Here,” said Mr. Butler, “you can test your disguise. Clergymen, of all denominations, are privileged to pass the toll-gates free in Van Diemen’s Land. If the man has no doubt about your being a priest, he will politely touch his hat to us both. But if he does not believe in your holy orders, it will cost you threepence.” I saved the threepence, and my dignified nod was as good as a blessing to the gate-keeper.
When I bade adieu to Father Butler, and got into the coach, I found, besides Connellan, two other passengers inside, one of them, a man whom I had met and talked with, at least once before, and who certainly would have known me, had I been less effectually disguised. He is T. MacDowell, late Attorney-General for the colony — a dangerous neighbour. Not that I believe it would have been running any risk to confide the matter to him, but there was another stranger. Mr. MacDowell tried to draw me into conversation, asked me about “my bishop,” but I was shy, unsatisfactory, Jesuitical.
Towards morning, we passed the point of the mail road nearest to Bothwell; within sixteen miles; and I gazed wistfully up at the gloomy ridge of the Den Hill. Beyond that hill, embowered among the boscages of Bothwell, lies my little quasi-home, which my eyes will never see again, with all its sleeping inmates lulled by the murmuring Clyde.
The coach changed horses at Greenponds, as usual; and everybody at Greenponds knows me by sight. Several men were about the coach; they looked into it, and all over it, as if expecting to see some traveller. I took no note of all this, till Mr. MacDowell said to one of them, “Ah, you are up early” (it was about four o’clock in a winter’s morning). “Yes, sir,” was the answer, “on special duty.” I now looked more sharply at the man; it was the chief constable of Greenponds, with some of his force. If it was for my sake, however, they had risen so early, it was in vain, for not one of them recognised me. I looked as calm and mild as if Deus vobiscum were on my lips; but I was preparing to open the coach door farthest from the hotel, at a moment’s notice, with one hand, and with the other took hold of a pistol in the pocket of my clerical soutane.
We passed on. It was clear day this morning before we reached Bridgewater; and it would have been madness to proceed with the coach to the door of the Ship Inn, at Hobart Town, where there is always a crowd of detectives; so I left the coach, and went into the hotel to remain there all day, and take the evening coach into town. Connellan remained in his place, and bade farewell very respectfully to Mr. Blake. He says Mr. MacDowell looked somewhat keenly after me, and observed, “Your reverend friend, Connellan, does not carry any luggage.”
I spent the day walking along the Derwent, and amongst the woods; dined at the solitary inn, and in the evening took a place outside on the coach which was to reach Hobart Town at eight o’clock. Six miles short of Hobart Town we stopped a moment at a hotel. St. Kevin O’Doherty climbed the coach, and sat down directly in front of me, looking straight in my face. A flood of light from the house was upon us at the moment. He had come out expressly to meet me; he knew I was to be dressed as a priest, yet I was a total stranger to him. Before going down into the centre of the town, I made the coachman pull up, left the coach, and walked through the dark streets (for the city is not lighted) to Connellan’s house, in Collins Street. I knocked at the door; it was opened by Nicaragua.
“Is Mr. Connellan at home, sir?”
“No, sir; he has gone out to take a drive.”
“Will he soon return?”
Nicaragua all this time was looking at me curiously and anxiously. Connellan, in fact, had gone to Bridgewater, in a gig for me. It was now full time for him to return, and when a stranger came instead, poor Nicaragua thought all was over, that I had been taken, and that his visitor was a detective come to search for papers — such an atmosphere of “preternatural suspicion” do men breathe in this Tartarean island.
I saw now that my disguise might carry me through a birthday ball at Government House. I walked into the hall, shut the door, went into the parlour, where lights were burning, took off my broad-brimmed hat, looked at Nicaragua, and laughed. Then he knew me. It was the first time we had met since we exchanged horses and coats in the wood behind Bothwell, just five weeks ago, and he has since had almost as much travelling and hardship as myself.
He has much to tell me; was up two or three days ago at Nant Cottage. All well there; every one in Bothwell, and all over the island, laughing at Mr. Davis, the police magistrate. A song is sung now in those parts, celebrating his worship’s horse, Donald, that he lent his prisoner to escape upon. There are grave suspicions over him; and many will continue to believe that I bought not the horse, but the owner. This makes his worship nearly frantic; and he has since converted his police office into a kind of fortress, with two armed constables, instead of one, always keeping guard at the door, who have the strictest orders never to hold any gentleman’s horse. They have really been too careless at these offices, and I take some credit for reforming the discipline of this one. Mr. Davis declares he will exculpate himself before all Europe; he will appeal to the human species. In the meantime, he sternly awaits an attack from John Knox.
Nicaragua himself goes everywhere without molestation, having been a mere spectator in the Bothwell affair, and not an actor; but his motions are watched closely; and on Connellan’s coming into the house, it was decided that I could not stay in that house, even for one night, in safety. Nicaragua and I, therefore, left the door at different times, walked different ways, and met at Mr. Maning’s door. Mr. Maning is agent in Hobart Town for Macnamara’s ships, and I knew him to be well-affected to me, although a frequenter of Government House, and birth-day balls, and the like.
In half-an-hour we had our plan arranged. The Emma, regular passenger-brig, sails hence for Sydney within a week. Nicaragua sets out to-morrow for Bothwell, to hasten and assist the winding-up of all affairs at Nant Cottage, sale of stock, etc., so as to enable my wife and family to sail by the same vessel — they to go on board at the wharf, and be regularly “cleared” by the authorities — I, being contraband, to be taken down the bay by Maning himself, in his own boat — the Emma to time her lifting anchor, so as to drop down the stream at dusk — I, to be put on board in the dark three or four miles below, but to preserve my incognito strictly while on board, even to my own children. There might be some disaffected passengers in the Emma; and if any of them should know me and betray my presence in Sydney, I would be as certainly arrested there as in Hobart Town itself. Meantime, Mr. Maning has brought me out to-night to the house of his father, two miles down the Sandy Bay road, in a quiet country place, where I am to remain concealed till the ship sails.
This is a bold move; but, unless some untoward accident occurs, it will be successful. Then away for San Francisco.
July 19th — At Sea. — The Emma, with all sails set, is gliding northwards. Maria Island, O’Brien’s old dungeon, is straight opposite, and the long-stretching mountainous coast of Van Diemen’s Land extending to windward as far as the eye can reach.
Yesterday evening I was placed on board in the bay by moonlight. Capt. Brown received me as a passenger he had been expecting, merely observing: “You were almost too late, Mr. Wright” — then brought me down to the cabin, and introduced Mr. Wright to the passengers, including Nicaragua. My wife was sitting on the poop with the children in the moonlight, eagerly watching my embarkation, but did not say a word to me; and Mr. Wright walked about as a stranger. The ship is full of passengers; but not one of them knows me.
July 20th. — This evening we are fast shutting down the coast of Van Diemen’s Land below the red horizon, and about to stretch across the stormy Bass’s Straits. The last of my island prison visible to me is a broken line of blue peaks over the Bay of Fires. Adieu, then, beauteous island, full of sorrow and gnashing of teeth — Island of fragrant forests, and bright rivers, and fair women! — Island of chains and scourges, and blind, brutal rage and passion! Behind those far blue peaks, in many a green valley known to me, dwell some of the best and warmest-hearted of all God’s creatures; and the cheerful talk of their genial fire-sides will blend for ever in my memory with the eloquent song of the dashing Derwent and deep-eddying Shannon.
Van Diemen’s Land is no longer a penal colony. That is to say, the British Government, yielding with a very ill grace to the imperious remonstrances of five potent colonies, has announced that no more prisoners shall be sent thither. In a generation or two, then, the convict taint may be well-nigh worn out of the population; and those most lovely vales will be peopled by beings almost human. May it be so! Tasmania will then be the brightest of the five Australasian stars that have already dawned on their blue Southern banner.
Vanish the peaks of the Bay of Fires; a storm is gathering, and the Straits are going to show us this night the utmost they can do. I go below, and having already formed some casual acquaintance with Nicaragua and other passengers, Mr. Wright sits down to smoke and chat.
July 23rd — Sunrise. — We are off the entrance to Sydney harbour — Narrow entrance; perpendicular cliffs on both sides. Lighthouse perched on one of them. After getting through the entrance, a spacious bay appears, running into many coves stretching in all directions, in every one of which a fleet might lie at anchor. Low wooded hills all around. The city crowns the head of the bay, and who needs to be informed that there is plenty of shipping.
Here, Mr. Wright must run the gauntlet again; for the Emma, as usual, is to be searched by police authorities, and they possess undoubtedly a description (probably a too flattering portrait) of the man of five feet ten, with dark hair. But Captain Brown, who is familiar with the chief officer, takes him at once down to the cabin, produces brandy and water, tells the official person some new anecdote of a jocose description, and so gets rid of him. Then he makes ready his own boat, and tells Mr. Wright that he is going to bring him ashore first. Mr. Wright nods a slight farewell to Nicaragua, and his other acquaintances among the passengers; but does not presume to address Mrs. Mitchel (not having been introduced to that lady), and drops into the boat.
Twelve o’clock. — Mr. Wright was conducted by the captain straight to Macnamara’s house in the best part of the city. Was kindly received by Mr. James Mancamara (his father is now in Melbourne), is domiciled in the house for the present, and, instead of Wright, has become “Warren.”
Nicaragua is to take lodgings for the family. And my friend James Macnamara, has gone out to inquire about a ship — any ship bound either for San Francisco, Tahiti, or the Sandwich Islands.