The following letter was written to Mr. ‘Miller’ by Mitchel from Hobart Town:—
MY DEAR BAKER,
As I have still, unluckily, some leisure to spend in Van Diemen’s Land, I sit down to give you an account of myself since I parted from you at Spring Lawn. No doubt you will be interested to hear of the after-fortunes of your protégé and brother. The Burkes brought me successfully to Launceston, where we arrived between six and seven o’clock. I was very tired, and counted upon going at once on board the Clarence and sleeping in my berth. However, when our friends came up to Mr. Butler’s, they told me that Saunders strongly dissuaded me from going on board at Launceston, and from subjecting myself to official eyes at Georgetown. So he advised that I should go down the river that same night (Tuesday) in a boat, and board him near the lighthouse, after he had passed the clearing officer. The night was wild, wet, and stormy; nevertheless the indefatigable Edward Dease procured a boat and we went down about eleven o’clock, and embarked, Dease, Connellan, and myself with three boatmen. Winds against, but tide with us. Before dawn, arrived at Barrett’s, knocked him up, breakfasted, put his boat in requisition, and he, very kindly, offered to come down to Georgetown with us. About three o’clock we arrived opposite Georgetown. Barrett put me ashore on the west bank along with Connellan, in order that he might go over to Georgetown and show himself, and assign various causes of his expedition ‘to take the down off.’ Saunders’ arrangement had been to make it dusk before getting down to Lagoon Bay, and as the process of clearance always occupies an hour-and-a-half in Bryan’s Bay our plan was that as soon as the Clarence should be boarded by the police-boat, Barrett should come across again from Georgetown, take me up at Kelso (to which I was to walk), and then pull down to the Heads so as to be in the steamer’s track. Now, sir, this project seemed to us all a very good plot indeed; but the devil himself, with infernal ingenuity contributed to spoil it. For the devil had put it into the head of his friend the clearing-officer, to go up to Launceston himself the day before, and he was actually coming down to Georgetown on board the Clarence; and to save time he carried on his inspection all the time, still prompted by the devil, and so when the police-boat came off, he had nothing to do but drop into her, and the steamer held on her way without an instant’s stoppage. Thus is happened that by the time Barrett’s boat had come over to Kelso for me, and I had got into her, the steamer was down just inside the Lighthouse point. Then she lay to a short time, perhaps a quarter of an hour; but our boat not appearing she put on the steam again and was out of the Heads and away. Dan Burke was on board the Clarence, and he says the captain kept a sharp lookout for us with a glass and that he saw Barrett’s boat going over to Kelso, but of course he could not understand that movement, and when he did not see her coming out from Kelso again immediately he concluded that something had gone wrong and that he would not be justified in remaining any longer. Yet one other half hour would have brought us within hail of him, and it was not yet dusk. In fact all our boat’s motions were clearly visible from Georgetown, so that I really think he was bound to lie-to till dusk, remembering that we could not have anticipated the unusual circumstance of the steamer passing Georgetown without a moment’s delay for clearing. I am unwilling to blame Captain Saunders, and Dan Burke (who came on shore with the pilot) says that Captain Saunders, in his opinion, did what he had engaged to do, and was most anxious to get me on board. So I blame nobody except, as aforesaid, the devil.
Well, sir, we all came up that night to Barrett’s. I then determined to push on to Launceston the same night, to go straight to Hobart Town by the next night’s mail. About twelve o’clock at midnight, therefore, we took to our first boat again, bade adieu to Mr. Barrett, and set sail. It was Wednesday last, and, if you remember, it blew a gale. Our boat was one of the watermen’s little boats and a mere eggshell. We were twice run aground on sandbanks, and the boat nearly filled; at last, in a severe squall, we were obliged (to avoid swamping) to run the boat ashore, haul her up, and sit down to spend the night. It rained horribly—we had all been, hours before, wet to the bones; we could hardly make a fire, but at length accomplished it and stayed there five hours, all sulky, wet, sleepy, savage. Daylight came at last. The devil himself cannot keep the sun from rising; and in short we got to Launceston, but not as we had counted upon, in the dark. It was eleven o’clock, forenoon &c. Dan Burke and I walked through the streets coolly and quietly, to Father Butler’s. That night there was no inside place to be had in the mail, so I had to stay till Friday night, and then, rigged in a clerical coat with standing collar, narrow white muslin band round my neck and broad hat, I took my seat in the coach. I wish you had seen how the reverend men, Fathers Butler and Maguire, laughed as they dressed me and how truly venerable I looked. Connellan came with me, but here again the devil wanted to play the devil with me, for he put into the coach, as a fellow-passenger, Mr. Edward MacDowell, a lawyer, a man who had seen me once and talked with me, and who is said to be one of the sharpest fellows in Demon’s Land. My cue, therefore, was silence and reserve. He introduced the subject of religion, asked me questions about my bishop, quoted Latin; but I was sly, shy, quite Jesuitical, and I have no doubt he was entirely disgusted with my manners. But he did not, I am certain, suspect who I was. To shorten my long story I am here all safe and secret, living in a house two miles down the Sandy Bay Road, and can see, as I write, the brig Emma, that is to carry me off next Saturday. What is especially amusing, my wife and children are coming down this week to sail by the same Emma, so we shall land in Sydney together, and together sail for San Francisco or Panama. No difficulty is anticipated in getting me on board here, if the enemy only continue to be mystified for six days longer. However, I will keep this letter to the last moment and let it not be posted to you until the day after I have sailed. I have been thus minute in my history because I do really believe that you and your kind wife take an interest in my fortunes. Sometimes I have regretted that I did not stay, when I was at Spring Lawn, as William Baker I might, by this time, have been on board the Wave. As it is, I have undoubtedly run far greater risks, and my risks are not yet over. Still all looks well at present, and I am not given to despondency. I have been for three days the Rev. Mr. Blake—two days before that I was the Rev. Mr. MacNamara (whose name you may see in the papers as one of the passengers by the Clarence) and now, since last night, I am Mr. Wright, supercargo of a ship shortly to sail. I don’t know what my alias will be next week. But under whatever name I may skulk out of these colonies, be assured that I shall always remember with delight and gratitude the pleasant days I spent with you, and the true kindness of Mrs. Baker and all your family. Conveying most respectful regards to Mrs. Baker and the young ladies.
My dear Baker,
Your warm and grateful friend,
Alias Johnston, alias Baker, alias MacNamara, alias Blake, alias Wright.