Old Tales of a Young Country

John Mitchel’s Escape from Van Diemen’s Land

Marcus Clarke

AT TWO o’clock in the afternoon of the 7th of April, 1850, the convict ship “Neptune” cast anchor in the Derwent. The fortunes and freight of the “Neptune” were uncommon. She had come from Bermuda to the Cape with convicts, but the inhabitants of Cape Town refused to allow the prisoners to land, refused even to supply food for them, and the “Neptune,” after some red-tapery, was compelled to set sail for Van Diemen’s Land. On board her, rejoicings prevailed. While yet at anchor in Simon’s Bay, despatches from Lord Grey were read, which, “in compensation for the hardships of their long voyage and detention,” graciously extended to all the prisoners Her Majesty’s conditional pardon, “except to the prisoner Mitchel.” So on the 8th the prisoners land in high spirits (after an eleven months and seventeen days’ cruise in the “Neptune,” land of any sort is pleasant), and twelve of the most powerful ruffians are straightway made constables. The “prisoner Mitchel,” however, yet remains on board, ignorant whether he will be returned to that solitary confinement that had held him at Bermuda, or clapped into the cells at Maria Island in company with the other prisoner, “William Smith O’Brien.”

The sufferings of the “prisoner Mitchel” up to this point are interesting enough, but this is not the place in which to enlarge upon them. Suffice it to say that he was one of those Irish exiles, those “rash and most unfortunate men,” who, agonised at the struggles of their unhappy country choking in the red-tape bonds of English misgovernment, attempted to cut the knot with the sword, and failed. The Alexander of Ireland had not yet come.

Yet, looking back for a moment upon that most miserable time, I cannot see what else remained to the Young Ireland party. They had carefully planned a revolution of moral force. Ireland was to be regenerated. Irishmen were to be educated out of their prejudices. Ireland was to recover what she had lost by the Union, and claim for herself the right of legislation. The Nation (brilliant meteor, now quenched in the blackest of Irish bogs) was the lever by which the world was to be moved. The Nation spoke the voice of the leaders of the people, and, conducted with surprising ability, made itself a power almost before men were aware of its existence. Like the infant Hercules, it began to strangle serpents in its cradle. But this “moral force” met with an unexpected check. From universal peace, Europe flamed suddenly into war. France and Austria almost simultaneously shook with revolution, and in the excitement of the time the prudent leaders of the Irish people lost sight of prudence and “moral suasion.” If ever there was a time to strike for Ireland, it would seem to have come then! If ever the Irish people were to be free, then did Freedom appear to hover nearest them! All was arranged, all planned. France and America both gave hopes of assistance; the people, famished and despairing, called out to be led against their oppressors. The “rising” was fixed for September, and had it occurred then it would have in all probability succeeded. But the Irish camp swarmed with traitors, and the minutest intelligence concerning the projects of the Confederation was borne to the English Cabinet. On all sides the enthusiasts were cheated and betrayed—their most trusted agents were in reality spies, hired with English bank-notes.

Having made itself master of the designs of the “rebels,” the English Parliament determined to force the Revolution to a premature birth, and so abort it without further trouble. The instrument used was a Treason and Felony Bill, which, passed through both Houses in one night, was transmitted to Ireland by the next packet. The arrest of the conspirators was resolved upon. The tallest poppies were cropped the first, and the Confederation saw with dismay its best men plucked from its midst and lodged in gaol. A hurried council of war was held in the cell of the Enjolras of this Irish Rue St. Denis, and it was resolved to strike at once. Better to perish with arms in hands than to be silently and ignominiously handcuffed. War was declared, and the “rising” took place. But English policy had been successful. The people were unprepared, foreign assistance was withheld; the stores, dependent on the harvest of September, were not yet arrived; the very leader was a makeshift. Mr. Smith O’Brien, a country gentleman of moderate fortune and high social standing, was forced into the position of general of these ragged forces. He was brave and enthusiastic, but utterly unfitted for the position in which the turn of fortune had placed him. It was necessary, however, to have a name at the head of the movement, and “O’Brien” was a watchword as dear to Irish hearts as had been “Stewart” or “Montrose” to the Highlanders of Scotland. Thus the “revolution” began—we know how it ended amid a savage horse-laugh from all in England.

There is to me something most pathetic in this Irish rebellion stifled in its birth. If the patriots—for no man will, I trust, deny them that title—had been shot down in the heat of battle, or executed on the scaffold, the world would have accorded to them the respect they merited; but to raise an insurrection which is put down by a corporal’s guard, to light the torch of revolution only to see it extinguished by a bucket of water, to be captured in a gooseberry garden and put in a Tasmanian corner like a naughty boy—most miserable! Poor Ireland’s poverty has ever made her ridiculous, and to the sensitive, the torture of merited ridicule is of all tortures the greatest. In the day of defeat there was scarce a writer of any note in England who had the manliness to refrain from a sneer at the defeated. Even Thackeray—whose genius should have restrained him—rhymed in stinging couplets about “Meagher of the swoord,” and “Shmith O’Brine.” Everything connected with the brave and foolish Irishmen which should have been respected, was cruelly sneered at, and held up to laughter. Their names, their accent, their patriotism, their ancestors, their affections, and their nationality—all were assailed in turn. The high aspirations, earnest labours, patriotic enthusiasm, and unhappy fate of these men, seemed to the English press the best joke in the world. The jokers did not scruple to invent lies even, and to this hour the malignant fiction of poor Smith O’Brien’s cabbage-bed is devoutly believed by a variety of respectable Philistines.

But to return. John Mitchel, originally an attorney practising in the north of Ireland, had by some writings of his attracted the attention of the editor of the Nation, who invited him to Dublin, and placed him on the staff of that journal. The reckless impetuosity of the man—unable to recognise that moderation, when used as means to an end, is always more damaging to an enemy than ill-judged outbursts of futile anger—could not understand the apparent sloth of the Nation’s movements. He quarrelled with the editor, and set up for himself an opposition paper, the United Irishman, which became the recognised organ of the headstrong, and which, I am afraid, assisted by its senseless kicking against the pricks to exhaust the strength of the Young Ireland party. When the blow fell, he was among the first of the captured, and was sent to Bermuda, where he was treated with respect and consideration, but put into solitary confinement. A man of ardour, taste, and education, his soul sickened at this horrible seclusion from his kind, and he would have become as insane as one of the hermit-saints. His nature was fiery, impetuous, and kind; his abilities were imitative and acute. His “Prison Journal” (from which this narrative is in part compiled), though drenched with a perverse conceit, is a remarkable production. Though in style slavishly imitative of Carlyle, and overlaid with that tawdry ornamentation which is at once the blot and the brilliancy of Irish eloquence, the book is marked by passages of extreme beauty of imagination and vigour of thought. The fact that it was evidently written with an eye to publication, and that the writer, in the midst of his most unreasoning outbursts of passion and savagest denunciation of British tyranny, has ever before him his own figure bowing in the character of a martyred man of genius to an admiring reader, tends to raise a doubt as to the trustworthiness of the information conveyed. In this journal the slow torments he suffered at Bermuda are all set down. I take up the thread of the narrative with the landing in Van Diemen’s Land.

The “political prisoners,” as they were called, were permitted to reside at large in the police districts, out of communication with each other, on condition of reporting themselves to the police magistrate once a month. “This condition of existence,” says Mitchel, “is, I find, called a ticket-of-leave. I may accept it or not, as I think proper, or having accepted I may resign it; but first of all I must give my promise that so long as I hold the said ticket I shall not escape from the colony.” Smith O’Brien refused to give this promise, but Martin, Meagher, and the rest did so. Mitchel being in ill-health did not think it necessary to emulate the self-denial of Smith O’Brien, and so was sent to Bothwell, a charming village on the Clyde, there to reside on parole. The reason of Mr. O’Brien’s apparent Quixotism was this. It was decided by the poor fellows that they would treat England as a hostile power, and instead of protesting against the severity of their sentence, exclaim with all power of body and breath against what they considered the injustice of their trial. “The whole of the proceedings are monstrous,” was in effect their plea. “We are not traitors, for Ireland has been usurped. If you imprison us with convicts, we will not tacitly acknowledge ourselves criminals by purchasing indulgence at the expense of submission. We regard ourselves illegally in duress, and we will escape when we think proper.”

Plots to escape were numerous, and Smith O’Brien was twice nearly torn out of Maria Island. The treachery of those who should have befriended him, however, caused the failure of the best-laid scheme, and he was removed to Port Arthur, where a little hut was set apart for his reception. The story of this attempted escape makes a pendant to that of Mitchel himself. The friends of O’Brien in Hobart Town had bargained with a man named Ellis, the captain of a small schooner, to hover about the island until a fitting opportunity arose for the sending on shore a boat which should pick off the prisoner. O’Brien was at that time permitted to walk over the island attended by an armed constable, and his friends having succeeded in communicating to him their plans, it was decided that when the boat came ashore he should elude his warder and scramble aboard her, when Ellis would make all sail for San Francisco. Ellis, however, had sold the details of this desperate plot to the Government, and the gaolers at Maria Island were in full possession of every particular. Every step of O’Brien’s daily walk was watched, and his eager glances towards the sea-board noted with grins and jerkings of elbows. At last the boat appeared, and O’Brien, having, as he thought, seen his warder safely into the bush, ran down to the beach, and plunging into the water, waded towards his rescuers. The water was shallow, and thick with tangled weeds. He could not climb into the boat without assistance, and while leaning over the gunwale, the constable appeared with his musket. “The moment he showed himself,” says Mitchell, “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 that he was betrayed, and on being ordered to move along with the constable and the boatmen towards the station, refused to stir, hoping, in fact, by his resistance to provoke the constable to shoot him. However, he was seized, and carried to his cell. Removed to Port Arthur, he afterwards gave the required parole, and was set at liberty. Master Ellis was caught afterwards at San Francisco by some of the O’Brien party, and being brought out of his ship by night, was tried then and there by Lynch law, with a view to instant hanging, but was “acquitted for want of evidence.”

John Mitchel having got over the first agonies of separation and contumely, found life in Van Diemen’s Land pleasant enough. He had money and friends. Liberated on parole, he rode, walked, fished, shot, and hunted. Around him were many of his old friends; Martin, Meagher, and Doherty were living within a day’s journey of his house, and forbidden meetings were frequent. The squatters, and even constables and gaol officials, treated the “political prisoners” with respect. When passing a chain-gang of poor devils who, failing the dignity of revolution, had earned their misery by shooting a hare or snaring a partridge, the overseers “touched their hats” to the well-mounted, well-dressed, exiles. Yet the fact that they were prisoners—that a slight deviation from the rules laid down for them, that a momentary outbreak of passion against a “man in authority”—would condemn them to share the fate of the ruffianly hare-shooters, and desperate snarers of pheasants, rendered the thinking hours of the Irishmen heavy with angry regrets. They were free and merry, but the fabled sword yet hung suspended, and a caprice might at any time give them over to the coal mines of Port Arthur, or the travelling sheds of the road-gangs. That fortune had not cursed them with the companionship of those monsters among whom the poachers and rick-burners learnt to curse God and live, was much to be thankful for; but believing in their detention as infamous and unjust, nothing short of absolute freedom would content them. At every hour, in every place, the thought of their captivity embittered their pleasures. Did Mitchel ride afield, or read at home, gallop (in the company of the wife who had joined him) through the summer bush, or float with Meagher and Doherty on the bosom of the crater-lake Sorell in the fastnesses of the mountains, the same thought was present—he was a prisoner. Every page of his journal breathes the same sentiment.

“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 the Oatlands districts, 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.”


“We approach the brow of a deep glen, where trees of vast height wave their tops far beneath our feet, and the farther side of the glen is formed by a promontory that runs out into the bay, with steep and rocky sides worn into cliffs and caves—caves floored with silvery sand, shell-strewn, such as in European seas would have been consecrate of old to some Undine’s love—caves whither Ligeia, if she had known the way, might have come to comb her hair; and over the soft swelling slope of the hill above, embowered so gracefully in trees, what building stands? Is that a temple crowning the promontory as the pillared portico crowns. Sunium, or a villa carrying you back to Baiae? Damnation! it is a convict barrack.”

But help was nigh at hand. On the 3rd of January, 1853 (three years out of the fourteen having passed), the following entry appears in the journal:—“A new personage has appeared amongst us, dropped down from the sky, or from New York. When I arrived in Hobart Town two or three days ago, I went first, of course, to St. Mary’s Hospital, where I found St. Kevin in his laboratory. He opened his eyes wide when he saw me, drew me into a private room, and bid me guess who had come to Van Diemen’s Land. Guessing was out of the question, so I waited his revelation.

“Pat Smyth!”


“No, my boy—commissioned by the Irish Directory in New York to procure the escape of one or more of us, O’Brien especially, and with abundant means to secure a ship for San Francisco, and to provide for rescuing us if necessary out of the hands of the police magistrate after withdrawing the parole in due form.”

Smyth was to meet O’Brien and Kevin at Bridgewater that evening to arrange plans. Thither went John Mitchel; but some mischance delayed the coach, and the hour approaching when O’Brien and Kevin must return to their “registered lodgings,” Mitchel was left alone. By-and-bye the coach arrived, and amongst others a young man alighted. Mitchel guessed that the stranger must be the Smyth of whom he had heard, so walking round the coach, he abruptly accosted him. Smyth at first took him for a spy, but soon was convinced that he was one of the men he had been sent to seek. The next evening, at O’Brien’s lodgings at New Norfolk, the plot was unfolded. Smyth was hopeful and acute. He had himself passed through many perils, had agitated in Ireland, escaped in peasant guise to America, fulminated there with newspapers, raised friends and money, and now adventured his head a second time in the noose. He was well provided with letters of introduction, and with current coin. The sudden “gold-fields” excitement had brought to Australia many bold spirits ready to venture a ship in such a cause, and by dint of bribery and stratagem it would be easy to get the exiles aboard her. But Smith O’Brien would hear of but one mode of escape—to resign the parole, and then trust to fortune. Mitchel suggests that the four should place themselves in such a position as to be arrested all together, and then rescue themselves by force of arms, or that the parole should be simultaneously withdrawn at all the police offices; but this notion is overruled. O’Brien’s sentence being for “life,” it was pressed upon him to avail himself first of the services of Smyth, but he refused. “I have had my chance,” he said, “and it has failed; the expenses incurred have been borne by public money; this is your chance—take it.” It was then decided that Smyth, or “Nicaragua,” as he was termed among the conspirators, should lend his best aid to rescue Mitchel, on condition that Mitchel gave up his parole, and did not make use of the liberty it afforded him to assist his escape.

All being decided upon, Smyth departed for Melbourne, there to obtain a ship and crew. John Mitchel began also to make his preparations. Mr. Davis, the police magistrate of the district, owned a white horse, “half Arab, full of game, and of great endurance.” Mitchel hearing that this horse might be bought, purchased him. “I don’t know the precise work you want him to do,” says Davis, “but you may depend upon his courage.” Mitchel, with an inward smile, stables his new purchase at Nant, and waits for news. On the 18th of March came a letter from Melbourne, and on the 24th Nicaragua himself arrived at Lake Sorell. All was prepared. The brigantine “Waterlily,” owned by John Macnamara of Sydney, was to come to Hobart Town, clear thence for New Zealand, and then coast to Spring Bay (on the east side of the island, about seventy miles from Bothwell), and lie there for two days. Mitchel was to go to the police-office at Bothwell, accompanied by Nicaragua and five others, all armed, and having delivered up his parole, gallop on his new horse midway to Spring Bay, where a relay would be provided, and reach the shore by midnight. A boat sent by Macnamara would pick him up, and if the police at the Spring Bay Station attempted a rescue, so much the worse for them.

On Sunday evening, however, a friendly resident at Bothwell informed the six that “all was known,” the Governor had for a fortnight been informed of Nicaragua’s intentions, the “Waterlily” was purposely allowed to clear out of Hobart Town, the police force at Spring Bay had been doubled, and two constables were on watch at Mitchel’s cottage. In Mitchel’s own language, “the plot was blown to the moon!” and the party dispersed with heavy hearts.

On the 12th of April an incident occurred which, appearing at the time unfortunate, proved ultimately the aid to escape. Nicaragua, going to Spring Bay to send off the “Waterlily,” was arrested as John Mitchel. He was carried to Hobart Town, and there lay sick. Mitchel went to see him, and the two determined to seize upon the first opportunity to escape together. It was not, however, until the 6th of June that such opportunity offered itself. Then Smyth found a ship about to sail for Sydney, the captain of which would receive his friend on board. A week after this, Mitchel and Smyth started from Nant Cottage to make their desperate venture. Nicaragua rode Donald the Arab, and Mitchel a half-bred mare named Fleur-de-lis.

A quarter of a mile from the house, Mitchel’s boy coming at full gallop from Bothwell met them. He bore a note from the shipping agent. The ship had gone—it was impossible to keep her longer without exciting suspicion. Nevertheless, it was resolved to give up the parole as agreed, and to hide in the mountains until a means of escape presented itself. With this last hope, then, the two galloped to Bothwell. They overtook a Mr. Denniston, who chatted agreeably about agricultural matters, and asked Mitchel if he meant to put any of his land in crop for the ensuing season. Mitchel answered truly enough that he “did not know.” At Bothwell their companion left them, and the pair rode leisurely down the main street. At the police-barrack on the hill were eight or nine constables armed, “undergoing a sort of drill,” while at the door was as usual a constable on guard. A Mr. Barr, “a worthy Scotch gentleman and magistrate of the district,” was standing close to the gate. The two boys had by this time reached the township, and flinging the reins to them as agreed upon, Mitchel and Smyth walked into the police-office. Mr. Davis, the magistrate, was sitting at a table in the court-room. His clerk was with him, and a constable was in the police-office itself.

“Mr. Davis,” says Mitchel, “here is a copy of a note which I have sent to the Governor.”

Davis cast his eye over the note and looked up at Mitchel. Nicaragua planted himself at his friend’s side with a menacing gesture, one hand thrust into his breast feeling the butt of his revolver. Mitchel held in his hand a heavy riding-whip, and had two pistols in his breast-pocket.

The note ran as follows:—

        “Bothwell, 8th June, 1853.

“To the Lieut.-Gov., &c.

“Sir—I hereby resign the ticket-of-leave, and withdraw my parole. I shall forthwith present myself before the police-magistrate of Bothwell, at his office, show him a copy of this note, and offer myself to be taken into custody.

“Your obedient servant,

        “JOHN MITCHEL.”

Mr. Davis, feeling doubtless pretty certain that if he accepted Mr. Mitchel’s offer he would be shot dead upon the spot, stared speechless.

“You see,” says Mitchel, “my parole is at an end. I offer myself to be taken into custody.”

Still the magistrate and clerk gaped.

“Good morning!” says Mitchel, putting on his hat, and moving to the door.

“No, no, stop!” cried Davis; “stay here! Rainsford! constables!

The movement, which probably brought the hands out of those dangerous breast-pockets, broke the spell.

But it was too late. The constables had heard nothing and knew nothing, saw only the “ticket-of-leave prisoner, Mitchel,” accompanied by his friend, walk out into the court, and—any suspicions they may have had silenced by Smyth’s “judicious bribery”—only ran against each other in confusion. The pair leaped into their saddles, and nodding to a few “grinning residents of Bothwell,” who “knew the meaning of the performance in a moment,” dashed down the street at full gallop. A mile deep in the forest the fugitives changed horses. Smyth riding due north to Nant Cottage on Fleur-de-lis, intending to make for Oatlands, and thence by coach to Launceston. Mitchel, a mile further, met a friend, T—H—, who undertook to guide him to Lake Sorell through the mountains. All night they rode, only to lose their way in the thick darkness, and camp on the edge of a precipice in the wildest part of the ranges. In the morning they reach the hut of “old Job Sims,” the friendly shepherd of Mr. Russell (Job had assisted already at the escape of Meagher), and there Mitchel wrote to his wife telling her of his fortune. The next day he fell in with friends, and received the hospitality of a gentleman who had a “large and handsome house at the base of the Western Tier.” Mitchel calls him “Wood,” and says in a foot-note that “Wood is a fictitious name.” At the farmhouse of a Mr. Burke, six miles from “Wood’s,” he lay concealed, waiting for news of Nicaragua and a chance of escape.

In the meantime Nicaragna had done well. Galloping furiously to Oatlands, he inquired eagerly for “horses to Spring Bay,” slipped out of the hotel, climbed the wall, got round to the road, met the coach, and went by it to Launceston, lying hid there duly shaved and disguised. Seven mounted police despatched by Davis to “scour the country” find Mitchel’s Fleur-de-lis reeking with sweat in the stable at Oatlands, and hearing that a gentleman had been asking for horses to Spring Bay, make desperately in that direction. The Westbury police are patrolling day and night, though bets are freely made in Hobart Town that Mitchel has left the island; Davis is laughed at a good deal; Sir William Denison repudiates all notion of the prisoner’s letter; the constable who was on duty at Davis’s door is dismissed for having been “bribed,” and, getting amazingly drunk that evening, loudly expresses his hope that Mitchel is safely out of the island. In the meantime a strict watch is kept upon all “suspected persons.”

So matters shape themselves until the 20th, when a friend, riding to Burke’s farm-house by night, brings a letter from Nicaragua. That indefatigable conspirator is at Hobart Town, openly walking about unarrested, and is negotiating with Macnamara, of the “Don Juan,” brigantine. Two days after this, another message arrives. The “Don Juan” is secured, and will call at Emu Bay on the 27th. Mitchel must by hook or by crook be there to meet her. The floods are up, and to cross to Emu Bay by land is impossible. All the river mouths, moreover, are watched by police constables furnished with written descriptions of the prisoner Mitchel. In this dilemma a new arrangement is effected. A trusty messenger hurries to Launceston, there to tell the captain of the “Don Juan” to lie off a “solitary beach” to the west of the mouth of the Tamar, somewhere between West-head and Badger-head. To this place Mitchel can get without crossing any river but the Meander.

On the night of the 24th a start was made. The weather was gloomy and foreboding, the flooded meres and marshes now sheets of thin ice. Mitchel having despatched two letters, one to his wife, one to his mother in New York, gives himself into the hands of his guides and body-guard. This last is of considerable number, consisting of the two Burkes, Mr. “Wood,” and his brother O’K—, O’Mara, Burke’s brother-in-law, and Foley, “a gigantic Tipperary boy.” All day long prudent Mrs. Burke occupies herself with preparations for the journey, and “amongst other things,” the good creature gets some lead, and judiciously casts bullets.

After two days and nights of the flooded bush, scrambling up mountain-sides, fording swollen creeks, and shivering benighted among winter woods, the party reached Badger-head, only to find the brigantine departed. Wearily waiting, at length another brigantine appeared, but, despite all signal-fire and smoke, held on her course. Something was wrong, and Mitchel’s escort determined to place him for safety in the hands of a Mr. Miller, who owned a station on the shores of Port Sorell. Miller—a hater of Sir William Denison— promised to do his best for the fugitive, and with him Mitchel stopped four days, waiting for the “Don Juan.” Sick to death of this hand-to-mouth liberty, he urges upon Miller a variety of desperate schemes, and at last hits upon one that seems to have in it some gleam of sense. Four miles down the river lies the “Wave,” about to sail for Melbourne with a cargo of sawn timber, and Mitchel shall sail in her as Miller’s brother. All is arranged, the chief constable who “clears” the vessel unsuspicious, when a message arrives that changes all their plans. Mr. Dease, a merchant of Launceston, has secured for Father Macnamara a passage in the steamer to Melbourne. So Father Macnamara, in the person of Mitchel, bids farewell to the Millers, and in the dress of a Catholic priest gets to Launceston through pouring rain. Mr. Miller’s brother will not sail this trip.

But the haven is far from won. Rumours of the fugitive’s midnight rides are afloat, and the captain of the steamer says that the rigour of searching has been so much increased of late that he durst not take the holy father aboard. Macnamara must risk his cloth and life in an open boat to the mouth of the Tamar, there to lie until the steamer in passing can fling him some unseen rope. The night sets in wet and stormy, and drenched, weary, and despairing, Macnamara arrived just before dawn at a point of the river seventeen miles from George Town. There a man named Barrett was to take him aboard another boat, and get him to the steamer. Lying hid on the banks of the Tamar, the false priest saw the steamer pass, pause, then make direct for the heads, and then pause again. Barrett had gone across to George Town to make some excuse for bringing out his boat, and did not return for an hour. The steamer could not wait, and after fifteen minutes got up steam. Father Macnamara sitting in the stern of Barrett’s returned boat, and pulled by four strong men desperately down the bay, saw her suddenly sweep round the lighthouse and disappear. There was nothing for it but to get back to Launceston with all speed.

Lying hid in the well-bushed banks again until night, the hunted wretch made the passage up the river. The night was as black as pitch, the rain poured in torrents, the woods groaned and shrieked; nothing was visible but the glimmer of the white foam on the water. Four times was the boat driven ashore, and the fourth time, when sixteen miles from Launceston, the boatmen refused to proceed further, and exhausted and disheartened, flung themselves on the wet banks, and slept under the pouring rain. Desperate Mitchel now resolved to trust to his disguise, and go to Hobart Town by the public coach, so, getting into Launceston by midday, he walked coolly down the street to the house of a friend, and having eaten, took passage as Father Blake by the night coach. He accomplished his journey safely, notwithstanding that he had a fellow-passenger, the Hon. T. M’Dowell, then Attorney-General, who tried to get him into conversation about his “bishop.” At Green Ponds, where every creature knew him by sight, he had a narrow escape. The chief-constable, on “special business,” looked in upon him; but Father Blake, with one hand on the farthest door-handle, and the other grasping the butt of a pistol hidden beneath his cassock, met the inquiring gaze unflinchingly. At Bridgewater Father Blake alighted, feeling that to brave the “door of the Ship Inn in Hobart Town, crowded with detectives,” would be madness. He spent the day walking by the river bank, and took passage by the night coach to Hobart Town. In the centre of the town he made the coachman pull up, and walked to Conellan’s house in Collins street. The door was opened by Nicaragua himself, the first time they had met since they changed horses on the banks of the Clyde five weeks before. Father Blake was among friends at last.

Half an hour sufficed to arrange their plans. Conellan’s house was watched and was unsafe, so Mitchel, as “Mr. Wright,” was to lie for a week at the house of Mr. Manning (Macnamara’s agent), and then take passage in the passenger brig “Emma,” for Sydney; Nicaragua to start for Bothwell in the morning, and bring down Mrs. Mitchel and the children, who would go on board the “Emma” openly, “Mr. Wright” being picked up in the evening by a special boat.

On the 19th of July the “Emma” cleared out of Hobart Town, and the next day a Mr. Wright, who has appeared on board; makes casual acquaintance with Nicaragua and some of the other passengers, and sits down to smoke and chat. Mrs. Mitchel with her children—the object of compassion to many worthy souls aboard— watches Mr. Wright eagerly, but does not speak to him. On the 23rd of July Mr. Wright, under the name of “Warren,” is domiciled at the house of James Macnamara, in Sydney, waiting for a vessel, and in the meantime lionises Sydney, “a seaport town of 80,000 inhabitants,” says he, “and there’s an end.”

At length a cabin passage is secured for Mr. Warren in the “Orkney Lass,” bound for Honolulu, and on the 2nd of August that good ship was cleared at Sydney Heads, and John Mitchel, at five o’clock in the evening, saw the “coast of New South Wales a hazy line upon the purple sea, fading into a dream.”

Of his further adventures, until he landed on the 29th of November, 1853, in Brooklyn, it is not my province to here relate. His family followed him, and in America his faculties found scope for expansion. Among the Confederates his name is almost famous.

A word, however, about the manner of escape. It is hard to say that Mitchel broke his parole, but I am afraid that at best his escape was due to a melodramatic quibble. He certainly gave up his “ticket-of-leave” before he attempted escape, but he made all the arrangements for escape by virtue of the liberty which that ticket-ofleave afforded him. His parole obtained him interviews with Smyth, freedom to plot, money, horses, and arms. To march like a stage hero into a police-office, and with hand on pistol (purchased by virtue of the parole) disdainfully ask an unarmed police magistrate to take him into custody, was not an honest withdrawal of his plighted word. To fulfil the terms of his contract with the Government, he should have placed himself in the hands of the constables in the condition he had been in when the parole was granted him—namely, unarmed, a prisoner, with bars and stone walls around him, and no fleet horse waiting at the door to carry him to safety, or bold companion at his side ready to withstand attempt at capture. Poor Smith O’Brien, eating his heart in his cell at Maria Island, better understood the nature of the promise of a gentleman. I am willing to believe, however, that Mitchel—perpetually posing as a hero—was blinded by the melodramatic heroies of the proceeding to a true comprehension of its merits.

Old Tales of a Young Country - Contents

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