For the Young Irelanders Van Diemen's Land was punishment heaped upon punishment. An outpost of the British Empire created as a receptacle for British criminals, Van Diemen's Land was in many ways both socially and culturally 'A little England'. Mitchel wrote in his Jail Journal that 'every sight and sound that strikes eye or ear on this mail road, reminds me that I am in a small misshapen, transported, bastard England; and the legitimate England itself is not so dear to me that I can love the convict copy'.1 For a group of Irish nationalists Van Diemen's Land was the last place they would choose to waste precious years of their life.
By the time Mitchel arrived in Hobart Town in November 1850 from his incarceration in Bermuda, the six other Young Irelanders had already arrived. Except for William Smith O'Brien, all had accepted conditional 'tickets-of-leave' and been allotted to different police districts throughout the Eastern half of the Island. Meagher, MacManus, O'Doherty and Martin were allocated to Campbell Town, New Norfolk, Oatlands and Bothwell districts respectively. O'Donohoe, not having any private financial means, was allowed to live in Hobart Town where the colonial authorities thought he might more easily find work.
In Van Diemen's Land convicts living under a ticket-of-leave could normally live where they liked in relative freedom on the condition that they report to government authorities twice a year, although this did not have to be done personally. However, because the Young Irelanders were political prisoners they were given conditional tickets-of-leave, which required them to observe five additional conditions. First, they had to give their parole or word of honour not to escape; second, they could not leave the police districts allotted to them, although they could move around them in relative freedom as long as they did not leave their residence after 10 p.m.; third, they were required to report any change of address within their local district to authorities; fourth, they were required to report in person once a month to their district Police Magistrate; and fifth — and most significantly — they were not to communicate with each other.2
For his part, O'Brien stubbornly refused to give his parole not to escape and thereby obtain a ticket-of-leave — despite remonstrations from the authorities, as well as from his family and friends. Consequently, he was kept on board the Swift, and not allowed to set foot in Hobart Town, before being transferred on the government steamer Kangaroo to the convict probation station Maria Island on the east coast of Van Diemen's Land. There he was incarcerated in a small cottage, within the convict precinct, until August 1850.
When Mitchel arrived in Van Diemen's Land he also, influenced by his fellow Young Irelanders and failing health, accepted a ticket-of-leave, and was allowed to join Martin in Bothwell. There they shared lodgings in a 'neat cottage of the village'.3 His diary records:
Wrote a note to the "Comptroller-General," and placed it in the hands of Emmett, informing him that I would promise not to escape so long as I should enjoy the "comparative liberty" of the ticket: and, on his suggestion and the doctor's, I wrote another note, telling the authorities I was very ill; had been ill for many months, and was utterly unfit to be sent off by myself, to one of the remote districts, amongst entire strangers. The doctor is to back this with his professional authority; and he and Emmett say the governor will be sure to allow me to go up to a place called Bothwell, where John Martin vegetates.4
One week after Mitchell's reunion with Martin at Bothwell, Martin took Mitchell to meet Meagher and O'Doherty at the geographical point where their allotted police districts overlapped. It was the first of many secret trysts the four Young Irelanders enjoyed at this location. The rendezvous point was a hut on the shore of Lake Sorell belonging to a local shepherd named Cooper. Martin, Meagher and O'Doherty had met at Cooper's hut before but with Mitchel's arrival the meetings took on a more clandestine tone. Mitchel described their first meeting at Lake Sorell on 15 August 1850 in his Jail Journal. Waiting for O'Doherty and Meagher, Mitchel and Martin first heard the gallop of horses. They heard 'a loud laugh', which Mitchel wrote was 'well known to me'. Then, recounts Mitchel, 'after Meagher and O'Doherty had thrown themselves from their horses' and exchanged greetings:
I know not from what impulse, whether from buoyancy of heart, or bizarre perversity of feeling — we all laughed till the woods rang around; laughed loud and long, and uproariously, till two teal rose, startled from the reeds on the lake-shore, and flew screaming to seek a quieter neighbourhood.5
This emotional reunion marked the beginning of many 'illegal' meetings of the Young Irelanders at Lake Sorell and their more or less controversial career in Van Diemen's Land. Meagher arranged one of the more memorable meetings between the Young Irelanders. When he discovered that the boundary between the Campbell Town and Oatlands Police Districts was at a place called Tunbridge, Meagher invited O'Doherty to dine with him there over several successive Mondays. The local publican served potatoes and gravy on a table that was placed midway across the bridge. Technically they were not breaching their boundary restrictions. After a time the Young Irelanders’ illegal meetings became so common that the authorities gave up trying to keep them apart.
For fourteen months Mitchel lived in Bothwell with Martin and during this time sent word back to Ireland for his wife Jenny to join him. Jenny bravely travelled out from Ireland in 1851 on the brig Union and arrived in Van Diemen's Land in June that year with their five children. Mitchel rode to Greenponds [now Kempton], the point of the public coach road nearest to Bothwell, to greet them. The reunion with his family was overwhelming and Mitchel recorded in his journal: 'Today I met my wife and family once more. These things cannot be described'.6 Subsequently Mitchel searched the Bothwell district for a house and farm that could accommodate them and decided on a 200-acre property called Nant, located on the Clyde River, which he stocked with sheep and cattle. Nant Cottage was located nearly three miles from Bothwell village and here the family resided in relative peace surrounded by rich pastoral land, rolling hills and a view of the steep escarpment of the Western Tiers in the distance.
Martin, invited to live with the Mitchels, seemed resigned to his life in exile. He spent his time writing letters to friends and family in Ireland and was emotionally sustained by his friendship with Mitchel and his family as well as his meetings with his comrades at Lake Sorell.
O'Doherty settled at Oatlands in a comfortable cottage on High Street [now Elm Cottage] where he continued his study of medicine, made friends with the local Catholic clergyman, Father Bond, and proceeded to use his time as usefully as possible.
While Jenny and Mitchel were settling into their home at Nant Cottage, O'Brien was experiencing a more eventful exile. Incarcerated at the probation station at Maria Island for the first ten months he still stubbornly refused to accept a ticket-of-leave. Historians speculate about whether this can be considered proof of O'Brien's intention to escape. Clearly to flout his word of honour by escaping after he had given his parole would have severely compromised his integrity as both an Irish aristocrat and a gentleman. His intentions, however, became apparent only four months after Mitchel’s arrival. At that point O'Brien tried to escape on a trading vessel called the Victoria. The ship was due to call at Maria Island on one of its regular visits before leaving for California, via Hobart Town. O'Brien noted in his private diary that he could not reveal all the particulars of the escape attempt, since his journal could be 'seized at any moment'.7 It appears, however, that the escape attempt was engineered and financed by a secret organisation of New York Irish nationalists known as the Irish Directory.
Unfortunately for O'Brien, the escape attempt fell foul of government spies. As O'Brien waded out to the dinghy that was to take him to the Victoria he was apprehended by the local constable, Thomas Hamerton. Emerging from the bushes, Hamerton 'pointed his gun at the boat's crew and ordered them ashore'.8 Clearly the government authorities had been informed. As punishment for O'Brien’s escape attempt Governor Denison promptly removed him to the secondary penal settlement at Port Arthur where he remained for the next three months in a small cottage on the hillside. Evidently prevailed upon by friends and family, O'Brien changed his mind about accepting parole and agreed to accept a ticket-of-leave with a promise not to escape for a period of six months. On approval of these conditions, he was subsequently assigned to the New Norfolk district where he took up residence at Elwin's Hotel on 20 November 1850. Apparently reconciled to his new status O'Brien then set about enjoying the company of the local aristocracy who appeared to reciprocate these feelings. Mitchell visited O'Brien several times and was introduced to O'Brien's friends.
To celebrate O'Brien's delivery from Port Arthur to New Norfolk, Meagher, MacManus, O'Doherty and O'Donohoe each paid visits to O'Brien. The visits, however, were fraught with controversy. Though Meagher managed to elude capture, MacManus, O'Doherty and O'Donohoe all were observed crossing their restriction boundaries and were consequently punished by Sir William Denison with three months’ hard labour at Port Arthur probation stations. MacManus was sent to the 'Cascades', O'Doherty to 'Salt Water River' and O'Donohoe to 'Impression Bay'. Two months into their sentences, MacManus and O'Doherty were released, but O'Donohoe, who on the advice of Earl Grey had been particularly targeted for punishment by Governor Denison because of his outspoken activities with the Irish Exile, was required to serve the whole three months. The episode had considerable repercussions for the exiles' view of their detention in Van Diemen's Land and subsequently their attitudes towards escape.
O'Doherty, who had been the first of the three to be sent to the probation stations at Port Arthur, was released early with the help of a petition organised by the Catholic Bishop Robert Wilson. MacManus, embroiled in a legal controversy over whether Governor Denison had any legal right to detain him at Port Arthur, was released shortly after O'Doherty. Later, however, government attorneys sought to overturn the court's findings and advised Denison that the government had cause to re-arrest MacManus and return him to Port Arthur. MacManus, who by this stage had travelled back to Launceston, was outraged and decided that any code of honour that existed between himself and the British penal authorities was now null and void. His health had suffered considerably while at the Cascades and he felt no compunction to keep his word of honour not to escape. An escape strategy was subsequently hatched, assisted and executed by sympathisers in Launceston who devised an ingenious plan. The farmer John Galvin, a MacManus look-alike, assumed the persona of MacManus and feigned sickness, thus providing an alibi for him, while MacManus himself hid in the home of Father Butler, an Irish priest. Around the end of February MacManus made his way to the river shore at George Town and was rowed to the clipper the Elizabeth Thompson and smuggled aboard after the ship had been searched. After a successful rendezvous MacManus eventually absconded to San Francisco. MacManus thus became the first Young Irelander to successfully escape from the colony. When safely in America MacManus gloated that he had outmanoeuvred his tyrants and 'left them in utter confusion' by escaping without breaking his parole.9
While O'Doherty, MacManus and O'Donohoe were either incarcerated at Port Arthur or embroiled in controversy about it, Thomas Meagher had been planning his forthcoming marriage to nineteen-year-old Catherine Bennett. The daughter of Brian Bennett, an ex-convict living in New Norfolk, Catherine was governess to the six children of Dr Edward Hall of Ross. Meagher met Catherine and the Halls when their vehicle broke down while travelling to Ross.10 Meagher, being the gentleman that he was, helped Dr Hall make the repairs. After assisting the children's attractive young governess from the conveyance he evidently became enchanted by her. His fellow Young Irelanders believed that Catherine was far below Meagher's social class. John Martin went so far as to suggest that Meagher was marrying Catherine 'all merely for want of something to do'.11 Meagher, however, was determined, and the marriage was scheduled for 22 February. MacManus, released from Port Arthur and on his way back to Launceston, attended the wedding.
Meagher and Catherine settled on the shores of Lake Sorell in a cottage [no longer extant] that Meagher built with a generous contribution from his father. Meagher farmed a small island in the middle of Lake Sorell, which he reached by boat. Mitchel’s Jail Journal recounts incidents on the lake and the route taken to reach Meagher's cottage:
We pass the Dog's Head promontory, and enter a rough winding path cut among the trees, which brings us to a quiet bay, or deep curve of the lake, at the head of which, facing one of the most glorious scenes of fairy-land, with the clear waters rippling at its feet, and a dense forest around and behind it, stands our friend's quiet cottage. A little wooden jetty runs out some yards into the lake; and at anchor, near the end of the jetty, lies the little Speranza, a new boat built at Hobart Town, and hauled up here, through Bothwell, a distance of seventy-five miles, by six bullocks.12
For the few months after their wedding, Meagher and Catherine were evidently happy. Three months into their married life Catherine became pregnant and began experiencing discomfort associated with the pregnancy. Combined with weakness caused by rheumatism her health caused the local doctors concern. Despite her condition and her isolation, Catherine elected to remain at the cottage with Meagher.
Although the object of Catherine's devotion, Meagher soon began to feel restless with life in Van Diemen's Land and as 1851 wore on his restlessness increased. He longed to be back in Ireland amidst the world again, and, influenced by MacManus's reports of San Francisco, was tempted to flee. When finally he decided to escape to America, Catherine supported him, despite her pregnancy, clearly thinking that when he was free she would join him. The controversy about whether his escape was honourable shadowed Meagher for many years. On 3 January 1852 Meagher advised the local magistrate Thomas Mason by letter that he was withdrawing his parole and unless arrested would shortly depart Van Diemen's Land. Debate arose over whether Meagher had given the police sufficient time to accost him or whether he had actually decamped early and therefore acted without honour. Had the latter been the case, then, as Mitchel put it, Meagher had raised doubts about the Irish exiles' good faith and therefore done a 'grievous wrong to us and to our cause'.13 In any event, Meagher fled to Waterhouse Island, just off the northeast coast of Van Diemen's Land, where he waited in solitude for a rendezvous with the Elizabeth Thompson, the same vessel that collected MacManus. The assignation a success, he absconded to Brazil, and at Pernambuco boarded the schooner Acorn. He then headed for New York where he received a rapturous welcome.
Although Meagher was ecstatic about his successful escape to America, Catherine was less happy. After Meagher's departure she went to stay with her parents at Ross. There, a month after Meagher escaped, she gave birth to a baby boy whom she named Henry Emmett Fitzgerald Meagher. To Catherine's distress, on 15 June the baby died and he was buried in St John's Church, Richmond, Tasmania, the oldest Catholic Church in Australia. (This is the common account of the story; however, a heretofore unpublished biography of P.J. Smyth reveals a very different version of events.14 )
In 1853 Catherine travelled to New York with her father-in-law Thomas Meagher senior to join her husband. But whatever happiness the couple had enjoyed on the shores of Lake Sorell was not recaptured in New York. Quarrels and tension led to an uneasy marriage and four months later the once more pregnant Catherine returned to Ireland with Thomas Meagher senior. The birth of Thomas Francis Meagher III weakened Catherine and, falling victim to typhus, she died on 9 May 1854. She was buried not far from Waterford in the Meagher family vault.
At the time Meagher escaped, O'Donohoe had been released from his sentence at Port Arthur and was living in Oatlands where he had been redirected for assignment by Governor Denison. Denison evidently held the view that the remoteness of the Island's interior would restrict O'Donohoe's considerable 'trouble-making' capacity. He had become concerned about O'Donohoe's 'trouble-making' soon after the exile's arrival, when he had been allowed to live in Hobart Town to search for a means of livelihood. Not really qualified to do anything but clerical work in conveyancing, which had been his job in a Dublin solicitor's office for twenty years, O'Donohoe found it difficult to find employment. On the advice of several colonists he founded a weekly newspaper called the Irish Exile! and Freedom's Advocate. The first edition appeared on the streets of Hobart Town on 26 January 1850. The newspaper gave O'Donohoe the opportunity to develop a latent talent for writing.15 Over the next twelve months he capitalised on this talent by combining 'radical theology' and 'explosive politics', which evidently contributed to the paper's success.16
The Anti-Transportation League had organised in Van Diemen's Land the previous year and O'Donohoe, after being arrested in Ireland for efforts at advocating Irish self-determination, turned his writing talents to proscribing freedom for the colonists of Van Diemen's Land. Increasingly anxious to rid themselves of the stigma of living in a convict colony, a large majority of the free settlers were anxious to end transportation and achieve self-government. Through his newspaper O'Donohoe contributed to their growing voice. He also championed the rights of the convicts and workers of Van Diemen's Land, who did not have a voice. Although Denison was clearly unimpressed with the Irish Exile, he did not shut it down. Some historians have theorised on why he did not; some speculated that perhaps Denison hoped to enlist the Irish Exile! to his own pro-transportation cause.17 But had this been the case, the ploy was not successful. O'Donohoe's literary enterprise survived only twelve months before its last copy was issued.>
On 3 December 1850, when MacManus, O'Donohoe and O'Doherty visited William Smith O'Brien at Elwin's Hotel in New Norfolk, the three were observed crossing their restriction boundaries and, thereby, technically breaking their parole. While O'Donohoe, unlike MacManus and O'Doherty, was never actually tried for that particular offence, he was undone by another visit to O'Brien, organised by Meagher, on 17 December. On that occasion Meagher invited both O'Donohoe and the editor of the Hobart Guardian, John Moore, to accompany him. But en route to Elwin's Hotel O'Doherty and Moore got drunk, exchanged words and came to blows. O'Donohoe was tried on 19 December for being drunk and disorderly and fined ten shillings. The entire episode might have finished there, but it seems that Denison decided to use the occasion to finally separate O'Donohoe from the Irish Exile. He revoked O'Donohoe's ticket-of-leave — and those of MacManus and O'Doherty — and on 8 January 1851 despatched O'Donohoe by government steamer to Saltwater River Probation Station at Port Arthur where he was employed for the next three months in hard labour.
It is not difficult to comprehend O'Donohoe's resentment of Denison and his Colonial government for the treatment he endured at Saltwater River. Back in Oatlands where he experienced a bleak winter, O'Donohoe fumed. In such a state of mind he was ripe for getting himself once more into trouble when an explosive furore broke out in the colony concerning a man called John Donellan Balfe. Balfe, a government spy in Ireland, had previously been an ardent member of the Repeal Association, Young Ireland sympathiser and Irish nationalist. O'Donohoe, harbouring resentment at Denison's treatment and outraged by Balfe's now conspicuous presence in the colony, decided in a fit of vengeance to contribute his own knowledge of Balfe's Irish spying activities to the colonists at large. Exasperated by O'Donohoe's outburst, Denison once again accused him of breaching the conditions of his ticket-of-leave and on 20 August revoked it, sending him back to Port Arthur to revisit the Cascades Probation Station. Denison restored his ticket-of-leave three months later but this time O'Donohoe had had enough. He travelled to Launceston, where he lived on charity from various Young Ireland sympathisers and contemplated escape. His recent experiences weakened his resolve to maintain any gentlemanly code-of-honour. This was reinforced by friends in Launceston who agreed that his harsh treatment by the authorities absolved O'Donohoe of the requirement to keep his word not to escape.
With his conscience clear, O'Donohoe colluded with local sympathisers on a plan that would deliver him from Denison and penal exile forever. On 20 December 1852 he was spirited on board the steamer Yarra Yarra and conveyed to Melbourne. From there he travelled to Sydney, Tahiti and finally San Francisco, which he reached in good health on 22 June 1853. From San Francisco he travelled to New York to join Meagher and Mitchel. Neither Meagher and Mitchel could reconcile O'Donohoe's escape from Van Diemen's Land as honourable and they received him coolly. Thereafter, experiencing various unfortunate vicissitudes in the 'land of the free', O'Donohoe died broken and destitute on 22 January 1854 only days before he could be reunited with his wife and child.
The arrival of John Donellan Balfe in the colony provides additional texture to the story of the Young Irelanders in Van Diemen's Land. Balfe was a traitor to the cause of Irish Nationalism in Ireland, although no one has ever really ascertained why he turned from the cause and became involved in treacherous activities against the Young Irelanders. Considering Balfe’s propensity for self-interest, however, it is not unreasonable to assume that he was motivated by money. Historians speculate that Balfe’s career as a spy began around the end of 1847 when he was spotted meeting with British government officials at a tavern in Dublin. It was Balfe who pointed out William Smith O'Brien to the authorities after the Ballingarry debacle, resulting in O'Brien's arrest at the railway station in Tipperary. The Young Irelanders did not know at the time that Balfe was the informant but over time their suspicions grew.
The exact nature of Balfe's spying activities for the British government is unknown, but it seems that after several years Balfe wanted out and elected to emigrate to Van Diemen's Land. Why he made this decision is unclear although perhaps he feared for his life and the British government made emigration financially worth his while. Balfe arrived in Van Diemen's Land in October 1850, just after the Young Irelanders were incarcerated on the Island, and prepared to live his life as a free settler. With letters of introduction from Lord Clarendon and Lord Grey, he settled on 150 acres at Nicholls Rivulet near Port Cygnet in the Huon district and established a saw-milling business.
Perhaps Balfe’s presence on the Island never would have been detected had he not accepted Governor Denison's offer of the newly created position of Assistant Comptroller General of convicts. The position’s high profile proved to be Balfe’s downfall. In the anti-transportation ferment of 1850, a number of newspaper articles appeared in support of Denison's pro-transportation stance under the pseudonym 'Dion'. Word got around that John Donellan Balfe was the author. The Young Irelanders were shocked on learning of Balfe’s presence on the Island, particularly when they heard that he enjoyed a position of authority over them within the convict department. As might be expected they retaliated. Meagher, always articulate and sometimes reckless, attacked Balfe in the anti-transportationist paper The Examiner. Using the name 'Virginius', Meagher detailed Balfe's alleged career as a spy in Ireland and his treachery against the cause of Irish nationalism. Many began to wonder, as did The Nation in January 1852, how Balfe could live in the colony in the presence of the Irish exiles. The newspaper speculated that the answer was surely 'only known to himself and the devil'. For his part Balfe seemed impervious to personal attacks and after the Young Irelanders left the colony dismissed their accusations as lies. Political opponents, however, repeated their accusations to undermine his standing in the community. Nevertheless, after resigning from the convict department in 1853, Balfe went on to enjoy a successful career as a politician and journalist until his death in December 1880.
While MacManus, Meagher and O'Donohoe were executing their escapes Mitchel continued to live reasonably peacefully at Nant Cottage with Jenny and their children. But two years on he began to chafe at the restrictions of his ticket-of-leave and the humiliation of being incarcerated as a convict in a British penal colony. Still a young man, the world beckoned to him and he began to feel a particular pall at remaining on the Island while the world passed him by. Reports about Meagher, MacManus and O'Donohoe's activities in America made Mitchel restless and he felt an increasing desire to be free and back in the world again. Soon his feelings began to override his comfort at being ensconced with Jenny and the children in the wide, fertile acres of Nant. Mitchel wrote in his Jail Journal 'surely it is not good for us to be here. I wish at times to be awake; long for a rattling, sky-rending, forest-crashing earth-shaking thunder-storm and fancy that the lightning of heaven would shoot a sharper life into blood and brain'.18
While Mitchel was becoming increasingly restless the catalyst for his decision to escape from Van Diemen's Land was prominent Young Irelander Patrick James Smyth. Smyth was one of the Young Irelanders who had escaped arrest after the failed rebellion at Ballingarry by fleeing to America. Born in Dublin, Smyth was the son of a prosperous merchant and an old school friend of Thomas Meagher at Clongowes, although three years older. Smyth joined the Repeal Association but seceded with the Young Irelanders in 1846 and became a leading member of the Irish Confederation. Following the Ballingarry furore, Smyth fled to America where he joined a group of sympathetic Irish Nationalists in New York. This group, called the Irish Directory, comprised well-off Irish sympathisers who wanted to see the Young Irelanders liberated from Van Diemen's Land. At their behest Smyth enthusiastically travelled to Van Diemen's Land to execute escape plans for one or more of the Young Irelanders.
Smyth arrived in Van Diemen's Land in early January 1853. After an initial meeting with Mitchel, and a meeting later with Mitchel and O'Brien, Mitchel elected at O'Brien's insistence to escape. O'Brien claimed that he had already had his chance and said he was still hopeful that at some point the British Government would pardon him so that he would be free to return to Ireland. With the decision made, Smyth returned with Mitchel to Bothwell to make plans. Since Smyth was known to the entire Mitchel family, as well as to John Martin, the reunion at Nant was a big event. Smyth described his life in America since escaping the insurrection of 1848 and his jobs working first for a newspaper in Pittsburgh and then for the New York Sun. When Smyth told them of his support for an American plan to build a railroad in Nicaragua the Mitchels dubbed him Nicaragua and the nickname stuck.
After meeting with Mitchel at Nant it took Smyth six months to organise Mitchel's escape. By then it was dead of winter in Van Diemen's Land and the weather was yet to prove whether it would be their friend or foe. All involved agreed that the escape must be honourable at all costs. This meant that Mitchel must transparently inform the authorities of his intention to give up his parole before his final farewell. To this end the escape committee executed the plan down to the last detail. They examined the layout of the police station at Bothwell where Mitchel was to formally withdraw his ticket-of-leave and then inspected the route of his departure. Mitchel was to walk into the police office, formally withdraw his parole and then leave before the police could catch him.
On 8 June, the day chosen for his escape, plans went awry. Having obviously been given the 'tip-off', Bothwell was 'so full of police' that any success for the venture appeared compromised. Thus, the escape attempt was postponed until the following day. Smyth used the opportunity to bribe as many of the local police as possible to ensure success. James — Mitchel's son — was despatched to Hobart Town to advise the shipping agents of the delay.
On 9 June they all arose early. As Mitchel and Smyth made their way on horseback to the police station in Bothwell, they encountered James returning from Hobart with news of another impediment to the escape plan. The shipping agents had informed James that they could not hold the ship that was to spirit Mitchel away any longer without causing undue suspicion and the ship had to sail without him. James hurried back to relay the news to his father, but Mitchel, psychologically prepared, had no intention of backing out of the escape and was prepared for 'life on the run' until a rendezvous with another ship could be arranged. Mitchel and Smyth thus continued on their way to the Bothwell Police Station. On arrival Mitchel squarely faced G.A. Davis, the Assistant Police Magistrate at Bothwell, and handed him a letter dated 8 June 1853 formally resigning his ticket-of-leave, thereby retracting his promise not to escape. But before Davis could arrest him Mitchel strode out the door, leapt onto his horse, and, accompanied by Smyth, triumphantly rode off down the main street of Bothwell to freedom.
Because the escape plan had been delayed a day, and the ship that was to collect Mitchel had already sailed, Mitchel had to spend about six weeks as a fugitive in the Tasmanian bush. Although this had not been the original plan there appeared no shortage of colonists willing to assist him. After leaving Bothwell Mitchel headed north to Westbury where many Irish immigrants had settled and were known to sympathise with the Young Irelanders. A settler named Burke hid him in 'closest privacy' at his farmhouse while Mitchel waited for Nicaragua to negotiate for a vessel to collect him from the colony. A brigantine named the Don Juan was due to call shortly at Emu Bay [Burnie]. The plan was that, weather permitting, the vessel would sail eastwards and collect Mitchel from 'a solitary beach, between West Head and Badger Head, a little to the West of the Tamar River mouth [Baker's Beach]'.19 Mitchel together with his local guides made for the Tamar, ending up in York Town before heading north to the coast. Eventually, the Don Juan came into view but as they waited for the ship to tack and sail towards the coast to make the rendezvous it instead continued north to Melbourne. Clearly, something had gone wrong. Mitchel and his companions huddled together considering what to do next. They decided to travel the nine miles west to the shore of Port Sorell inlet where a man named Miller would put them up for the night. Mitchel stayed with Miller four nights while his faithful friends hatched yet another escape plan.
On 9 July a second attempt was made to liberate Mitchel from the Island via the Tamar River. It was arranged for a steamer to collect Mitchel from an open boat off George Town but foul weather and the vigilance of the police left him waiting at Kelso on the west bank of the river until it was too late and the vessel had to leave without him. After this failed attempt, Mitchel travelled to Launceston where friends concealed him in Father Butler's home, which was situated behind a Catholic Chapel. Consensus among Mitchel’s friends was that the north was 'too hot to hold him' and he decided to travel south to Hobart Town for a third attempt to escape.
Mitchel thought it would be best if he travelled south immediately on the night coach. Disguised in a clerical outfit provided by Father Hogan of Westbury, Mitchel travelled as the Reverend Mr Blake. Although he shared the coach with the prominent colonial lawyer Edward MacDowell, former Attorney General for the colony, whom he had met previously, Mitchel was not recognised.20 On nearing Hobart he spent the day at the Bridgewater Hotel before taking the evening coach to Hobart where he repaired to a house in Collins Street owned by a Hobart merchant named Connellan. Nicaragua, who greeted him at the door, did not recognise Mitchel until he walked into the house and threw his hat on the floor.
Despite the dramatic escape attempts aborted in the north of the Island it was decided that Mitchel should escape on the regular passenger brig the Emma scheduled to sail for Sydney within the week. The plan was for Mr Maning, the agent for Macnamara's ships in Hobart Town, to row Mitchel out to the Emma in his own boat 'to be put on board in the dark' three or four miles below where she would lift anchor in the Bay.
On 19 July Mitchel recorded in his journal that 'yesterday evening I was placed on board in the bay by moonlight. . . . The ship is full of passengers; but not one of them knows me’.21 On board were Nicaragua, Jenny and the children. On the evening of 20 July as the ship sailed out of Van Diemen's Land waters Mitchel wrote in his Jail Journal one of its most memorable passages:
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 forest, 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.
O'Brien, Martin and O'Doherty all applauded Mitchel's escape and were thrilled to hear that he had been received in San Francisco and New York as a hero. For his part, O'Brien continued to participate in the social life that he had carved for himself at New Norfolk. Meanwhile Martin, with the Mitchels gone, was in need of money and took up a teaching position in the home of the Jackson family, a job he did not particularly relish but made the best of. O'Doherty established a medical practice, though apparently with little initial success. All three appeared reasonably content to await their freedom through administrative channels rather through any dramatic escape attempts such as those executed previously by the other four Young Irelanders. In any event, with Mitchel's celebrated departure and a prevailing climate of escalated vigilance, escape had become more difficult.
Clemency came for O'Brien in the House of Commons on 22 February 1854 when Lord Palmerston, Home Secretary in the Aberdeen Cabinet, announced a conditional pardon for him.22 In March, Martin and O'Doherty were pardoned. The pardons meant that, although still excluded from the United Kingdom, all three were free to travel anywhere else in his Majesty's Dominions.
By the time the news of the pardons reached Australia, P.J. Smyth was already in Melbourne waiting for the news to arrive. He had returned to Australia to carry out instructions from the New York Directory to arrange further escape plans for O'Brien, Martin and O'Doherty. The pardons, however, made the proposed exercise redundant. On 16 May 1854 Smyth wrote to O'Brien congratulating him on the announcement and advised that he would arrive in Van Diemen's Land shortly with the intention of making their departure from Van Diemen's Land a celebrated event. Subsequently, O'Brien was much feted by the local dignitaries who had befriended him and on 6 July left the Island farewelled by cheers from the well-wishers who had come to see him depart. Festivities were arranged in Melbourne to celebrate the pardon of the three Young Irelanders and each of them spoke at the celebrations held in their honour.
- John Mitchel, Jail Journal, Dublin, 1913, p. 263.
- For more see S. Petrow, 'Men of Honour? The Escape of the Young Irelanders from Van Diemen's Land', Journal of Australian Colonial History, vol. 7, 2005, pp. 139-160 at p. 143.
- Mitchel, Jail Journal, p. 231.
- Mitchel, Jail Journal, p. 226.
- Mitchel, Jail Journal, p. 235.
- Mitchel, Jail Journal, p. 259.
- R. Davis (ed.), 'To Solitude Consigned': The Tasmanian Journal of William Smith O'Brien 1849-1853, Sydney, 1995, p. 142.
- For more see Petrow, 'Men of Honour? The Escape of the Young Irelanders From Van Diemen's Land', p. 147.
- Rev. J.H. Cullen, Young Ireland in Exile: The Story of the Men of '48 in Tasmania, Dublin, 1928, p. 99.
- For more see B. Touhill, William Smith O'Brien and His Irish Revolutionary Companions in Penal Exile, Columbia & London, 1981, p. 102.
- B. Touhill, William Smith O'Brien, p. 102.
- Mitchel, Jail Journal, pp. 273-274.
- For more details on this, see Petrow, 'Men of Honour?', pp. 151-152.
- 49In a recently discovered unpublished biography of P.J. Smyth, another version of what happened to the baby and Catherine is offered. According to this biography, Catherine died and is buried in Tasmania and Smyth arranged passage for her surviving son to Ireland to be raised by the Meagher family there (see Sample of Unpublished Memoir on this website).
- O'Donohoe wrote a lively account of his part in the 1848 Rising and also the voyage out on the Swift.
- R. Davis, 'To Solitude Consigned', p. 17. For more on O'Donohoe and the Irish Exile see R. Davis, 'Patrick O'Donohoe: Outcast of the Exiles', in Reece, R.H.W. (ed.), Exiles from Erin: Convict Lives in Ireland and Australia, Basingstoke, 1991, pp. 246-283.
- For more on this see R. Davis, 'Patrick O'Donohoe: Outcast of the Exiles', p. 257.
- Mitchel, Jail Journal, p. 279.
- For Mitchel's account of being 'on the run', see Mitchel, Jail Journal, Chapter XXIII.
- Note than in Jail Journal Mitchel refers to T. MacDowell [p. 334]. Thomas MacDowell, however, was a newspaperman and Edward MacDowell, the late Attorney-General for the colony. It may be that Mitchel knew Edward MacDowell as 'Ted', or that he just made a mistake.
- Mitchel, Jail Journal, p. 338.
- Barker, 'O'Brien, William Smith', DNB, p. 781.