Young Irelanders: Exiles in Paradise

The Young Irelanders in Van Diemen's Land

HobartFor 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.

HobartIn 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.