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3-101 (Raw)

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author,male,Mitchel, John,39 addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Private Written
Webby, 1989
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April 6th 1850
The mountainous southern coast of Van Diemen's Land! It is a soft blue day; soft airs, laden with all the fragrances of those antarctic woods, weave an atmosphere of ambrosia around me. As we coast along over the placid waters, passing promontory after promontory, wooded to the waters' edge, and "glassing their ancient glories in the flood", both sea and land seem to bask and rejoice in the sunshine. Old Ocean smiles - that multitudinous rippling laugh seen in vision by the chained Prometheus. Even my own sick and weary soul (so kind and bounteous is our mother earth) feels lightened, refreshed, uplifted. Yet there, to port, loom the mountains, whereunto I am to be chained, for years, with a vulture gnawing my heart. Here is the very place: the Kaf, or Caucasus, where I must die a daily death.
It must have been on these mountains that strength and force bound the victim Demigod - for, did not Kratos say unto Hephaistos, "We have come now to the utmost verge of the earth"? Where was that but at the antipodes? - however, the limited geographical knowledge of the poet was unequal to his inspiration. Would that I had committed the godlike crime, and gathered fire from those empyrean urns whence the stars draw light - then might I hope to Possess the godlike strength also of the Titan crucified! Oh! Divine Aether! and ye swift-winged winds! ye gushing river-fountains! and thou boundless, endless, multitudinous chorus-laugh of ocean waves! [36] Oh! Earth, mother of all things! and world-seeing circuit of the sun! - No answer; but, enter convict-servant with a mockery of dinner. Eating or sleeping is not for me these three days past; partly from severe illness, partly from the excited expectation of once more, at the end of two years, seeing the face of a friend. There, amongst or behind those shaggy mountains, wander Martin, O'Brien, Meagher, each alone in his forest-dungeon. Surely I shall contrive some means of meeting them once.
This evening we entered the inlet known as D'Entrecasteaux Channel, which runs up about twenty-five miles on the west side of Bruni Island, and divides it from the mainland of Tasmania. On the east side of Bruni spreads out Storm Bay, the ordinary approach to Hobart Town harbour; but this channel adjoins Storm Bay at the northern extremity of Bruni; from whence a wide estuary runs many miles farther inland. We are becalmed in the channel; but can see the huge mass of Mount Wellington, ending to the eastward in steep cliffs. In the valley at the foot of those cliffs, as they tell me, bosomed in soft green hills, bowered in shady gardens, with its feet kissed by blue the ripples of the Derwent - lies Hobart Town.
But as we lie here becalmed, between lonely wooded hills, the land seems virgin yet, as when La Perouse sailed up the same channel of old, startling the natives from their kangaroo flesh-pots on the shore. These woods are all of evergreen trees; and even from the deck I can see the long streamers of bark peeling off their trunks and festooned from branch to branch; for all this tribe, the Eucalypti, shed not their leaves but their bark. The trees seem almost all of great height; but on the whole the forest looks poor and ragged, because the boughs and branches are so conspicuous in their nakedness; and the foliage is thin compared with the bulk of the trunks. This is certainly the first impression made on an eye accustomed to the umbrageous masses of beech and sycamore that build up the cathedral arches and aisles of our European woodlands. But I can scarcely believe that I am verily to set my foot upon dry land again.
We made our way this morning to the head of D'Entrecasteaux Channel, where it communicates by a narrow passage with the great Storm Bay - took a pilot on board at this passage, a little dark man, at whom I gazed as narrowly and curiously as ever did Abel Jans Tasman at the first Australasian savages he saw, or they at Abel. But, indeed, our little pilot was a mere Carthaginian in tweed pantaloons and round jacket; and he came down to his boat from a neat white cottage on a hill, with a greensward lawn sloping down from its door to the boat-pier, and some sweet-briar hedges protecting and adorning its garden. [37]
Two o'clock afternoon
We are at anchor in the Derwent, a quarter of a mile from the quays and custom-house of Hobart Town. Why should I write down, here again, what I see, what everybody sees, at every sea-port? The town slopes from the river to the hills precisely like any other town. Several church steeples, of course; a small battery on a point; a windmill on a height; merchants' stores along the quays; wagons carrying merchandise hither and thither; and the wagons have wheels; and the horses are quadrupedal and solid-ungular. A good many ships lie in the harbour; and one Carthaginian frigate, the Maeander.
Our bold captain and surgeon-superintendent have dressed themselves (and the latter in sword and epaulettes looks grand enough), to await the official persons; the official persons ashore, with that deliberate dignity which becomes their high position, move slowly and in their several convict bureaus, prepare their stationery and tape, that they may board us in due form. So I have time to dwell upon to appropriate and assimilate, one of the loveliest scenes in all the world. The harbour is the broad estuary of the river Derwent. The town lies on the western side, backed by gardens and villas, rang on the slope of wooded hills and ravines, which all lose themselves in the vast gloomy mass of Mount Wellington. On the eastern side, which seems nearly uninhabited, there are low hills covered with wood; and directing the eye up the river valley, I see nothing but a succession of hill and forest, till blue mountains shut up the view. I long to walk the woods, and leave behind me the sight of the weariful sea.
Some Hobart Town newspapers have come on board. O'Brien is still in very close confinement on an island off the east coast, called Maria Island, a rugged and desolate territory, about twelve miles in length, Where the gaolers keep one of their main strongholds. He has refused to accept their "ticket-of-leave" on the terms of giving them his parole not to escape while he holds it; and the convict-authorities are much irritated by his determination.
An official person was brought to my cabin door half an hour ago, by the doctor, and introduced to me by the name of Emmett. - - A convict official by the name of Emmett! He handed me a communication from an individual styled "Comptroller-General", informing me that instructions had been received from the Secretary of State to allow me to reside at large in any one of the police-districts I might select (except those already used as the dungeons of my friends) - subject to no restriction, save the necessity of reporting myself to the district police-magistrate once a month. [38] This condition of existence is, I find, called "Ticket-of-leave". I may accept it or not, as I think proper; or, having accepted, I may at any time resign it: but first of all, I must give my promise that so long as I hold the same "ticket", I shall not escape from the colony.
O'Brien, as I said, had refused to give this promise; but Martin, Meagher, O'Doherty, and the rest have done so. Some of them, as I hear, speak of surrendering their "comparative liberty", and, of course, withdrawing their promise, so soon as their health shall have been re-established by a few months' wandering in the bush. I decide to do as the majority of my friends have done, especially as Dr Gibson informs me that the close confinement of Maria Island would probably kill me at once. He seems, indeed, most anxious to get me ashore; and takes credit for bringing me so far alive, after my ten months' solitary confinement in Bermuda, and eleven months and seventeen days' cruising in the Neptune.
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. So Emmett left me.
Hobart Town has quite an imposing appearance from the water, standing out against its grand mountain background. Why should not I write a minute account of the town this evening, as I have leisure, and no prepossessions and no narrow personal observations to distract me? Sterne gave to the world a valuable directory of Calais upon that principle.
To my utter amazement, I had a letter today from Patrick O'Donoghue, who has been permitted to live in the city of Hobart Town, informing me that he has established a newspaper called the Irish Exile, enclosing me a copy of the last number, and proposing that I should join him in the concern. Herein is a marvellous thing. How happens it that the convict authorities permit him to conduct a paper at all? Or what would be the use of such a publication here, even if we were competent enough to manage it? The thing is a hideous absurdity altogether: but I am glad to learn that none of my friends have anything to do with it; though I suppose it assumes to be a sort of "organ" for them. [39] The Irish Exile is bepuffing me now most outrageously: God preserve me from organs of opinion! Have I sailed round the terraqueous globe, and dropped in here in a cove of the far South Pacific, to find an "able editor" mounted stiltwise upon phrases tall, and blowing deliberate puffs in my face? Glady [sic] I would bare my brow to all the tornadoes and ouragans [sic] of the West Indies, to the black squalls of the tropics, to the heavy gales of the British channel, and the typhoons of the China seas, rather than to the flattering flatulence of these mephitic airs. I was tired, indeed, of the sea; but at sea there are, at any rate, no organs of opinion. Eurus and Boreas are often rude enough; but, at least, they blow where they list, and pipe not their notes under the censorship of a Comptroller-General.
To be sure, one may cite Virgil against me, with the Comptroller-General Aeolus, and his quos ego.
But what of this? I retire to my cot tonight in a black humour, vilipending both sea and land.
Sitting on the green grass by the bank of a clear, brawling stream of fresh water. Trees waving overhead; the sunshine streaming through their branches, and making a tremulous network of light and shade on the ground. It is Bothwell, forty-six miles from Hobart Town, from the Neptune and the sea, and high among the central mountains of Van Diemen's Land. Opposite sits John Martin, sometime of Loughorn, smoking placidly, and gazing curiously on me with his mild eyes.
July 22nd
Have had a serious consultation with John Martin, as to whether I should at length allow my wife and family to come out to Van Diemen's Land. None of our friends, except Mr O'Brien, seem to regard my speedy release as a thing at all probable. I may have to live the remaining twelve years of my sentence here, unless some chance arises of effecting an escape honourably. To escape otherwise, that is clandestinely, would indeed be easy to all of us at any time; but that is an idea not to be entertained.
It is grievous to think of bringing up children in this island; yet by fixing my residence in this remote, thinly-peopled, and pastoral district, engaging in some sort of farming and cattle-feeding, and mingling in the society of the good quiet colonists here, we might almost forget, at times, the daily and hourly outrage that our enemies put upon us in keeping us here at all, and enjoy the glorious health Which this matchless climate would be almost sure to inoculate our veins withal. [40] Several families (one especially, in which I have grown intimate) express a strong wish to see my family residing with me here. I could devote a good deal of time, also, to teaching the children; and, in short, I do so pine for something resembling a home - something that I could occasionally almost fancy a real home - that I have written this day to Newry, inviting all my household to the antipodes. Pray God, I have done right.
Visit from Terence MacManus; he has ridden up the valley of the Derwent and Clyde from New Norfolk, to see us by stealth. If discovered outside the bounds prescribed to him, he would be probably placed in custody and subjected to some punishment. He came to our door in the evening, and sent in his name (Dr Smith) by the little girl. We go up to the lakes again the day after tomorrow, and have induced him to prolong his trip so far along with us, though he will then be sixty-five miles from his dungeon; but the temptation of meeting Meagher and Kevin, and of seeing an actual congregation of five Irish rebels together again (more than enough, by law, to make a "riot") is too strong for him to resist. When we shall have drawn together such a power, we hope to be strong enough, if not to make a revolution, at least to shoot some ducks. The lakes swarm with a very fine kind of duck, the "black-duck", besides the "mountain-duck", a small kind with splendid plumage; teal, musk-duck, not to mention jet black swans, which swim either in pairs, or in fleets of five or six.
MacManus made some days pass pleasantly for us, but he is gone home - that is, to his dungeon district. We have ridden about twelve miles north west from Bothwell, to see the Shannon. All the way, the country, the trees, the hills, have that sameness in figure and colour which makes the island so uniform - valley and bluff perpetually repeating its own features, and every wooded hill mirroring the wooded hill that stands opposite. On all the road, we passed but one house; a piece of Tudor barbarism in yellow stone, lately built by an eccentric settler in the dreariest spot he could find within many a league. At last we arrived at the brink of a deep valley, beyond which, on the western side, the hills rose more wild and mountainous. The valley spread just below us into a grassy plain, with a few fine "black-gums" dotting its green floor; and as we descended, we soon heard the murmurous dashing of a river hidden yet by the trees. It is the Shannon, a rushing, whirling, tumultuous stream that derives its water from the "Big Lake", a noble reservoir some thirty miles farther to the northwest, lying high on a desolate plateau of Tasmania. It is the greatest lake in the island, and is said to measure ninety miles round. Through the whole of its course this river runs very rapidly, having a fall of two thousand feet in those thirty miles; and like all the other Van Diemen's Land rivers, it is icy cold. [41]
All my life long I have delighted in rivers, rivulets, rills, fierce torrents tearing their rocky beds, gliding dimpled brooks kissing a daisied marge. The tinkle, or murmur, or deep-resounding roll, or raving roar of running water is of all sounds my ears ever hear now, the most homely. Nothing else in this land looks or sounds like home. The birds have a foreign tongue: the very trees whispering to the wind, whisper in accents unknown to me; for the young gum-tree leaves are all hard, horny, polished as the laurel - besides, they have neither upper nor under side, but are set on with the plane of them vertical; wherefore they can never, never, let breeze pipe or zephyr breathe as it will, never can they whisper, quiver, sigh or sing, as do the beeches and the sycamores of old Rostrevor. Yes, all sights and sounds of nature are alien and outlandish - suggestive of the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle - save only the sparkle and the music of the streams. Well I know the voice of this eloquent river: it talks to me, and to the woods and rocks, in the same tongue and dialect wherein the Roe discoursed to me, a child; in its crystalline gush my heart and brain are bathed; and I hear, in its plaintive chime, all the blended voices of history, of prophecy, and poesy, from the beginning. Not cooler or fresher was the Thracian Hebrus; not purer were Abana and Pharpar; not more ancient and venerable is Father Nilus. Before the dynasty was yet bred that quaffed the sacred wave of Choaspes, "the drink of none but kings" - ere its lordly namesake river, in Erin of the streams, reflected yet upon its bosom a Pillar Tower, or heard the chimes from its seven churches, this river was rushing through its lonely glen to the southern sea, was singing its mystic song to these primeval woods.
Oh! Sun-loved River ! wherefore dost thou hum,
Hum, hum, alway thy strange, deep, mystic song
Unto the rocks and strands? - for they are dumb,
And answer nothing as thou flowest along.
Why singest so, all hours of night and day?
Ah! river ! my best river ! thou, I know, art seeking
Some land where souls have still the gift of speaking
With Nature in her own old wondrous way!
I delight in poets who delight in rivers; and for this do I love that sweet singer, through whose inner ear and brain the gush of his native Aufidus for ever streamed and flashed: - how some perennial brook of crystal glimmered for ever through all his day-dreams! how he yearned to marry his own immortality with the eternal murmuring hymn of that bright Bandusian fount ! Wisely, too, and learnedly did Clarence Mangan discourse with the rivers, and attune his notes to their wondrous music. How gloriously he interprets the German Moerike and his melodious theme! - 
What on cold earth, is deep as thou? Is aught? [42]
Love is as deep, Love only is as deep:
Love lavisheth all, yet loseth, lacketh naught;
Like thee, too, Love can neither pause nor sleep.
Roll on, thou loving river, thou! Lift up Thy waves, those eyes bright with a riotous laughing! Thou makest me immortal ! I am quaffing
The wine of rapture from no earthly cup!
So, too, with Mueller; he delivers himself and you up to the entrancement of the Naiad: - There danceth adown the mountain,
The child of a lofty race:
A streamlet, fresh from its fountain,
Hies through the valley apace.
Some fairy hath whispered, "Follow!" And I have obeyed her well:
I thread the blossomy hollow,
With my pilgrim staff and shell.
On, on, behold me straying,
And ever beside the stream,
As I list its murmurous playing,
And mark how its wavelets gleam.
Can this be the path I intended?
Oh ! Sorceress, what shall I say?
Thy dazzle and music blended,
Have wiled my reason away!
No mortal sounds are winging
Their wonted way along;
Oh, no ! some Naiad is singing
A flattering summer-song!
And loudlier doth she flatter
And loudlier, loudlier still - 
But, behold plump into the water, just under the bank, tumbles a Platypus, uncouth, amphibious quadruped, with broad duck-bill; and shrill from a neighbouring gum-tree yells the "laughing-jackass" - a noisy bird so named by profane colonists.