Tag Archives: Jail Journal

L – Launceston, Tasmania.

Welcome to Launceston on Day 12 of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, where we’ve almost made it to the halfway mark.

I must admit that I almost fell off the wagon after exploring Jail Journal. My husband’s family, the Burkes, helped John Mitchel escaped from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and rated quite a few mentions throughout. Unfortunately, he didn’t always clarify which of the two Burke brothers he was referring to. Consequently, I had to do quite a bit of family history trawling to get my facts straight. Don’t you love how it takes a day or two’s research just to tick a box…grr!

Anyway, while I’ve been writing about the Irish Nationalists exiled to Tasmania, Jail Journal and also introducing you to the Forester Kangaroo, we’ve taken a leaf out of John Mitchel’s book. We’ve been hiding out with friends in Launceston, feasting on pizza.

Launceston is the business centre, or hub, of Northern Tasmania. By the way, if you want to fit in around here and not be classed “a Mainlander”, you’d better get the pronunciation right. It’s  pronounced “Lonceston” NOT “Lawnceston”.

Historically speaking, Launceston didn’t have as many convicts as Hobart and was mostly settled by free settlers, which has quite an impact on the social makeup. In Jail Journal, John Mitchel said: “she took an early occasion of informing me `she came out free’; which, in fact, is the patent of nobility in Van Dieman’s Land.1” (While John Mitchel was an Irish Nationalist seeking Irish Independence, he clearly believed in the class structure and was also overtly racist. Defending his support for slavery, he cited Benjamin Franklin, who helped draft the American Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, yet owned slaves himself. Obviously, I do not support these views!!)

Probably my favourite place to visit in Launceston is Cataract Gorge.  Launceston’s Cataract Gorge and Basin are renowned for their rugged, natural beauty and it’s hard to believe you’re only 10 minutes drive from the CBD.  Indeed, you could almost believe you’ve wandered into a lost wilderness…another dimension…not unlike wandering through a wardrobe into mythical Narnia. I was spellbound photographing the rapids and trying to harness their almighty power within the impossible bounds of 6 x 4. While absolutely unachievable, I know I “see” so much better through my camera lens, almost seeing through things to their essence. So, it is always more than worth the effort.

Meanwhile, probably the most touristy attraction in Launceston has to be Penny Royal Adventures. Geoff and his sister fondly remember going to Penny Royal as kids where they had an actual functioning cannon foundry where they made the actual cannons and the tram was operational, “instead of being a museum piece”. Unfortunately, by the time we’d finished our walk through Cataract Gorge, Penny Royal was shut and we were lucky to grab some Gourley’s sweets from hotel reception. This of course reminds me of one of my pet gripes about travelling round Tasmania that virtually entire State shuts down on the dot of 5.00 PM, which was difficult for us to get our heads around when the sun didn’t set until something like 8.00PM and we were trying to carpe diem “seize the day”. (That said, we admittedly often started the day a bit late but for us having a precious sleep-in is synonymous with being on holidays.

While I know there is so much more to see in Launceston, we were only really passing through, catching up with friends. Indeed, on this trip we spent more time by-passing the place. Not because we don’t love the place, but we are trying to see more of the island and every time we come here, we’re juggling family, friends and our destinations are somewhat determined by who we’re staying with. Usually, we’re based over in the North-East around Bridport and see more of Launceston. However, being based in Devonport this time, we have spent much more time around Penguin, Ashgrove Farm, Deloraine and headed out to Stanley. As small as Tasmania might appear on the map, it’s a lot, lot bigger in real life, especially when you keep stopping all the time because there really is so much excellence to see, taste and explore.

Have you ever been to Launceston and what did you enjoy most?

I’m looking forward to catching up with you. I only need to polish one more post and I’ll be up-to-date.

Meanwhile, I wish you all a Merry and Blessed Easter.

xx Rowena

References

  1. John Mitchel, Jail Journal, p. 211.

J-Jail Journal : A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Day 10 of our Alphabetical Tour Around Tasmania.

Today, we’re visiting John Mitchel’s Jail Journal, which is indeed a book, rather than a place. The first edition of John Mitchel’s Jail Journal was published in the New York Citizen, the journal established by Mitchel on his arrival in America, between 14th January and 19th August 1854.

As you may recall, I wrote a brief bio of John Mitchel: Here.

John mitchel with signature

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew, trying to sum up Jail Journal in a few quick paragraphs. Indeed, I’m choking on my folly.

Of course, writing about Jail Journal seemed a fabulous idea three months ago, when we were driving around Tasmania and I was scrawling out my list of all things Tasmanian from A to Z. Back then, I not only needed a “J”, I also thought I had a good grasp on the book. Well, at least the story.

However, it turns out that I’d only read the chapters pertaining to Mitchel’s escape, and hadn’t exactly read most of the book. Moreover, now that I have read most of the book (more in the manner of an express train than pausing at every station), all I’m seeing is a blur. Still, I’ll attempt to pull out some detail.

So, I apologize in advance for any mistakes or omissions and ask you to add these in the comments please. Today, I’m very much on my L Plates (that’s what we stick on the car in Australia when you’re learning to drive).

Jail Journal

Jail Journal opens on May 27, 1848 in Newgate Prison after John Mitchel has been sentenced to 14 years transportation:
“On this day, about four o’clock in the afternoon, I, John Mitchel, was kidnapped, and carried off from Dublin, in chains, as a convicted felon. I had been in Newgate Prison for a fortnight. An apparent trial had been enacted before 12 of the castle jurors…Sentence had been pronounced, with much gravity, by that ancient Purple Brunswicker, Baron Le Froy- fourteen years’ transportation; and I had returned to my cell and taken leave of my wife and two poor boys.1. ”

Trial_of_John_Mitchel_1848

Trial of John Mitchel 1848

Mitchel goes on to ask:

“…for what has this sacrifice been made? Why was it needful? What did I hope to gain by this struggle with the enemy’s `Government’ , if successful? What unsuccessful? What have I gained? Questions which it truly behoves me to ask on this evening my last day (it might be) of civil existence. ..I am on the first stage of my way, faring to what regions of unknown horror? And may never, never- never more , O, Ireland! – my mother and my Queen!- see vale, or hill, or murmuring stream of thine. And why? What is gained? 2.”

As it turns out, John Mitchel travelled to Van Dieman’s Land in a circuitous route via Bermuda and South Africa. Once he reaches Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania), he finds out that he will serve out his sentence “as a gentleman”, rather than a run of the mill convict. The journal follows the ups and downs of being exiled from his homeland, his family and describes his encounters. It concludes on the 29th November, 1853 four and a half years later, after his escape culminates in his arrival in New York.

While the dust cover suggests Jail Journal is acknowledged as an important piece of Irish literature, it’s not well known in Australia, even in Tasmania.

Indeed, despite having an Honours Degree in Australian History and also studying Australian Literature at the University of Sydney 1988-1992, I’d never heard of John Mitchel or Jail Journal until we were researching Geoff’s family history. Geoff’s family pretty much populates the North and North-East of the State. However, we only needed to trace back his direct line, to find our connection with John Mitchel and quite a few references to his family throughout Jail Journal.

Daniel Burke

Daniel Burke- Geoff’s Great Great Grandfather who helped John Mitchel escape.

You see, Geoff’s Great Great Uncle, John Burke and wife Honora (formerly O’Meara) concealed Mitchel in their Westbury home for two weeks, during which time Mitchel acted as nurse for their son, William Morgan Burke:
“Mrs Burke is busied in preparations for our departure, and in providing what is needful for our journey. Amongst other things, the good creature gets some lead and judiciously casts bullets. Her husband comes with us, as well as his brother (Daniel Burke); and their father (William Burke) lends me a good horse”3 .

BTW, such was the closeness between Mitchel and the Burkes’, that Mitchel left Daniel Burke his infamous horse, Donald, after his escape. This Daniel Burke went on be the Warden of Westbury for many years and celebrated his 100th birthday.

While my kids have had their heads overloaded with family history and more stories than they could ever hope to remember, my husband grew up knowing very little about his family’s part in Mitchel’s escape. In recent years, we’ve met up with various cousins who’ve helped reunite us with Geoff’s family history, but it’s been something we’ve acquired and had to research ourselves, not passed down through the family.

Anyway, when John Mitchel arrived in Hobart Town on board The Neptune on the 5th April, 1850; his first impressions were far from positive:
“We are becalmed in the Channel; but can see the huge mass of Mt 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 the blue ripples of the Derwent- lies that metropolis of murderers and university of burglary and all subter-human abomination, Hobart-Town.4″

I’m not going to dwell on Mitchel’s time in Tasmania prior to his escape, except to mention that his family moved out from Ireland to join him and they bought a farm…Nant Cottage.

nant_cottage_big

Nant Cottage, Bothwell where John Mitchel lived with his family in Tasmania.

To all intensive purposes, aside from the occasional ripple, it appeared John Mitchel had accepted his fate and put down roots.
However, all that changed with the arrival of “Nicaragua” Smyth from New York, who’d been sent to help the Irish exiles escape. Being too difficult to for them to escape at once, it was agreed that Mitchel would go. However, first he would have to withdraw his word as a Gentleman that he wouldn’t escape. This would cancel his parole and, of course, alert authorities to his plans. So, he had to make a speedy and well-orchestrated getaway. 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 where he was met by Nicaragua Smith. After many false starts and dashed hopes, on the 20th July, 1854 John Mitchel finally escapes on board The Emma bound for Sydney and eventually arrives in New York the 29th November, 1853 to a hero’s welcome.

Of course, being a diary, Jail Journal has been written in the first person and even though he refers to others’ views and comments, it is still 100% his perspective…his story. As I read Jail Journal, I found him quite likable. He’s evidently a literary man and wrote beautifully, even if some of his rantings complete with classical allusions and Latin quotes sound hilarious to the modern reader. Moreover, while Mitchel strongly defended Ireland’s freedom, he went on to support the South in the American Civil War and opposed the abolition of slavery. Moreover, while he could well be cast in the same light as Ned Kelly, Australia’s favourite rogue, terrorism is still terrorism. The use of force against innocent people is still a crime.
So, I’m left with mixed views.

On that note, I hope I’ve drawn this to something of a close. I feel like I’ve been wading through thick mud trying to get these details straight. Any corrections and comments will be more welcomed and encouraged.

xx Rowena

References:

[1] John Mitchel, Jail Journal, Sphere Books, 1983, p. 1.

[2] Ibid. pp 4-5.

[3] Ibid pp 301-302.

[4] Ibid, p. 201.

Why Journal?

As the Blogging from A-Z Challenge continues and today, which should have been a simple Saturday, has now become J is for Journal, my tune is starting to switch from Edith Piaf’s “Je ne Regrette Rien” to: “Why Why Why Delilah?”

When I first took on the challenge, I almost thought it would be too simple. However, even though I already post most days, I’m usually writing about the day’s events or something which has fired me up, rather than conforming to any kind of set format. So far, I been needing to do quite a lot of research to complete the daily post and by the time I’ve uploaded the photos, the day and even the night are gone. At the same time, however, I can feel myself being stretched and challenged and participating has really helped me take things up a notch. Growth usually comes at a price, after all. I’ve also discovered some fabulous new blogs… a fabulous kaleidoscope of people and tales.

Another complication for me, of course, has been that the kids are currently on school holidays and we’ve gone away to an absolute slice of paradise at Sydney’s Palm Beach and I have no intention of spending the whole time with my head stuck in my laptop. I’ve been out kayaking the my daughter while my husband and son were out sailing today and I also had an impromtu paddle to rescue our dog Lady yet again after my daughter noted she’d left our backyard and was heading for her favourate rabbit hunting ground. Later in the day, we went for a drive to Whale Beach. It was a bit late for good photography. However, we all enjoyed clambouring over huge slabs of sandstone which have fallen from the cliffs throughout time and feasting on the dusky pinks of the fast-fading light.It was so timeless and serene, that we almost drifted in suspended animation. That is, until Mister who had been showing off his rock climbing skills one minute, was now well and truly stuck!! As they say, pride goes before a fall and he was along way up and the ground was naturally, a long way down.

I’ve divided this post into two parts:

1) Why journal?

2) Journaling: Dear Anne.

Why Journal?

When I was 11 years old, I started writing my first journal or “diary” as it was known back then. My teacher was a committed and passionate diarist and he just encouraged us to use a student diary, which allowed about a paragraph’s worth every day. The aim seemed to be establishing that routine, the consistency rather than writing pages and pages and not being able to keep it up. While hardly the Diary of Anne Frank, this diary does talk about the arrival of our first dog, Lassie and so I really treasure it. Having something like that from your childhood is so very, very special. At least, it is to me.

As much as I rave on about the virtues of keeping a journal and a regular one at that, I must confess that my commitment has waxed and waned and over the years, Consequently, my diaries read more like a series of stepping stones than a smoothly flowing stream. Indeed, quite often, it’s been quite such long leap in between entries, that I’d make it into the long jump finals. This is hardly surprising because I struggle to even comprehend consistency, let alone maintain some kind of routine day after day after day. That said, my blog shows that I’m somehow capable. It’s just that I’m inconsistently consistent. Or, perhaps Aldous Huxley got it right:

“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead”.

If you are interested in the benefits of keeping a journal, or the “why”, I recommend you read here: http://www.easyjournaling.com/2011/07/101-reasons-to-write-a-journal/

Probably the main reason I keep a journal is to document not only what has happened but also how I feel about it as a form of historic record. Having started writing diaries from such a young age, I have long appreciated being able to read about the past and pick out the bits which resonate in the here and now and have been able to identify certain threads or themes, which weave throughout my life journey. Following these threads over time and reading about my personal ups and downs and revisiting the details, has really helped me gain a better grip on who I am, where I’ve been and my place in the bigger picture. I have also been intrigued that even though so much has changed both around me and within, that there is still this sense of self…me…something solid and concrete which I could stick a flag in a claim as my own. This is quite a breakthrough for someone who has been through brain surgery and even had that self revamped and even further challenges came which I became a parent and also developed the muscle disease. A sense of self isn’t something I take for granted and it has been a long battle where journalling has really helped both in terms of providing feedback on my progress but also consoling me along the way.

Another famous diary.

So, writing my journal has also been cathartic. Being quite emotionally intense,  I need to get those emotions out. If for whatever reason, I can’t express that angst, then it travels inward, a bit like poison and threatens serious consequences. After all, we all know stress does nasty things to our health. Journalling is very good. It helps to vent and let out a hell of a lot of steam!!

Journalling was particularly helpful as an angst-ridden teen when shattered romance and rejection inevitably resulted in very intense emotions and my diary and my dog bore the brunt of these. As I’m sure most of us have been there, these are the sort of emotions you can’t really put into words in a verbal way and given that friends can blab or run off with your latest love interest or “prospect”, there’s good cause for keeping a journal and sticking to your own counsel.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 (1985) Poster

Since having children, my journaling has taken on another function, particularly given my precarious medical situation. A parent is something of a human super-computer watching, analyzing and storing millions and millions of snippets about their kids. Kids just love it when people reflect back on their journey, their story and all their little battles from the cut finger and surgery out at Westmead Children’s Hospital to the stitch at Little Athletics when Mister came last by a country mile and when he sang Imagine with his class in the school musical. I store all their medical histories and bits and pieces about their milestones in my head as well as in their precious “Blue Books” where everything is recorded for posterity.

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/09/Diary_of_a_wimpy_kid.jpg

When a child loses a parent, they also lose this ready-reckoner and such a swag of memories that they literally lose a huge chunk of themselves. To combat this, I have written my own journals expecting my husband and kids to read them and need them. I have also tried to record what the kids have done and their funny little comments etc in journals that are their own. I did this much more when they were younger and and also at times when my health has reached a crisis point. It has slackened off of late as I’ve been well, busy blogging and I’ve also been wanting to hand the batton over and get the kids to write in their own journals. Miss has a had a few stop starts but when it comes to Mister, I’d have an easier time pulling teeth. Writing isn’t his thing. At least, not at the moment!!

https://i0.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1345386687l/1950183.jpg

While discussing journalling as a family, we have found out that my husband’s Great Great Grandfather, Irishman Daniel Burke was mentioned in Jail Journal by John Mitchell. John Mitchell was an Irish radical who was exiled to Tasmania but managed to escape to America. It turns out that Daniel Burke who lived in Westbury, loaned him a horse which was instrumental to his escape. Finding a historic, personal reference like this is priceless to a history lover.

While I have extolled the virtues of writing not only a journal but also the virtues of making journalling an ongoing, life-long habit; I should also point out some challenges.

If you are wanting to really do your journals justice, you also need to re-read them and that also means thinking about how and where you are going to store them where they can be somewhat accessible but also protected against the elements. This can be quite problematic for a prolific journal-writer because storage can become a serious problem, especially if you’re on the move.

That’s where writing your journal on your computer has real advantages over using those gorgeous handwritten journals, which really do look inspirational and pretty but probably aren’t the most practical solution.

The other problem with putting all your journals in one spot is that if there is some freak of nature, one goes up, they all go up. Also, if they are private and someone else finds them, they’ll have your entire life’s story in their grasp. Is that what you want?

Naturally, anybody who has written a private journal has included those personal secrets that are your secrets and there remains that lingering question about whether they should be burned. That is an incredibly personal matter. I haven’t destroyed any of mine but I have considered it.

So do you keep a journal and do you find it helpful and if you are doing the A-Z Challenge, what did you blog about today?

xx Rowena