Tag Archives: William Smith O’Brien

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.

I-Irish Nationalists in Tasmania

Tasmania has its secrets and I’m starting to wonder whether it has more secrets than most.

While its brutal convict heritage is much publicized and has even become a tourist draw card, there are so many surprises once you scratch the beneath the surface. As I’ve mentioned before, the brutal conflict between the indigenous Tasmanian Aborigines and settlers known as the Black Wars was largely forgotten and not even covered up.

Another facet of Tasmania’s history I knew very little about before I met Geoff, was its strong pockets of Irish settlement. There were areas with notably high concentrations of Irish settlers, especially around Westbury, Deloraine and Irish Town. These were towns where names like Murphy, Griffin, Lyons, Burke and O’Sullivan flowed from Irish tongues.

In addition to these settlers and emancipated convicts, Irish political prisoners were also exiled to Van Dieman’s Land.

So, today we’re actually not visiting a place. Rather, we’re jumping into our time machine and turning the clock back somewhere around the 1850s and hooking up with these exiles.

This was a very turbulent time in Irish History. In addition to seeking independence from England, Ireland was struck down by the Great Famine from 1845-1852. During the famine, approximately one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland,[4] causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.[5]

John Mitchel summed up what it meant for them to be exiled from their beloved Ireland and their cause:

“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’. For a group of Irish nationalists Van Diemen’s Land was the last place they would choose to waste precious years of their life[1].

In particularly, we’ll be meeting up with John Mitchel and William Smith O’Brien

John Mitchel

Referring to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, we’ll pick up with John Mitchel in Autumn of 1845 when he became assistant editor of the Nation under Charles Gavan Duffy. Meanwhile, he had joined the Repeal Association which, inspired by Daniel O’Connell, campaigned for the peaceable dissolution of the union with England; but he also became associated with the emerging Young Ireland movement, whose militancy and advocacy of physical force were leading to a collision between the older and younger leaders. The first open breach came in 1846 when Mitchel, William Smith O’Brien, Thomas Meagher and others left the Repeal Association; but it was not complete until O’Connell’s death a year later.

In December 1847 Mitchel broke with Duffy and the Nation and in February 1848 launched the United Irishman, a weekly newspaper that soon became the most influential of the organs propagating the militant views of the Young Ireland Movement. As conflict in Ireland sharpened, the authorities decided to take drastic action: habeas corpus was suspended and a new Treason Felony Act received the royal assent; under this new legislation Mitchel, having first been charged with sedition, was sentenced to fourteen years transportation for treason. Soon afterwards the other Young Ireland leaders, O’Brien, Meagher, Patrick O’Donohoe, John Martin, Terence McManus and Kevin Izod O’Doherty, were tried and sentenced for high treason at Clonmel and Dublin, and transported to Van Diemen’s Land. Mitchel was first committed to the hulks in Bermuda, and later sent to the Cape of Good Hope in the Neptune. The colonists refused to allow the ship to berth and, having lain at anchor for five months in Simon’s Bay, she sailed to Van Diemen’s Land and docked at Hobart Town in April 1850.

Mitchel, though the first to be sentenced, was thus the last of the Young Ireland leaders to reach Van Diemen’s Land. He was granted a ticket-of-leave on parole and allowed to share a cottage near Bothwell with John Martin. He was also able to meet O’Doherty and Meagher at Lake Sorell on the borders of their police districts. In May 1851 he went to meet his wife who was believed to be arriving at Launceston. For leaving the district without a pass he was arrested, but soon discharged. His wife Jane and children did not arrive in the brig Union until June, when they joined him at Bothwell. Two years later Mitchel successfully planned and carried through his escape from the island with the help of P. J. Smyth, who had come from New York as correspondent of the New York Tribune for the purpose. Having previously surrendered his parole and ticket-of-leave at Bothwell police station, he made his way to Hobart in June 1853, sailed for Sydney, and thence to Batavia, San Francisco and New York, where he received a hero’s welcome in November.

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mitchel-john-2461http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mitchel-john-2461

Smith O'Brien

William Smith O’Brien.

William Smith O’Brien

When you visit Port Arthur these days, you can still see William Smith O’Brien’s house. As his is a complex story, I’ve left the telling to G. Rudé, from the Australian Dictionary of Biography:

“William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864), Irish nationalist, was born on 17 October 1803 at Dromoland, County Clare, Ireland, the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, baronet, and Charlotte, née Smith. A Protestant, he was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1826). He represented the Irish borough of Ennis in the unreformed British parliament from 1828 to 1831 and Limerick from 1835 until his exclusion from the Commons in 1849. For long an opponent of Daniel O’Connell, O’Brien joined his Repeal Association in 1843 and soon exercised an authority within it second only to ‘the Liberator’ himself. In the disputes dividing the Irish nationalist leaders in the 1840s O’Brien at first adopted a conciliatory role; and, although he walked out of the association with John Mitchel, Thomas Meagher and other militants in July 1846, he continued to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847 completed the breach between the advocates of ‘moral’ and ‘physical’ force.”

From this time he appears as the oldest, most experienced and respected, though by no means the most resolute or consistent, of the leaders of the militant Young Ireland or ‘confederate’ groups which, after the February 1848 revolution in Paris, urged the formation of an Irish national guard modelled on the French and a council of three hundred as the nucleus of an Irish national parliament; eventually after John Mitchel’s arrest and condemnation in May 1848 he organized an armed insurrection. It was poorly led, ill equipped and unsupported, and proved abortive. Though O’Brien had long hesitated to engage in armed rebellion and refused to lend his name to the committee of five that directed it, he was recognized as its foremost leader, was arrested in August on a charge of high treason and at Clonmel in October 1848 was sentenced with T. F. Meagher, T. B. McManus and Patrick O’Donohoe to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The sentence was commuted to transportation for life; O’Brien and his principal lieutenants sailed in the Swift to Hobart Town, where they arrived on 27 October 1849. Three of O’Brien’s humbler and lesser-known comrades-in-arms, Thomas Donovan, Thomas Wall and John Walsh, were sentenced at Waterford in July 1850 to seven years transportation for attacking the city’s police barracks under O’Brien’s orders and reached Hobart in the Hyderabad on 13 December 1850; a fourth, Cornelius Keeffe, sentenced at Waterford for a similar offence in March 1849, followed in the Dalhousie on 14 August 1852.

On arrival in Hobart O’Brien at first refused to give his parole in return for a ticket-of-leave and was in consequence denied the privileged treatment afforded to the other Young Ireland leaders. He was sent to Darlington station in the penal settlement of Maria Island; nine months later, after an unsuccessful attempt to escape to the United States in an American whaler, he was transferred to Port Arthur, where he was allowed to live in his own cottage (now a youth hostel). In November 1850 he was persuaded to give his parole, was granted a ticket-of-leave and settled first at New Norfolk and later at Avoca, where he acted as tutor to the children of a local doctor. Returning to New Norfolk he received a conditional pardon in 1854; he sailed for Europe and in Brussels was joined by his wife Lucy, née Gabbett, five sons and two daughters. In May 1856, following the intercession of 140 British parliamentarians, he was granted a free pardon which allowed him to return to Ireland. In 1859 he paid a brief visit to New York and in 1863 to Poland. He died at Bangor, Wales, on 18 June 1864.

However, while these men had been exiled from their homeland, they were embraced and assisted by Tasmania’s tight-knit Irish community. After John Mitchel declared his intention to escape, he stayed with Geoff”s 4th Great Grandfather, William Burke of Westbury who also lent him his horse.

Smith O'Briens Cottage

Smith O’Brien’s Cottage at Port Arthur.

Meanwhile, it’s looking like John Newton, another of Geoff’s 4th Great Grandparents, could well have been serving time as a convict on Maria at the same time Smith O’Brien was there…an interesting connection, which hardly made them best of friends.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back to look at John Mitchel’s Jail Journal and his escape from Van Dieman’s Land to America.

Stay tuned.

xx Rowena

PS I apologise if there are any mistakes and I would appreciate any corrections left in the comments please. I know I’ve only dipped my toe into this very complex subject, but it’s better to have a go, than never try at all.

Sources

[1] http://www.utas.edu.au/young-irelanders/their-story/the-young-irelanders-in-van-diemens-landhttp://www.utas.edu.au/young-irelanders/their-story/the-young-irelanders-in-van-diemens-land

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mitchel-john-2461

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/obrien-william-smith-2516

William Smith O’Brien…An Irish Rebel at Port Arthur.

You could well be excused for not knowing that Irish nationalist William Smith O’Brien once “lived” at Port Arthur. While Australian convict folklore says that convicts were sent to Australia for “stealing a loaf of bread”, a number of Irish political  rebels were also transported to Van Dieman’s Land, as Tasmania was once known. This included William Smith O’Brien who lived in a separate cottage at Port Arthur, which is still standing.

William Smith OBriens House.JPG

Rewinding to Ireland 1848 on what is going to be a supersonic visit, Ireland was under English rule and in the grip of an unprecedented famine due to repeated failure of the potato crop, which in parts of the country, was their only crop. An 1848 uprising in Paris, inspired Younger Irelanders, led by William Smith O’Brien, to stage a rebellion.

The Young Irelander Rebellion was a failed Irish nationalist uprising led by the Young Ireland movement, part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that affected most of Europe. It took place on 29 July 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, South Tipperary. After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, an Irish Constabulary unit raided a house and took those inside as hostages. A several-hour gunfight followed, but the rebels fled after a large group of police reinforcements arrived.It is sometimes called the Famine Rebellion (since it took place during the Great Irish Famine) or the Battle of Ballingarry.

william-smith-obriens-house-historic

William Smith O’Brien was convicted and sentenced to death for his part in the rebellion of 1848, but his sentence was later commuted to transportation to the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary, had decided that the best policy in regard to the Young Ireland prisoners was to consign them to gentlemanly oblivion. Sir William Denison, the governor, would have preferred to treat them as convicts. However, he was obliged to offer O’Brien a ticket-of-leave.
Initially O’Brien refused because of the condition attached which would have prevented him attempting to escape. So while his fellow-revolutionaries, Patrick O’Donohoe, Thomas Meagher and Terence MacManus, were immediately set at large, O’Brien was sent on to Maria Island, the most remote outpost of the penal settlement. An attempt at escape was bungled and he was, in August 1850, transferred to Port Arthur.

This article appeared in the Tasmanian press at the time:

“SMITH O’BRIEN.

This gentleman is now confined in the penal settlement of Port Arthur. He lives in a small cottage consisting of three or four apartments,—his rations are supplied by government,
and consist of a limited quantity of tea, sugar, bread, and meat. He is permitted to walk in a paddock adjoining his place of abode, constantly watched by a military sentry who
keeps within 20 paces of him. He is locked up from sun-set to sun-rise.

Thus lingers an Irish Patriot, the descendant of princes, whose life was spent in acts of virtue.”

The Irish Exile and Freedom’s Advocate (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1850 – 1851) Saturday 21 September 1850 p 3 Article

In November 1850 he was persuaded to give his parole, was granted a ticket-of-leave and settled first at New Norfolk and later at Avoca, where he acted as tutor to the children of a local doctor. Returning to New Norfolk he received a conditional pardon in 1854; he sailed for Europe and in Brussels was joined by his wife Lucy, née Gabbett, five sons and two daughters. In May 1856, following the intercession of 140 British parliamentarians, he was granted a free pardon which allowed him to return to Ireland. In 1859 he paid a brief visit to New York and in 1863 to Poland. He died at Bangor, Wales, on 18 June 1864.
Although we didn’t have time to even walk past Smith O’Brien’s Cottage, I’ve included him in my tour of Port Arthur because other branches of Geoff’s family were involved in helping another Irish political prisoner, John Mitchel escape. Geoff’s 4th Great Grandfather was Daniel Burke who was mentioned in John Mitchel’s account of his time in Tasmania: Jail Journal.
I hope that supersonic trip hasn’t glossed over too many details and recommend further reading. This post has been written more an an entre, rather than providing a comprehensive account. Otherwise, this blog is never going to leave Tasmania and make it home.
xx Rowena

 Sources