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Title: John Mitchel, Van Diemens Land, to Miss Thomson [Dublin?]
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FileMitchel, John/25
SenderMitchel, John
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationunknown
Sender ReligionProtestant
OriginVan Diemen's Land, Tasmania, Australia
DestinationDublin, Ireland
RecipientMiss Thomson
Recipient Genderfemale
Relationshipfriends, relatives?
SourceT 413/2: Obtained from Mrs Florence Dawson, 26 Windsor Park, Belfast.
ArchivePublic Record Office, Northern Ireland
Doc. No.9005206
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
Log22:05:1990 JMR created 22:08:1991 MB input 22:08:1
Word Count2620
TranscriptBothwell V.D.L. [Van Diemen's Land?]
4 Oct. [October?] 1852.

Dear Miss Thompson,
Jenny, oppressed with household
cares but also oppressed by epistolary obligation
to you for several long & most agreeable & highly
valued letters, has desired me to take you in hand,
& give you a bulletin of our news. First then I
have mentioned that she is oppressed with household
cares; the reason of this is that a little girl was
born here some weeks ago, & Jenny is much occupied
by nursing & the like. The little one has no name,
& nameless she is to remain while we are in this
unblessed land. She may be christened if ever we
get back to Christendom. Jenny is quite well again,
as indeed are all in the house. Henrietta & Willie
are now two of the strongest & wildest children in
the family.
Your last letter is dated the 8th
of May & I must say it gives a dreary picture of
affairs in Ireland. No such utterly prostrate
country, I presume, the sun has yet seen - at least
of the lands inhabited by white men since history
began. To try to prevent such an utter & final
conquest of our country was surely in itself a good
cause, and if it failed entirely through folly or
weakness, or because the destinies were against us,
it is at least a consolation that ourselves pay the
penalty. From your account of the preparations for
an election, & indeed from the newspapers generally,
I find that the priests are systematically trying to
merge all national feeling in Catholicity - their
nationality henceforward is to be papal nationality of
race & country in some more universal principal or
cause - Republicanism, Monarchism, Christianity,
Commerce. Can all our national zeal then have been
a mere mistake? Were we hunting moonshine, & making
ourselves drunk with the east wind. My dear lady
I do not believe it. We were entirely & exclusively
right. This is not modest but it is true. The 19th
century is on a wrong track, & before the century is
over will confess the same with gnashing of teeth.
You ask if I have any hope of our cause for the
future. I answer distinctly, yes. I hope that even
in our day Ireland will be an independant nation.
The graves indeed will not give up their dead, the
hearths that have been quenched lie quenched there, &
will never, never be kindled again; the tears &

agonies of a nation sick to death are past; the tears
are shed & the earth has covered them; the bitter
agony has wailed itself silent, & there seems to be
no vengeance, no threat of vengeance in Heaven or on
earth. So far the conquest seems complete; the
enlightened genius of British commercial civilization
has actually brought matters so far & it cannot be
gainsayed [gainsaid?]; has quenched so many warm hearths, has
slain so many men, women & children, has brought to
their knees, cowed, broken down & degraded in mind
body & estate all the survivors. And British
civilisation marches over our ruins, exulting &
canting. Yet nature is bountiful, & the breed of
brave men is never quite trampled out. "The quick
spring like weeds out of the Dead", and I am strong
in the faith that the perpetual oscillation of human
affairs (or wagging of the world) does bring about
compensations here & there & does now & then punish
national crimes, raising the lowly & bringing the
proud to dust. It is the humdrum & multifarious
Alison I think who says that "Nations are punished for
crimes in this world they have no future state".
If that be true what a tribulation is brewing now for
the true Britons. May we live to see it! After all
you know how "a gentleman on the other" would
apply all that I have been saying. "Yes, so many
killed or routed to the four winds; so many Celtic
benighted hearths quenched because ignorance darkness
brought in contact with energy & knowledge must go
down, must vanish, weeping & wailing, in sorrow &
shame. Yes time does bring compensation & punish
national sins, for see what a penalty sloth, popery,
& Celtic ferocity have brought upon you."
Which of these two versions of the
story is true, & which is lying, greediness & cant,
I being still uncontrite entertain no doubt. Is it
not strange to be writing thus to a young girl, who
has had a gay season in Dublin & who is taking counsel
as to what watering place she will favour for the
summer - these dismal or vengeful vaticinations of
national doom - these mournings of a beaten monomaniac
for a lost cause? So most people would call them,
but you will not think my letter strange, far less
insane. You will not laugh at me, nor yet shrink from
me (as Lord Eglinton does) with abhorrence, for if I
read your letters right, thoughts of the same sort are
no strangers to you. In times that try men's souls
there will always be women too who can grow
transcendental, & the race of them also was not

extinguished at Carthage or Zaragoza or Limerick. The
human race is not improving, but thank God it is also
not growing worse & going all to the Devil.
I wonder a little at your longing for
the West. You cannot I think much admire the Western
form of human civilisation, at any rate in its northern
hearty applause to America, its institutions &
governments in all departments are just, its soil is
a refuge for hunted & denounced men; & even for the
grandest states & greatest & best nations have been
slave holding states & nations. So that I have no
distinct fault to find with that great Republic &
could so wish to be obliged to confess that those just
laws & institutions, that majestic country with its
teeming soil, with its mighty power, respectable
history, august destinies (as it is hoped) that all
this does indeed breed and nurse great men, generous
passions, & high deeds - but does it? What higher
thing than money? What greater end & aim of all
social & political institutions than just fair play
for the making of money. Carriere ouverte aux talents -
for money making - have they any idea of? Is not
commerce their god, as he is the god of England also.
Commerce which used to be called Mammon & a fiend?
Consider this "Civilisation" in its original
etymological & only proper meaning, signified a high
cultivation & development of all the social & political
functions, talents, rights, duties, high cultivation
above all, full acknowledgement & enthronement of simple
Justice. The most highly civilised state then was
simply the state wherein first, JUSTICE WAS SURE,
wherein secondly all the political & social order
tended & conspired to enable & induce the citizens to
exert their noblest faculties, & strive towards the
noblest aims. What does civilisation mean NOW? It
means steam, that carries all men rapidly on no matter
how base an errand. It means the PRINTING PRESS, that
multiplies as the sands of the sea, teachings no matter
how false & vile; it means the electric telegraph,
whereby lies will put a girdle round the globe in less
than Ariel's forty minutes; it means upholstery, scrip,
dividends, nuggets; it means anything but JUSTICE.
Now whereas the Americans, if they but knew it, are
considerably civilised, & have in their power the
attainment of true civilisation in its very highest
form, yet they are losing the idea of civilisation
itself. The idea of Justice, on which their common
wealth was based is disappearing before the genius of
the commerce fiend. So they let Czar Nicholas work his

will with immortal Hungary; they ravage Mexico & bully
Japan. They send a steamer indeed for Kossuth to make
them speeches (they would send a fleet of steamers for
Madselle Wagner); they feast him, cheer him, & as he
does not praise them enough soon tire of him. Poor
noble heart! in the simplicity of his great nature he
had dreamed that beyond the setting sun a race of giants
grew; that in the New World man was indeed renewing his
youth like the eagle, & starting afresh a demi-god in
an age of gold, he thought that in a free & rhetorical
country words meant things.
But it is not New England perhaps but
Texas you admire, and I admit that is far better.
Your brother's ranches must be tempting you, & certainly
the life of a settler in a new country with a fine
climate has some high attractions. Even here with all
the drawback of the hideous people one must employ & see
about one, I could sometimes almost envy an extensive
sheep owner with a fine house in a lovely country, &
splendid horses to ride. The climate is certainly very
genial to the races of dogs & horses, as well as to the
human kind. The men indeed are generally mean looking,
but amongst Tasmanian women are some most superb &
puissant beauties. In all these respects perhaps this
island gaol is at least equal to Texas, but over it all
is the trail of the serpent. No great prospect I see
of the enemy letting us loose very soon. I am glad you
are disgusted by the "Liberation Meetings" in Ireland, &
with the business of petitioning for our "pardon".
Altogether, I must say nobody had any right to crave
pardon on my behalf. I had warned people against it, &
assuredly I do not thank my intercessors. I have just
written a letter to Father Kenyon, & asked him to print
it. When he does so, you will see what I have to say
upon the subject of the Phoenix Park petitioners & how
I express my "contrition". Possibly indeed the
publication of it may give our gaolers an excuse &
occasion to take some further revenge upon us, for the
great British public is not very generous to an enemy,
but I could not resist the inclination of showing the
English Government how utterly I set it at defiance &
despise all it can do to me. You ask about the other
Exiles. Mr. Martin lives with us & is to do so until
February next, when I am to quit this cottage & farm &
probably the district of Bothwell also (do not however
fear the misdirection of letters - a letter addressed to
us at Hobart Town will always find us.) Mr O'Brien I
see sometimes; we are very good friends, but he never
loses sight of the necessity of avoiding solidarity with

me; indeed we never can be political associates again,
even if we live to enter politics hereafter. Mr
O'Doherty is still in charge of a hospital in Hobart
town as house Surgeon, & is rather pleasantly situated
there, having practice in his profession & a comfortable
lodging in the hospital. He has however no "society"
whatever. The people of Hobart town, that is the
official people & their families, & the wealthy merchants,
whose ambition is to go to Governt [Government?] House, all of course
keep very shy of us. The governor does not conceal his
discontent at our being visited or spoken to by any
decent people. So O'Dogherty has not the entree of
their distinguished circles. As to Mr O'Brien & ourselves
there are two parties amongst the country settlers
of our respective districts. Some are for giving us
access to their society on a footing of equality, others
pretend to be distinguished as I understand, though to do the
people justice no one has been mean & cowardly enough to
insult us. The principal settler however in New Norfolk
district, a wealthy person who was formerly a clerk in the
Survey Office here & who resides within a few hundred
yards of Mr O'Brien, never called on him. He has a
family, & fears convict contamination. In Bothwell Mr
Martin & I have from the first been kindly received by all
the families where there are ladies - save one - & they
have also all called on my wife, but owing to the
distances & bad roads in winter, social intercourse is
somewhat rare. It is also I must confess unsatisfactory,
& however little the good people may intend it, yet
something often arises in our intercourse with them that
secretly stings us. How could it be otherwise - they are
British subjects & must deem us criminals. Fortunately I
am not very sensitive on my own account but on account of
my wife & children sometimes I am. Fortunately too we are
not dependant on society, having so much of a society of
our own within doors. There is no scarcity of books, of
certain sorts, indeed Bothwell has a very tolerable
public library, such a library as a village of similar
population in Ireland never had. Besides that there is
a Presbyterian clergyman here, a Scotchman, who is quite
literary & has many books & although my own were to have
been sold in Dublin yet Jenny saved a good many of them
for me. It would be uncandid however to pretend that
with all the furtherances & appliances we have we are
content, or at all near to contentment. Disguise itself
as it will Slavery is a bitter draught, and sometimes
indeed I am provoked at the vulgar rogues of newspaper
men in Ireland upholding ME as the happiest man of modern
times. In a Limerick paper I read that I give in letters

to my friends a GLOWING picture of the position &
prospects of myself & my family. Think of this. Later
again in a Galway paper I read that I am as "happy" as
the day is long. Of course I always write in good
spirits, if our position were even worse & our prospects
blacker I should still write in good spirits & defy the
foul fiend, for I have no idea of being SUBDUED, but as
for happiness & glowing prospects ochon-a-rie! Happy -
I am hardly alive, the first day of capativity took from
me more than half my manhood, & I am not ALL HERE. The
truth is this state is a living death, & is only not
utter misery because it is not embittered by remorse &
disgrace. Moreover I do not like that either. My
friends or my enemies should be led to believe I made
myself happy by getting kidnapped & chained.
So enough of that. Only I would that
I had the wings of a dove - that with honour untarnished
I might fly from under the poisonous shadow of the
British flag. You have heard of course all about Mr
Meagher's escape. We are not here content with the
manner of it. Assuredly if we could think the obligation
of our parole could be so easily satisfied, there is not
one of us who would not have been North of the Equator
long ago. It is painful to say this, but his leaving
V.D. [Van Diemen's?] Land so as to let even a question be
raised about his good faith, was a grevious wrong to us & to
our cause. I need not tell you that Jenny sends you her
most affectionate love. Pray write often & long &
believe me most sincerely & gratefully your friend,
John Mitchel.
The original of this letter sent to Mrs. Mitchel in April 1884 at her
request as she intends publishing a memoir of her husband.