Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/111

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HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES.

whose wood-craft could procure Mm a living; but he had no hope of freedom, near or remote. Of the two alternatives left him (outside that of penal servitude), suicide was rather better than flight to the Bush.

So said the good priest, Father McCabe, when O'Reilly, consumed with the mad passion for liberty, told him his crude plans of escape. Perhaps flight was worse than suicide, in an earthly sense, because its inevitable failure carried with it a penalty, that of enrollment in the chain-gangs. The horrors of this punishment are not to be understood by free men. Something of them may be gleaned from O'Reilly's poem, "The Mutiny of the Chains," in which he says:

Woe to the weak, to the mutineers!
The bolt of their death is driven;
A mercy waits on all other tears,
But the Chains are never forgiven.

He had been a little over a year in the convict settlement before the long-sought opportunity came of breaking his bonds forever. The story of his escape would be deeply interesting had he been nothing more than a mere adventurer like Baron Trenck, or a poor court intriguer like Latude; for the world—we are all only prisoners under a life sentence—is ever stirred by the story of a bondman breaking his fetters; but a warmer sympathy is evoked by the tale of this young hero of a romantic revolutionary movement,—this poet whose whole life was a poem.

The true account was not given to the world for many years, as its premature publication would have entailed serious consequences on some of the agents in Australia through whose devotion and courage the young convict had effected his escape. The first authentic story, as published with his sanction by his brother author and warm friend, Mr. Alexander Young, of Boston, in the Philadelphia Times of June 25, 1881, is as follows:

O'Reilly had made preparations for his escape several months before attempting it. He had told no one of his intention, because he had