The Irish in Australia/Chapter 9

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In this year of grace 1887, Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, the mother colony of the Australias, has for its municipal governor an active and enterprising Irish-Australian in the person of Alderman A. J. Riley, M.P. And it is only in accordance with the fitness of things, that the honour of the mayoralty of Sydney should be frequently conferred on leading Irish citizens, as a merited recognition of the prominent and laborious part they and their countrymen have played, in building up the greatness of the most historic city of the south. Sydney is now approaching the close of the first century of its existence, and it may be aptly described as a fully-developed antipodean city of great commerce and industrial activity. Situated on the southern shores of Port Jackson, most lovely and capacious of harbours, Sydney is able to welcome the mercantile marine of the world, and to receive trading representatives of all nations at her very doors. As the oldest city of the colonies, Sydney presents a variety of quaint aspects that differentiate it from all its younger rivals. It is not, for example, laid out on strict mathematical lines, as are all the recent cities of Australasian growth, but rather rejoices in those narrow, irregular thoroughfares that characterise primitive cities of the northern hemisphere. This circumstance necessarily detracts somewhat from its architectural appearance. Nevertheless, the churches, public buildings, and business establishments of Sydney are quite as elegant, as substantial, and as imposing as those of its great rival Melbourne, despite the fact that they cannot be seen to equal advantage. St. Mary's Cathedral, like St. Patrick's, of Melbourne, is an immense, unfinished memorial of Irish Catholic piety, destined one day to be the noblest ecclesiastical edifice in the mother colony of the Australian group. St. Vincent's Hospital, which is under the kind and Christian management of the Sisters of Charity, is perhaps the institution that reflects the highest credit on Catholic Sydney. "Of all our institutions of charity," says the foremost Irish-Australian statesman, the Right Hon. W. B. Dalley, "this is the one of which we have the most reason to be proud. For nearly thirty years it has been silently and unobtrusively doing a great work. It has received during that period tens of thousands of patients suffering from all kinds of diseases, and it has relieved hundreds of thousands of out-patients. Its doors are open to those of all religions or of none. Though served by holy women who have consecrated their lives to the care of the sick and the relief of the suffering, it is supported by the entire community. The Catholic Church has the merit of its foundation, and so far as the nurses are concerned, the glory of its service; but it has no exclusive claim to its maintenance. I believe its most generous benefactors are not of our communion. Amongst its life-subscribers, I find that some who have purchased that honour and privilege by contributions, are not of the faith of those who serve it. It is thus a standing memorial of that liberality which it is so desirable to cultivate in all the relations of life."

St. John's College, affiliated to the University of Sydney; St. Ignatius' College, Riverview, conducted by the Jesuit Fathers; and St. Joseph's College, Hunter Hill, under the management of the Marist Fathers, are three educational institutions that reflect the highest credit on the Catholic population of the parent colony.

At the beginning of the century the name "New South Wales" was synonymous with Australia, for no other settlement existed, and its governor exercised jurisdiction over the whole continent. At present, however, its area is restricted to that eastern portion of the continent lying north of Victoria, south of Queensland, and east of South Australia. New South Wales was avowedly founded for the express purpose of relieving the overcrowded gaols of England of their most refractory inmates. The successful effort of the American colonists to assert their independence put an effectual stop to the deportation of English criminals across the Atlantic, and it became necessary to find some other receptacle for them. Eight years previously, Captain James Cook had been sent on a voyage of discovery to the southern seas. He landed on the eastern shores of the Australian continent, at a place whose name has since gained a world-wide notoriety—Botany Bay, so called by Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist of the expedition, on account of the luxuriant vegetation all round it. Landing here he took possession of the continent in the name and on behalf of the then reigning monarch, George the Third. After an extensive voyage, Cook returned to England in June, 1771, and reported his discoveries in Australia. No action, however, was taken in reference to his report, until the loss of the American colonies necessitated the formation of other penal settlements. Then, and not till then, was Captain Cook's report taken from its dusty pigeon-hole and perused with far greater interest than when it was first submitted. To British statesmen it seemed a merciful interposition of Providence, that a new continent in the south was thus rendered available for the occupation of their felonry, so soon after they had forfeited their American possessions by a pigheaded policy and tyrannical dictation. It was immediately decided to found a penal settlement on the delightful shores of Botany Bay. In pursuance of this object Viscount Sydney, then principal Secretary of State for the Colonies in Pitt's administration, recommended the establishment of the colony of New South Wales, and this recommendation was subsequently confirmed by an Order of Council, dated December 6th, 1785. On May 13, 1787, what has come to be historically known as the "First Fleet," consisting of eleven ships, with supplies for two years, sailed from England for the antipodes under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. The first consignment of prisoners numbered 696—504 males and 192 females—who were guarded by 212 officers and marines. Captain Phillip, with his living freight of exiles, arrived in Botany Bay on January 20, 1788. But, strange to say, though the name of Botany Bay has ever since been associated with crime and criminals, as a matter of fact the place never was a permanent penal settlement. Two days after landing, Captain Phillip, accompanied by several officers, set out in boats to examine the coast to the north. This boating expedition resulted in the discovery of a harbour, whose praises have since been sounded in every land, and which continues to be the pride and the joy of the Australian native-born population. Entering between two rocky headlands a vision of surpassing beauty burst upon the gaze of the astonished mariners. A noble harbour, dotted with islands, and encompassed by verdant hills, expanded before them, its waters basking in the delights of southern sunshine. As they advanced, each succeeding stroke of the oar opened up new scenes of loveliness and fresh successions of charming inlets all around them. On the shores of this delightful bay they determined to build their little town, which they christened Sydney, in honour of the nobleman already mentioned. The picturesque harbour they called Port Jackson.

For many years the place suffered all the horrors inseparable from a penal settlement under an irresponsible régime. Military rule was paramount, and the early annals of the colony literally reek with vice, debauchery and immorality of every conceivable kind. The infant settlement, relying on receiving supplies from the mother country, was once almost annihilated by famine, and an infamous system of traffic in rum, which soon became the recognised currency, was inaugurated. The wholesale saturnalia and indiscriminate intoxication that followed on this miserable state of affairs may be easily imagined. But in process of time these terrible diseases in the body politic found a remedy. As the resources of the colony became generally and better known in the Old World, a gradually increasing stream of immigration began to flow towards the settlement, and this naturally had the effect of purifying to an appreciable extent the moral atmosphere of the colony.

The extraordinary facilities offered by the Australian soil for the rearing of sheep and the production of wool were speedily discovered. John Macarthur, one of the earliest free settlers, imported from the Cape Colony three rams and five ewes—the precursors of the immense flocks of sheep that now roam over the plains of Australia. In 1803 Macarthur brought to England the first sample of Australian wool. In 1834, the year of his death, the quantity of wool, annually exported from Australia, had reached four and a half million pounds. The latest returns show that Australia is now exporting wool to the extent of 410 million pounds annually.

The appointment of a Legislative Council in 1824 did away, to some extent, with irresponsible military rule and its attendant evils, and paved the way for a better state of things in the body politic. The free settlers, becoming emboldened by increasing numbers, and perceiving the horrors inflicted on their adopted country, as well as the evil example placed before their young families, by the transportation system, raised their voices against its further continuance. They organised an agitation and established a league with the object of achieving that desirable result, but the ex-prisoners, many of whom had by this time become wealthy landed proprietors, formed themselves into a counter-organisation called the "Emancipists," and agitated for the perpetuation of the system, so that they might have a constant supply of convict labour. With undeniable truth they urged and contended that the colony was originally founded expressly as a penal settlement, and that therefore the free settlers had come out with a full knowledge of the circumstances, and had no right to object to the conditions of life in which they had found themselves on arrival. The agitation on both sides was vigorously maintained for many years, and it was not until the various colonies had banded themselves together as an "Anti-Transportation League," that the home government was compelled to surrender and find some criminal depot nearer home. In November, 1849, the colonists at the Cape of Good Hope refused to permit the landing of a cargo of convicts from the "Neptune." John Mitchel gives a lengthy and humorous account of the "boycotting" that ensued, in his "Jail Journal." In June of the same year the "Harkaway," with another cargo of convicts, was refused permission to land them in Sydney. The excitement in Sydney on that occasion was unprecedented. An immense public meeting was held, at which the Ven. Archdeacon McEncroe (a popular Irish priest) declared amidst general applause that, rather than submit to the treatment they were then receiving from the Imperial Government, they would follow the example of the American colonists of 1776 and proclaim their independence. As an evidence of the reluctance with which the Imperial authorities abandoned the transportation system, it may be stated that it was not until the beginning of January, 1868, that the last convict ship quitted the shores of Australia.

In 1843 a liberal concession was made in the matter of representative institutions by the supplementing of the. nominee Legislative Council with representatives elected by the various districts of the colony. Twenty-four members were chosen in this manner and twelve were nominated by the Crown. As years rolled on and the colony settled down into a compact community, a still further extension if of political privileges was demanded, and eventually this also was conceded in the shape of a full measure of responsible Government. The first fully-endowed Parliament of New South Wales was opened on May 22nd, 1856.

Reference has already been made to the discovery of gold in New South Wales by Hargreaves. As in the case of Victoria, it resulted in a considerable accession of population. At first the eyes of all adventurers were turned towards New South Wales, but when the astonishing yields of the Victorian gold-fields became known, the auriferous regions of the parent colony became comparatively deserted. But in time they again received the attention to which they were justly entitled, and a large area of auriferous country in the south of New South Wales has since been profitably opened up.

Sydney will ever possess an affectionate interest for the Irish heart by reason of its having been the place of banishment of thousands of Irishmen during the early years of the century. These Celtic pioneers, it should be remembered, were transported in convict-ships to Australia for alleged offences that were not crimes at all in the legitimate sense of the word, and now-a-days are never regarded as such. Bishop Ullathorne puts the case very clearly when he remarks:

"The political circumstances of the British Empire were originally to a great degree responsible for the fact of the presence of a large proportion of the natives of Ireland amongst the first inhabitants of Australia. Ignorance or violation of religious principle, the knowledge or habits of a criminal life, were scarcely to any extent recognisable features in this unhappy class of Irish political prisoners. On the contrary, the deepest and purest sentiments of piety, a thorough comprehension of religious responsibility, and an almost impregnable simplicity of manner, were their distinctive virtues on their first consignment to the guardianship of the law. In many illustrious cases, a long and dangerous residence in the most depraved penal settlements was unable to extinguish those noble characteristics."

And the testimony of Sir Roger Therry, who, being an eminent Australian judge of the Supreme Court, is entitled to speak with authority on such a question, is equally explicit and conclusive:

"Very many Irishmen were transported for the infringement of severe laws, some of which are not now in force, and for offences for which a few months' imprisonment would at present be deemed an adequate expiation. In a country where abundant means rewarded industrious habits, I these men became prosperous."

As an example of the truth of this latter remark. Sir Roger mentions the case of Edmund Cane, who had been a snug farmer in Ireland, but was transported for complicity in an agrarian disturbance. Cane was assigned to a settler, and became invaluable as superintendent of his master's estate. "From his skill in agriculture, and his good temper in the management of the men. Cane, after having served his seven years' sentence in the settler's employment, became manager of the whole property and received a liberal salary, which was not paid in money, but in cattle and horses. After twenty years of service he thus became a wealthy man. Shortly before his death, his old master had born unto him a son, and Cane was complimented by being appointed godfather to the boy. The old man made a will bequeathing the whole of his property, the accumulated earnings of twenty years and upwards of arduous toil, to the lucky little bantling, who is now the leading gentleman in his district. The stock bequeathed to him greatly increased during his long minority, and, on coming of age, the fortunate godson found himself one of the most extensive stock-owners in New South Wales."

Sir Roger further states that in 1829, many of the men exiled from Ireland for the troubles of 1798 were still living. Amongst them some truly good men were to be found, whose lives were unstained by the commission of any of the ordinary felonies and baser crimes for which convicts were usually transported. On the term of their transportation being completed, they found themselves in the possession of competent means—the saving of wages from indulgent masters during their period of assignment, and their earnings on obtaining tickets-of-leave. Many of these men testified their attachment to their native country in the best practical shape, by sending to their families at home a portion of the fruits of their industry, and frequently defraying the expense of the voyage of other relatives, whom they invited to join them and share their prosperity in the colony. As an illustration Sir Roger cites the case of D———, who was expatriated from Ireland for making pikes in 1798. D——— was a first-rate blacksmith. About the time he became free, the charge for shoeing a horse was from fifteen shillings to a pound. He was an adept in this, as in all other branches of his business, and in the course of a long life of industry, he acquired property to the estimated extent of from £20,000 to £30,000. This was not, of course, the sole result of manual labour. He had, at an early period, made some judicious purchases of land, which in time had greatly increased in value. About two-thirds of this amount, at his death, in 1843, he devoted by will to religious and educational purposes. The remaining third he bequeathed to some relations whom he had brought out at his own expense from Ireland. He was wont to say quaintly that, if he left them more, it might encourage them to an idle life. Being of the humbler class himself, he deemed it was the duty of his relations to earn a livelihood, like himself, by some industrious pursuit. His life was one of simple habits and unselfish prosperity. Nor was this a solitary instance of remarkable success and generous conduct amongst the men of '98. "The oppressor's wrong and the proud man's contumely" drove many of these men into insurrection, and insurrection into exile. "I might easily," says Sir Roger, "enumerate the names of quite a legion of these exiles (for whose errors, on account of the unjust laws that ground them down, no generous mind can refuse sympathy) who became eminently prosperous in New South Wales, and whose children there are now the inheritors of large estates in land, and numerous flocks of sheep and herds of cattle."

On one occasion Sir Roger paid a visit to a little cemetery crowning a gentle Australian eminence, where he came across an humble tombstone, on which was^ engraved this touching inscription:

"Here lie in one grave Patrick O'Connor and Denis Bryan, shipmates in the 'Boyd' transport from Ireland in 1799, and compatriots in arms at the memorable battle of Vinegar Hill."

And the sympathetic Irish-Australian Judge does not hesitate to give full and open expression to the emotions off pity that he felt for the fate of these exiles, not unmingled with condemnation of the Irish rulers of that time, who were in no small degree responsible for the insurrection and its consequences. "These attached friends," he says, "the Damon and Pythias of humble life, on becoming free, purchased a valuable farm on the alluvial banks of the Cowpasture River. After the death of one, by arrangement it passed into the possession of the survivor, who bequeathed it for the religious and educational advantage of the religious community, of which he and his compatriot in arms were members.

"On visiting the church of St. Pietro in Montorio, at Rome, many years afterwards, as I stood upon the ornamental and tessellated pavement, and gazed on the spot where repose the ashes of the Earl of Tyrconnell and Baron Dungannon, who died in exile at Rome in 1608, and there read that 'they were brave and valorous men, often engaged in paths of danger, in defence of their patrimony and their faith,' my mind strayed back to the unadorned stone and homely inscription, that marked the humble grave of Bryan and O'Connor in the little cemetery at the antipodes, their fate a common one—exiles from their native land—sufferers alike in the same cause—that cause the resistance to laws which Edmund Burke truly designated as 'the worst and most wicked that ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.'"

In addition to many of the rank and file, two of the leading spirits in the insurrection of '98 were sent to Sydney at the close of the struggle. They were General Joseph Holt and brave Michael Dwyer. The former received a free pardon in 1814 and returned to die on Irish soil. His life was prolonged for twelve years, during which he prepared his well-known "Memoirs," which were published in two volumes under the editorial supervision of Mr. T. Crofton Croker. Written in a simple homely strain, they contain a large amount of valuable first-hand information, and a variety of shrewd comments on the condition of the colony during the term of his banishment. Heroic Michael Dwyer was not fated to see Ireland once again and to sleep in his native soil. He died in Sydney, and his remains were interred in the Devonshire Street Cemetery, where his resting-place is marked by a stately marble monument. More than half a century has elapsed since he was laid to rest in the far-away land of his exile, but still the patriot chieftain cannot be said to occupy a grave in the land of the stranger, for his grateful Irish-Australian countrymen continue to revere his memory and to make pilgrimages to his shrine, as this little extract from a recent issue of the Sydney Freeman's Journal will show: "Sixty years ago there passed away in our city one who, in his own sphere, had led a life as adventurous, heroic, and full of romance as any recorded in the history of struggling nationalities. Michael Dwyer, the insurgent chief of the Wicklow mountains, was exiled by the British Government to this colony in 1803, and now sleeps his last long sleep in Devonshire Street Cemetery, in this city, 'far from the hills of Innisfail.' His descendants are still amongst us, and by them, as well as by his countrymen, the virtues of the dead patriot are kept green and fresh as his own shamrock land; and many years will pass away ere the gallant Kosciusko of Irish history of ninety years ago is forgotten. On Sunday last about a hundred members of the Shamrock Club assembled to pay a tribute of respect to the memory of the departed patriot, and many a Wicklow man's pulse throbbed faster and a flush of pride mantled his brow as he gazed on the grave 'where the hero was buried.'" At the same time Irishmen all over the world cannot help sympathising with the governing thought in the gracefully-touching verses of Miss Katharine Tynan on "The Grave of Michael Dwyer":

I wish you slept where your kin are sleeping—
The dove-gray valley is sweet;
And the holy mountains their strange watch keeping
"Would love you lying still at their feet,
The dewy grass for your winding sheet.

You would sleep sweet with your sad lips smiling,
Dreaming, and hearing still
The bonny blackbird with songs beguiling,
The rain's light feet on the hill,
The children's laughter merry and shrill.

I have a fern that hath waved above you.
Just at your gray grave's head,
Sent to me by one who doth love you,
Bitter the tears she shed
Praying long by your lonely bed.

And now I weave of my idle fancies.
All for the love of you,
A wreath of passion flowers and of pansies
To lay on the grave I never knew,
And tears are thick on its leaves for dew.

There is a remarkable official testimony to the good qualities of the Irishmen who were exiled to Australia in the early days, that deserves to be dug out of the musty blue-book in which it has long been buried, and to be placed on permanent record. In 1819 Mr. John Thomas Bigge visited Australia in the capacity of special commissioner from King George III. to investigate the practical operation of the transportation system. He spent three years in making fall and exhaustive inquiries into every phase of the question; and in his final report, dated May 6th, 1822, occurs this significant and noteworthy passage:

"The convicts embarked in Ireland generally arrive in New South Wales in a very healthy state, and are found to be more obedient and more sensible of kind treatment during the passage than any other class. Their separation from their native country is observed to make a stronger impression upon their minds, both on their departure and during the voyage."

Amongst the remarkable Irish convicts who were shipped to Sydney by the home authorities was Edward O'Shaughnessy, a man of conspicuous ability. He was a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and, in his new sphere at the antipodes, his talents advanced him to the position of editor of the official journal of the colony, the Sydney Gazette, Mr. Flanagan[1] describes him as "an effective political writer, and endowed with considerable poetical talent, which he employed for some years in cultivating a taste for literature amongst the colonists." As showing the shameless severity of the laws during the early years of the century, Major Marjoribanks mentions the case of an Irish gentleman who died in New South Wales some years ago worth a quarter of a million of money. And yet this gentleman, who accumulated such vast wealth in the colonies by honest industry, was transported from home in his youth for the alleged offence of taking a handkerchief out of the pocket of a pedestrian. But the cleverest and most celebrated pocket-picker that ever landed on the shores of Australia, or the shores of anywhere else, was George Barrington, the name by which he is generally known, or George Waldron, to give him his baptismal title. His remarkable achievements have furnished many themes for literary and dramatic treatment, and quite recently he has received from Mr. Leslie Stephen the crowning honour of a place in the "Dictionary of National Biography." A native of Maynooth, County Kildare, Barrington's precocious talents gained him the favour and the patronage of a sympathetic clergyman, through whose interest he was placed in a boarding-school at Dublin. Here he remained until his sixteenth year, when, having been severely flogged for a violation of scholastic discipline, he ran away, after revenging himself by stealing twelve guineas from the master of the establishment and a gold repeater from that gentleman's sister. He turned his steps towards Drogheda, where he fell in with a company of strolling players, to whose ranks he became a welcome acquisition by reason of his handsome stage presence, and his marvellous memory. But the company got into financial difficulties at Londonderry, and Barrington resolved to replenish his empty purse by pocket-picking. He succeeded beyond his most sanguine anticipations, Cork and Dublin being his favourite and most lucrative fields of operation. Ireland becoming at length too hot to hold him, Barrington crossed the Channel and made his appearance in London fashionable society as a handsome young gentleman of good family, a character which he was naturally well qualified to play to the life. His ready assurance and his polished address enabled him to fraternise on the most familiar terms with noblemen and gentry, and to explore their well-lined pockets with an easy grace and a boundless self-confidence, that almost inspire a feeling of admiration at the perverted abilities of this accomplished adventurer. Once he actually attended a Royal reception, and succeeded in the difficult feat of cutting off the collar of an Order of the Garter, besides appropriating many snuff-boxes and purses from the pockets of the distinguished company. He then attempted a still higher flight of villany by trying to seize the diamond snuff-box presented to Prince Orloff by the Empress Catherine, and valued at £30,000. Barrington made this daring attempt in Covent Garden Theatre. He contrived to get a seat next to that of the Russian Prince, and succeeded in snatching the snuff-box, but it was soon missed, and the culprit was caught before he had time to get away from the theatre with his splendid prize. After a long career of undetected pocket-picking, Barrington was now bowled out for the first time, and just as he was essaying the most ambitious of his exploits, but his cool self-possession did not desert him in the hour of trouble. When brought before the court and charged with the crime he had so nearly consummated, Barrington spoke so effectively, and concocted such a plausible defence, that the Russian Prince, relenting, refused to prosecute, and the prince of pickpockets was discharged with a caution to be more careful in his handling of other people's property for the future. The publicity that this little incident acquired necessitated Barrington's retirement for a season from fashionable and exclusive circles, and he had to be content with exercising his talents in the humbler and less remunerative walks of life. He made a professional tour through Ireland and Scotland, and after this eclipse, he returned to aristocratic society and shone with even greater brilliancy than before. But, unrivalled artist as he was, continued success had the natural result of making him less cautious in his operations, and one day Barrington was caught picking a pocket on a racecourse. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to seven years' transportation. Barrington bade good-bye to the old world in this clever and characteristic little speech from the dock: "My Lord—I have a great deal to say in extenuation of the crime for which I now stand convicted at this bar; but upon consideration, I will not arrest the attention of the honourable Court too long. Among the extraordinary vicissitudes incident to human nature, it is the peculiar and unfortunate lot of some devoted persons to have their best wishes and their most earnest endeavours to deserve the good opinion of the most respectable part of society frustrated. Whatever they say, or whatever they do, every word and its meaning, every action and its motive, is represented in an unfavourable light, and is distorted from the real intention of the speaker or the actor. That this has been my unhappy fate does not seem to need much confirmation. Every effort to deserve well of mankind, that my heart bore witness to, its rectitude has been frustrated by such measures as these, and consequently rendered abortive. Many of the circumstances of my life, I can, without any violation of the truth, declare to have therefore happened absolutely in spite of myself. The world, my lord, has given me credit for abilities, indeed much greater than I possess, and therefore much more than I deserved; but I had never found any kind hand to foster those abilities. I might ask, where was the generous and powerful hand that was ever stretched forth to rescue George Barrington from infamy? In an age like this, which in several respects is so justly famed for liberal sentiments, it was my severe lot that no noble-minded gentleman stepped forward and said: 'Barrington, you are possessed of talents which may be useful to society. I feel for your situation, and as long as you act the part of a good citizen, I will be your protector; you will have time and opportunity to rescue yourself from the obloquy of your former conduct.' Alas, my lord, George Barrington had never the supreme, felicity of having such comfort administered to his wounded spirit. As matters have unfortunately turned out, the die is cast; and as it is, I have resigned to my fate without one murmur of complaint."

On the voyage to Australia, Barrington was the means of saving the ship from being captured by his fellow-prisoners. A few of the most desperate convicts on board plotted to seize the vessel that was bearing them into exile, and to steer for America and freedom as soon as they had got rid of their gaolers. Availing themselves of the first favourable opportunity, they made a rush for the deck, but found an unexpected opponent in one who was wearing their own uniform of crime, for Barrington stood at the hatchway wielding a handspike, and kept them at bay until the officers appeared on the scene and quelled the mutiny. The two ringleaders were executed on the spot, and their followers were punished in a minor degree. For the great and important service he rendered at this critical moment, Barrington naturally received a large measure of liberty and indulgence during the remainder of the voyage; and, when the ship arrived at Sydney, the officers warmly commended him to the generous consideration of the governor of the colony, who not only gave him a full and immediate emancipation, but appointed him to the lucrative office of superintendent of convicts. Ever afterwards he was a changed man. He kept religiously to the straight path off duty, and his facile fingers were never known to stray into a strange pocket at the antipodes.[2] He settled in the mother colony of the Australias, wrote its history in two bulky volumes, and lived to be a patriarch in the land of his exile. But Barrington's "History of New South Wales," dedicated to His Gracious Majesty George the Third, is not the literary monument that will transmit his name to an admiring posterity. He will be best and longest remembered by the audaciously witty prologue which he wrote and recited on the occasion of the first dramatic performance that was given in the city of Sydney by a company of convicts:

From distant climes, o'er widespread seas we come,
Though not with much éclat, or beat of drum;
True patriots all, for, be it understood.
We left our country for our country's good;
No private views disgrac'd our generous zeal,
"What urg'd our travels, was our country's weal;

And none will doubt, but that our emigration,
Has proved most useful to the British nation.
But, you inquire, what could our breasts inflame
With this new passion for theatric fame;
What, in the practice of our former days,
Could shape our talents to exhibit plays?
Your patience, sirs, some observations made,
You'll grant us equal to the scenic trade.
He who to midnight ladders is no stranger,
You'll own will make an admirable Ranger.
To seek Macheath we have not far to roam,
And sure in Filch I shall be quite at home.
Unrivalled there, none will dispute my claim,
To high pre-eminence and exalted fame.
As oft on Gadshill we have ta'en our stand
When 'twas so dark you could not see your hand,
Some true-bred Falstaff, we may hope to start,
"Who, when well bolstered, well will play his part.
The scene to vary, we shall try in time
To treat you with a little Pantomime.
Here light and easy Columbines are found,
And well-tried Harlequins with us abound;
From durance vile our precious selves to keep,
"We often had recourse to th' flying leap;
To a black face have sometimes owed escape,
And Hounslow Heath has proved the worth of crape.
But how, you ask, can we e'er hope to soar
Above these scenes, and rise to tragic lore?
Too oft, alas! we've forced th' unwilling tear,
And petrified the heart with real fear.
Macbeth a harvest of applause will reap,
For some of us, I fear, have murdered sleep;
His lady too, with grace will sleep and talk.
Our females have been used at night to walk.
Sometimes, indeed, so various is our art,
An actor may improve and mend his part;
"Give me a horse," bawls Richard, like a drone,
We'll find a man would help himself to one.
Grant us your favour, put us to the test.
To gain your smiles we'll do our very best;
And without dread of future Turnkey Lockits,
Thus, in an honest way, still pick your pockets.

It may be doubted whether Richard Brinsley Sheridan himself could have bettered this original and historical prologue.

But convictism, as an institution, has long since passed away in the parent colony, and nought remains to tell of its organised existence save an occasional suggestive name, that has survived the process of modern transformation into prettily-sounding titles. In Sydney harbour, for example, there stands a small rocky islet that still bears the expressive name of Pinchgut Island. In that unpleasing and somewhat vulgar appellation is embalmed the story of the prisoners who were caught in the act of pilfering provisions from the government stores in the early days of the colony, and who were dramatically punished, as a warning to the whole community, by being left without food for several days on this solitary rock, round which the sharks were continually circling.

Vaucluse, one of the prettiest spots on Sydney Harbour, has a curious and romantic history. At the beginning of the century it was chosen as his place of residence by Sir Henry Hayes, an Irish baronet, who had the misfortune to be transported for abducting the lady on whom he had set his affections, but who did not see her way to reciprocate his tender passion. Though technically a prisoner. Sir Henry's rank and social position caused him to be treated by the authorities as a privileged person, and he was allowed a full measure of freedom on his giving his word of honour that he would make no attempt to leave the colony and return to Ireland. Sir Henry accepted his fate with philosophical resignation, and commenced to build a new home for himself on the beautiful estate which he had purchased and called Vaucluse. But though the place was, and still is, one of the loveliest spots on earth, it had at that time one serious and annoying drawback. It was infested with snakes. One day, however, a bright idea struck Sir Henry as he was cogitating on the subject, and wondering if there were any practicable means of ridding himself of these unwelcome intruders. He resolved to try a bold and remarkable experiment. He would see whether the virtue of St. Patrick's prohibition of snakes on Irish soil would extend to the same soil if transferred to the other side of the world. He accordingly sent home for a number of barrels of Irish soil, and they arrived in Sydney in due course. Sir Henry then spread this imported earth as far as it would go around his residence, with the result, very gratifying to himself, that his domestic precincts were never afterwards troubled by snakes, although the other portions of the estate continued to be infested by the reptiles. Succeeding occupants of Vaucluse, amongst them the distinguished statesman, W. C. Wentworth, all agree in testifying to the singular fact that a snake was never known to cross the charmed circle of Irish earth.

The "well-known and highly popular alderman and member of the Legislative Assembly, and of genially Milesian extraction," whom Mr. George Augustus Sala met in Sydney and thus described, is Mr. Daniel O'Connor, a typical specimen of the industrious and unconquerable Celt. He told the story of his life at a banquet given last year in his honour, when he assumed office as Postmaster-General in the Ministry of Sir John Robertson. It is worth quoting as a characteristic specimen of the ups and downs of colonial life, and as showing how a brave-hearted Irishman can triumph over all the obstacles that ill fortune may cast in his path. Mr. O'Connor informed a distinguished company on that occasion that he commenced to earn a livelihood for himself at the early age of ten. In 1865 he started business for himself in the city of Sydney, and he worked with such industry and perseverance that he realised a considerable fortune in six years' time. In 1871 he was the possessor of fourteen houses, and had over £7,000 to his credit. Then he launched into mining speculations, with the result that in five months he lost everything he possessed. He sold all his houses, and although he paid every man as far as the money went, he was still left very largely in debt. But he did not lose heart at this sudden revolution in his fortunes. He set to work again at his legitimate avocation, and, at the end of seven years, he was in the proud position of paying everybody twenty shillings in the pound, besides being in receipt of a clear income of £1,000 a year—the reward of untiring industry and dauntless courage in fighting the up-hill battle of life.

Sydney has of late years made such rapid strides in population and commercial importance that it is now almost on an equality with its great southern rival, Melbourne; and the competition between these two chief centres of colonial life is now characterised by the keenest intensity. Political considerations enter largely into this struggle for supremacy, for at Sydney free-trade is the orthodox gospel; whereas, at Melbourne, protection to native industries has been the settled fiscal policy of the country for years by the deliberate vote of the great majority of the people. Time alone will tell which of these opposing systems is the best adapted to the development and the material well-being of the colonies. Besides Sydney, there are several other prosperous cities and towns in the parent colony—notably Newcastle, Maitland, Bathurst, and Goulburn—all largely peopled by the industrious Irish, who constitute a third of the general population of New South Wales. In the rural districts also are numerous agricultural and pastoral settlers, either of Irish birth or of Irish parentage, the possessors of smiling, productive homesteads, and members of a free and independent yeomanry.

There cannot be the slightest doubt that New South Wales contains within her wide domain all the elements of permanent prosperity. Her mineral resources are both extensive and valuable. Her coal mines in the basin of the Hunter river will be a source of industrial wealth for many years to come, as on them the sister colonies are mainly dependent for a supply. Her gold-fields are by no means yet exhausted, and the richness of her pastoral resources is unsurpassed. Wool is her staple product, and, as is well known, it commands a high price in the home markets. She has acquired to a great extent the large and growing river trade of the Murray and its tributaries, and is pushing her railways in every direction with commendable vigour and enterprise. It is no wonder, therefore, that her people now confidently predict that she will soon overtake the haughty Victoria, and once more wear the laurels of colonial supremacy.

  1. "History of New South Wales."
  2. One exception must be made to this remark. "When Barrington was a very old man, he heard that a certain lady, who held a high position in Sydney society, had been talking about him in an objectionable manner, and saying that, for her part, she would never believe he was such a fine gentleman in his youth, neither would she believe any of those silly stories about his marvellous skill in pocket-picking. A few days after she had been speaking in this slighting strain, an elderly gentleman, of dignified bearing and affable manners, called at her mansion and inquired if her husband was in. "He would be presently," the lady replied; "and would the gentleman come in and take a seat?" The gentleman did so, and made himself so agreeable that the lady took him round to see the pictures and airios of her house. The husband not having arrived in the meantime, the gentleman expressed his regret, but he really could not wait any longer. After a graceful good-bye, he suddenly retraced his steps as if he had forgotten something, and, putting his hand into his pocket, drew out two gold pendants of ear-rings and a massive gold locket. "I think, madam, these are your property," he remarked, with a serio-comic smile, as he handed them back to the lady. "Kindly tell your husband that Mr. Barrington called," and, with a profound bow, he vanished. The lady could hardly believe her eyes, but one glance in the mirror was sufficient. There were no pendants to her ear-rings, and the chain around her neck had no locket attached to it. They had been deftly removed by the former prince of pickpockets whilst she was amiably showing him around, and, so skilfully was the difficult feat accomplished, that she had not the slightest suspicion of her loss. Barrington had a twofold object in perpetrating this practical and rather risky joke. It was both a rebuke and an experiment. He wanted to mildly punish the lady for her derogatory remarks about him, and he wished to ascertain whether both his hands still possessed their cunning after thirty years of abstinence from pocket-picking.