My Life in Two Hemispheres/Chapter 14

CHAPTER VIII


MY IMPRISONMENT IN NEWGATE


My arrest—Proposed rescue, which I forbade—John Martin in prison—Conferences with O'Brien and Dillon—Articles written in prison and Parliamentary explanation of the same—Conference of Confederate leaders in Newgate—First meeting of the Irish League—Proclamation against the possession of arms—Habeas Corpus Act suspended—M'Gee despatched to Scotland—Meagher and Dillon join O'Brien in the South—Jacta Alea Est and The Tocsin of Ireland—Seizure of the Nation—Defeat and arrest of O'Brien—Martin's trial—O'Doherty's—Williams'—Clonmel Trials and the conviction of O'Brien, Meagher, and their associates—Richard Barrett's disgraceful slander published in the Daily News—Correspondence of John O'Donaghue and John Flannedy on the subject—My letter found in O'Brien's portmanteau and Solicitor-General's misrepresentation of it—John O'Connell and the State prisoners.


On the evening of Saturday, July 9,[1] I was arrested. The business opened with an incident in which I was put to a ludicrous disadvantage, and it would be a shame to suppress it. I was returning on foot to Merton, my residence in the suburbs, when a cardriver, whose vehicle was drawn up close to the side-path, whispered to me with a pallid face, "Look at that fellow opposite, standing by the covered car; he is a detective from the Lower Castle Yard." "Well," I said, "suppose he be; what are you shivering about? I am not sure that I ever saw a detective before; I will cross the road and have a look at him." When I reached the far side the detective approached and inquired respectfully if I was Mr. Gavan Duffy. "Yes," I said, "I am; but how does that concern you?" "Why, sir, in that case I have a warrant for your arrest, and orders to convey you to Newgate." The officer, who was not at all disobliging, handed me into his vehicle, and at my request drove to my house, which was close at hand. I took leave of my wife and children, and gave whispered directions how a tin box containing papers which were precious, but not dangerous, was to be disposed of, and set off with the detective and a brace of his comrades, who had suddenly appeared. It was necessary to report the arrest at College Street Police Office, and there I learned that the Nation office was in possession of the police. The news of the arrest spread like a flame; the police office was soon crowded with men of the middle class, who could scarcely be refused admittance, and in the neighbouring streets was an impatient crowd. When the police formalities were completed I was placed in a strong prison van, and we set off for Newgate. It was necessary to proceed at a foot pace, as all the neighbouring streets were now occupied by an angry multitude. As we passed the Nation office a loud shout was raised of "Take him out! take him out! "D'Arcy M'Gee mounted the steps of the van and whispered, "We are ready for a rescue." "No, no," I said, "a rescue will be only a street riot, unless we can take Dublin from the garrison this night, and hold it afterwards, and you know we can do neither. You must wait for the harvest." The clamour and obstruction still continued, and in Capel Street the detective officer in charge of the van said to me, "If the crowd lay hands on the horses or the van we must use force. Will you not advise them to desist?" I addressed them from the door, entreating them to be patient, and rely on their leaders. At length we reached Green Street. I was hurried into the prison, and the great iron-bound door closed between me and the busy world. My liveliest feeling was satisfaction that blood had not been shed in a bootless conflict.

Next morning I met Martin and Williams, who had also been arrested, and with them Kevin O'Doherty, a young medical student whom I saw for the first time, and I learned that he was the registered proprietor of a new journal called the Tribune. We got the best accommodation the Governor had to give, the prison being under municipal control, and the best, sooth to say, was odious, Newgate Prison having been long condemned as insanitary. We agreed to mess together at the outset, our meals being supplied from a neighbouring hotel.

Martin was an upright and honourable man, abundantly gifted with amiable qualities, but possessing no remarkable intellectual gifts, unless a tenacious will and steadfast endurance for the sake of justice, which had their root in his moral character, may be considered intellectual gifts. He comported himself with quiet dignity like one ready for either fate. Some of his characteristic sayings are apt to recur to my memory when I think of that eventful time. His three fellow-prisoners were Catholics, and the first day we messed together one of them said the ordinary Catholic grace after meat, ending "May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace." "Aye," interposed Martin, "and the souls of the unfaithful too, poor fellows!"

Our personal and political friends came to us next day, and every day, without let or hindrance, and Martin and I had conferences with O'Brien, Dillon, and the other leaders on the course proper to be pursued. Our trials were to be postponed as long as practicable, but if the delay did not extend to three months, which seemed impossible, we must take our fate and trust that a revolution might bring us back to Ireland. There was promise of a plentiful harvest when it ripened, and we must not allow it to be carried away " As God had been bountiful man must be brave."

The Tribune stopped immediately, but the Nation and Irish Felon were issued as usual, and Martin and I edited them, dating our articles from Newgate Prison.[2] The aim we had most at heart was to make sure that the sacrifice we must make should not be made in vain. We desired to take counsel not only with the friends at hand, but with the friends at a distance, on the duties of the near future. We summoned our chief adherents to Dublin by special messengers, and appointed a day for a confidential conference. The men who take the first plunge in perilous enterprises seldom escape the experience which befell us. Our closest associates came promptly, but the gushing sympathisers who crowd the platforms of a popular party began to drop off like leaves in autumn. The value of such a story as this is the moral it teaches, and it is worthless unless it be illustrated by examples. The people are fond of lords, and Young Irelanders had two lords among their sympathisers. Lord Cloncurry debated their policy frankly over his dinner-table, and generally favoured the most extreme proposals. But he never held out any hope that a man who had been a State prisoner half a century earlier was prepared to begin the rebel's stormy life anew in his declining years. Lord Wallscourt was a younger and more vigorous man. He was a social, as well as a political, reformer, and was a leader among the cosmopolitan societies in Paris, which were busy with experiments for framing the world anew. He had held language which induced us to hope for his aid, and I summoned him to Dublin. He made objections which were not ill-founded, but which were certainly ill-timed, and ought to have been heard of at an earlier date. He was a soldier, he said, and every soldier knew that the first condition of success in a campaign was that the men should stand shoulder to shoulder, but peasants would never stand shoulder to shoulder, but be scattered by artillery like a flock of crows. He assured me that for his part he had always been for peaceful methods, and I do not think I ever saw him again.

Father Kenyon was a man of far higher national importance. He had won popular confidence by vigorous and fearless utterances, and he had committed high treason with the leaders in sending missions to France and America for military assistance. Under these circumstances we had good reason to count on his prompt attendance, but he excused himself and kept within the shelter of his presbytery till the contest closed in the ruin of his associates. Only the result of the conference need be stated. The honour and interest of the country compelled an appeal to arms. To organise the people into clubs was the most pressing work, and the news from our agents in France and America would fix the date for beginning, which must not be earlier than the harvest.

At this time the prisoners had no more hope of escaping by the aid of a jury than by the wings of an eagle. They made no preparation for defence. Williams, who was naturally precipitate, distributed his personal effects among friends. I allowed my library and pictures to be sold by auction in the interest of my family, as conviction would vest my property in the Crown; and Martin, who was largely dowered with the quiet courage of endurance, tranquilly awaited the result which he regarded as inevitable.

Immediately after my arrest the first meeting of the Irish League was held. It represented both sections of Repealers adequately, with the notable exception of Mr. John O'Connell, who betook himself to Paris, and was heard of no more till the trouble was over. The League proclaimed the policy of organisation and conciliation, for which it had been founded, but before it could hold a second meeting measures were taken to render its labours abortive. The Government struck two sudden strokes, which changed the aspect of affairs, like strokes struck by the sword of Harlequin. They issued a proclamation directing a strict search for arms, and,they carried in one day a law suspending the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland. When the Habeas Corpus Act is suspended personal liberty is at an end, and the Government arrest whomsoever they choose.

When the news was telegraphed to Dublin the leading Confederates then in town held a hasty consultation. They had to determine between immediate arrest and an insurrection without waiting for the harvest or the assistance from abroad; they determined on the latter. M'Gee was despatched to Scotland, where the Confederates thought arms, recruits, and a steamer to carry them to Ireland might be obtained, and the others determined to join Smith O'Brien, who was then in the South, completing his tour.

In the evening a confidential messenger from Dillon brought me the news that the Confederates determined to hold Kilkenny and establish a Provisional Government, or if this proved impracticable to raise the neighbouring counties containing the flower of the Southern Nationalists, and take the field. This news Martin and I were requested to announce to Confederate councillors in Dublin, and to communicate to the leaders of clubs and such other persons as we considered trustworthy. We sent immediately for a dozen men, chiefly the staff of our journals, through whom these instructions could be carried out. The persons fit to be trusted with the news raised serious questions on which we were not always of one mind. Some thought Dublin ought to be attacked; the fall of the Castle would awaken the most sluggish district in the island. Others contended that the leaders ought to permit themselves to be arrested under the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, which only involved a temporary imprisonment. But all controversy was terminated by the news which arrived the second day that Smith O'Brien accepted the programme of the leaders who joined him from Dublin and would take the field. It was a spectacle strangely out of harmony with the sceptical scoffing generation in which it befell. A gentleman of mature years, of distinguished lineage and station, the descendant of a great Celtic house, the husband of a charming wife, the father of a household of happy children, a man rich in the less precious gifts of fortune called opulence, staked his life to save his race from destruction. The chance of overthrowing the rooted power of the British Empire by insurrection was manifestly small, but a profound sense of public duty made him accept it with all its consequences rather than acquiesce dumbly in the ruin of his people.

The writers of the national journals immediately left town, mostly for Kilkenny, by circuitous routes, for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act rendered them liable to immediate arrest. A few concealed themselves in Dublin, awaiting a move in the metropolis. Martin could no longer bring out his newspaper; Lalor, the leading spirit, was arrested, and the other contributors were in the South or in concealment. I should have found it equally impossible but for the generous help of two noble women. Margaret Callan, my cousin and sister-in-law, who had been a contributor from the outset, undertook the editorship, and Miss Elgee ("Speranza") promised a leading article suitable to the occasion, and provided one which might be issued from the head-quarters of the national army. It can no more be judged by detached fragments than a stately edifice by the coping stone, but some specimens are necessary to this narrative:—


"JACTA ALEA EST.

"'We must be free!' In the name of your trampled, insulted, degraded country; in the name of all heroic virtues, of all that makes life illustrious or death divine; in the name of your starved, your exiled, your dead; by your martyrs in prison cells and felon chains; in the name of God and man; by the listening earth and the watching Heaven, lift up your right hand to heaven and swear by your undying soul, by your hopes of immortality, never to lay down your arms, never to cease hostilities, till you regenerate and save this fallen land.

"It cannot be death you fear, for you have braved the plague in the exile ship of the Atlantic, and plague in the exile's home beyond it; and famine and ruin, and a slave's life and a dog's death; and hundreds, thousands, a million of you have perished thus. Courage! You will not now belie those old traditions of humanity that tell of this divine God-gift within us.

"Opposed to us are only a hired soldiery and a paid police, who, trained machines even as they are, yet must shudder to pursue the horrible task of butchery under the blasphemed name of duty to which England summons them. Brothers many of them are of this people they are called upon to murder—sons of the same soil—fellow-countrymen of those who are heroically struggling to elevate their common country. Surely whatever humanity is left in them will shrink from being made the sad instruments of despotism and tyranny—they will blush to receive the purchase money of England which hires them for the accursed and fratricidal work. Would a Sicilian have been found in the rank of Naples? Would a Milanese have been detected in the fierce hordes of Austria? No, for the Sicilians prize honour, and the stately Milanese would strike the arm to the earth that would dare to offer them Austrian gold in payment for the blood of their own countrymen. And Heaven forbid that in Ireland could be found a band of armed fratricides to fight against their own land for the flag of a foreign enemy.

"There are terrible traditions shadowing the word Liberty in Ireland. Let it be our task, men of this generation, descendants of martyrs and sufferers and heroes, to make it a glad evangel of happiness—a reign of truth over fictions and symbols of intellect over prejudice and conventionalism—of humanity over tyranny and oppression."


I contrived to smuggle out of prison, where the discipline had suddenly become vigilant, another appeal to the people printed in the same number:—


"THE TOCSIN OF IRELAND.

"Ireland is, perhaps, at this hour in arms for her rights; in arms for the rights so patiently solicited, so perversely refused, so tyrannically trampled upon.

"The rights which she sought in vain to purchase with her tears; which she springs up at last to purchase with her heart's blood only when the sacred character of manhood, without which our life is lower than the dog's or the slave's, is trampled under the feet of her foreign lords.

"It is her last resource, long evaded, long postponed; the bitter cup which Heaven would not permit to pass away from her; and now, in the face of Europe, in the face of America, in the face of our kindred and our race, in the face of our Great Creator, we declare that this war is just and necessary; that men may enter upon it with a free conscience, and a full assurance that it is Heaven's work.

"We fight for liberty to live. Hundreds of thousands of Irishmen would again die in the tortures of famine; hundreds of thousands of Irishmen would again fly over the wide sea to perish of unknown horrors in the swamps of Canada and the woods of Michigan, if we bowed our necks to the Parliament of England at this hour.

"We fight because there is no remedy but the sword; because in this island, so favoured by Heaven, our traders have been made bankrupts, our peasantry have been transformed into hideous paupers, our gentry have been erected into a hostile garrison, and our educated classes corrupted into stipendiaries and arch-detectives, by the diabolical arts of England. Because the seeds of hatred between creed and creed, between class and class, between man and man, have been studiously sown by her hand to the ruin of our strength and of our honour. Because we have been an exception to the nations of the earth. Throughout all Europe there was scarcity in the past year, in Ireland alone there were famine and death. Throughout all Europe there have been concessions to the will of the people; in Ireland alone was there insolence for concession, and tyranny for justice. We fight because we are denied peace, except at the price of dishonour; because the men who have abandoned the enjoyments of wealth and civilisation to fight in the ranks of the people are doomed to the prison, perhaps predestined to the grave of Tone and Fitzgerald, if the people permit them to fall into the hands of the enemy. We fight, because the honour, the interest, the necessity, the very existence of this ancient nation depends upon our valour and devotion at this hour. If we cower, if we flinch, if we falter, the hopes are gone for which our fathers and our fathers' fathers gave their life's blood. Gone in the stench of dishonour and infamy that will cling to it for ever.

"There is no neutrality now. You must choose your side, and choose quickly. If you love famine, stripes, and dishonour; if you are prepared to abandon your arms and your liberty, join the red ranks of England; if you love justice, if your heart warms at the memories of the dear land, if it swells with the hope of her deliverance and her glory, God bless you, your side is with your country—your rank is beneath the green banner of Ireland.

"Let no man who has stimulated the quarrel by word or deed presume to hold back now. If he does he is accursed—

"'Earth is not deep enough to hide
 The coward slave who slinks aside;
 Hell is not hot enough to scathe
 The traitor knave who'd break his faith.'

"But if we succeed—when we succeed, did God ever bless men with so intoxicating a triumph as will be ours? To see our nation arise again like a young queen proud and happy. To see prosperity run like fresh blood through all the veins of society. To see our Irish race year after year growing more prosperous, more manly, more virtuous. To see the green banner that we love still floating before our eyes like the star of our destiny. To see all the Irish race, without distinction of class or creed, united in love, and ready to maintain the rights of our ancient land against all mankind. Oh, God grant it. God send it soon, though our blood be part of the price to purchase that immortal treasure of liberty."

This was the programme of the Young Ireland Party. We aimed, at least, that the conflict should be a generous one, in which no man of honour need shrink from taking part.

The Nation was printed and ready to be despatched to the country, when the police pounced on the office and seized the entire issue. They took possession of the MSS. from which it was set, and the types which printed it, and arrested compositors and machinists. The effect was complete; no national journal any longer existed in the capital.

For a week not a glimmer of light came from Kilkenny—a week the torture of which can only be estimated by counting the hours and minutes of which it was composed. The Dublin newspapers did not furnish the smallest information on the position of our friends, and no letters reached us. On the third day we despatched a messenger not likely to be suspected of sympathy with the Confederates, but all travellers were watched, and he returned without having made his way to O'Brien. We debated the possibility of escaping from Newgate and joining our friends, but the difficulties seemed insuperable. In this extremity two young girls, who were persuaded that their sex and social position would amply protect them, volunteered to make their way to the Confederate leaders, to whom they were well known, and bring us reliable news.[3] The temptation to accept the offer was very great, but they were young, attractive, and inexperienced, and I could not consent to send them into a district probably occupied by soldiery, or perhaps the theatre of civil war.

At length disastrous intelligence arrived; T. D. Reilly had returned to town disguised as a groom in charge of horses, and was about to fly to America as from a cause altogether lost. A few days later we learned that Doheny and MacManus were in the Galtee Mountains attempting to rally their followers there; that Meagher and Dillon were in Tipperary or Waterford, vainly striving to raise the country, and that Smith O'Brien had made an unsuccessful stand at Ballangarry. A little later he was arrested at Thurles, and all was over.

At that time I thought I had suffered the sorest calamity that fortune could inflict, but a worse remained behind. Authentic news came to us from without that many of the ignorant populace in Dublin whispered that Smith O'Brien had deliberately betrayed them to make a real insurrection impossible. The police were probably responsible for this invention; but Old Ireland prejudice welcomed it, and it was for a time successful. For the first and last time in my life I flung myself down in despair, and declared that such an insensate multitude could not be saved.

Immediately after O'Brien's arrest the trial of the prisoners in Newgate commenced. We were brought into court together, and I was first put forward to plead, when a junior counsel rushed breathlessly into court with instructions from the Castle for the Attorney-General. I was ordered to be put back, and my counsel, after a pause of bewilderment, learned that Lord Clarendon had determined to send me to trial for high treason with O'Brien and his associates, and I was sent back to Newgate. Mr. O'Doherty's trial immediately proceeded. An article in his own handwriting was the most dangerous fact in the case,[4] but no one would help the Crown to prove it. Mr. Butt insisted that it had not been brought home to the prisoner's knowledge, which was necessary to create the offence charged in the indictment, and his contention, strengthened by the youth and frankness of the prisoner, not yet of age, prevailed with some of the jurors, and they could not come to an agreement. Mr. O'Doherty was not discharged, but sent back to prison. It was soon intimated to him that if he pleaded guilty he would not be called up for judgment. He refused, and was ordered to prepare for a second trial. The trial of John Martin followed. His defence was an exposition of his opinions as they were known to all his associates. He was not the spokesman of a class, but desired the independence of Ireland for the benefit of all the people, landlords, clergymen, and judges included. He did not desire war or violence, but the repeal of the Union, and had quite recently stated these opinions at Newry in a speech which was proved. The articles of Lalor, Reilly, and Brenan, for which he was responsible as registered proprietor of the Irish Felon, it was contended, did not express his opinions and intentions, and ought not to be used against him. This improbable defence was substantially true. Mr. Martin desired a peaceful solution of our troubles, .but did not, and probably could not, control the opinion of his fiercer contributors.

The jury convicted him chiefly for an article written in Newgate, and bearing his own signature, in which he recommended the clubs not to give up their arms, the possession of arms being a constitutional right.

On the ground that this article was written in prison, and under excitement, the jury recommended him to mercy, and the Court, in complete disregard of the recommendation, sentenced him to the enormous punishment of fourteen years' transportation. O'Doherty's second trial immediately followed, and for a second time the jury disagreed. It was expected that he would now be set at liberty, as he was a mere youth, and of no political importance, but he was again sent back to prison. Williams alone was acquitted, and for weeks before his trial he and his fellow-prisoners knew that this result might be counted on. His father was a close friend of Mr. Kemmis, the Crown Solicitor, and that official told him, in confidence, that there was only one serious item of evidence against his son, the MS. of one of his articles, but he would render it worthless by pinning it between two other MSS., in a manner that would conceal it from the witnesses. This was duly done, and the grey-haired official who had managed State trials in Ireland for a life-time, superseded judge and jury, and disposed of the prisoner's fate at his proper discretion.

A Commission was appointed to sit at Clonmel for the trial of the prisoners charged with high treason. I received no notice of trial, and it was only after a bewildering delay my counsel discovered the reason. When high treason is charged, an overt act must have been committed in the place where the case is tried. Had the number of the Nation containing the "Tocsin of Ireland" arrived at Clonmel, that would have amounted to an overt act. But a single copy was not permitted to reach the post-office, and by this successful razzia the police made the trial for high treason impossible. After the Commission had opened, however, a slander was published which, if it could only succeed in getting believed, would damage Nationality worse than my conviction. The Daily News, a Whig organ in London, bound to be well informed in such a case, made the following announcement:—


"Dublin, September 26.

"A most startling and significant conclusion arrived at by one of the parties accused of high treason, and not on the trial at the Commission, has come to my knowledge to-day. It is of so extraordinary a nature that I should not alone hesitate to state it, but should meet it with positive disbelief, if my authority was not such as to leave no room for doubt. My information is this—Formal notice has been this fore-noon given to the Government that the great literary leader of the Confederate movement—the great concoctor of its plans, the great architect of its organisation, he who was the life and soul of the party, the organiser of the clubs, the suggestor of ambassadorships and solicitations of foreign aid—in fact, the head and front of the Nation has this day caused it to be announced to the Government, through his solicitor, that he does not intend to put the Government to the labour of a prosecution in this case, but that he is prepared to plead guilty to whatever indictment the Crown may prefer against him, throwing himself on the mercy of the Executive, to dispose of him as may seem fitting in the case of one who does not even question its authority, much less offer any opposition to its paramount operation. The time of making this submission is not less extraordinary than is the fact that it has been made. The influence which it must have upon the approaching trials must be very great, and that influence it will be impossible to avoid if, as I believe, the fact itself will be publicly announced to-morrow in the public journals. Mr. Duffy's submission having been but just communicated to me, I have no further time to dwell on it at present."

I would rather have forfeited my life than endure this charge in silence; but all communication with the outside was now strictly prohibited and sedulously guarded against. By the aid of one of my counsel, however, I was able to send a note to the Freeman's Journal, denouncing the falsehood with not unjust indignation. Who was the slanderer? That was what was fiercely demanded. The correspondent of the Daily News was understood to be Mr. John O'Donaghue, a barrister, and one of the conductors of the Freeman known to me for many years. My indignation against him was vehement, and it quickly reached him. Mr. O'Donaghue immediately wrote to me denying that he had any share in the infamy—

"I heard (he wrote) last night for the first time, with surprise and regret, that you attribute to me a recent paragraph in the Daily News, which called forth your justly indignant reply in the Freeman's Journal. I neither wrote, suggested, nor saw that paragraph until it appeared in print, and when I did, condemned it in common with every manly and honourable mind."

At length the agent and the original author of the slander were unveiled. Mr. John Flannedy, editor of the Freeman's Journal, wrote me that he had been inveigled into making this statement by the positive assurance of Richard Barrett, editor of the Pilot, a journal then in articulo mortis', that he had the fact from the High Sheriff:—

"I was leaving the Register office when Mr. Barrett called me behind the counter where Taaffe stands, and in Taaffes' presence (they had already been speaking on the subject) Mr. Barrett made the statement to me that you had that very morning sent in to the authorities your submission; that you had sent it through the High Sheriff, as the formal channel of conveyance, and that he had the information from the High Sheriff. He said I was at liberty to make the statement in my communication with London, but not speak of it out-of-doors, as he intended to use it himself in his publication on the next day, Wednesday. … What my feelings were when I found that I had been imposed upon, what they continue to be, and ever will continue, I shall not attempt to describe. … What you shall be disposed to think of such an explanation of what was a great wrong done you by one on whom you had years ago conferred a great, the greatest favour, for reputation was at stake in it, I shall not presume even to think."

Richard Barrett, the "Dear Barrett" of O'Connell's public correspondence, the State prisoner of '44, was a man whose name made everything plain; he was and had habitually been a liar by profession. My friends were enraged with the O'Connell family, who must, they believed, have unmuzzled their bulldog. But I have no doubt Mr. Barrett was privateering on his own account. He had begun life as a Castle pamphleteer, and then deserted to O'Connell, but being now without a patron he returned to his original pursuit. A little later he published a brochure entitled, "The History of the Irish Confederation," a manifest Castle pamphlet, consisting mainly of statements about me as authentic as his communication to the correspondent of the Daily News. The fact most noteworthy in this transaction is the conduct of Lord Clarendon. The reader will not, I trust, suppose that after fifty years I retain any heat on the subject; but the government of Ireland at that time will be imperfectly understood without noting the conduct of the Chief Governor. The reader, I do not doubt, will be pleased that I found an opportunity of vindicating myself from so foul a charge. Not so Lord Clarendon. He wrote with his own hand to the Prison Board complaining that I had been permitted to send out such a letter, adding the malign suggestion that by doing so I had violated my personal engagement not to communicate with the Press. The new invention would, doubtless, have found its way speedily to the official journals but that I claimed my vindication from the Prison Board. They informed Lord Clarendon that they had requested me a month earlier, on instructions from the Castle, to make such a pledge, but that I had positively refused as an untried prisoner to give any sort of undertaking. The Chairman of the Board suggested there ought to be much allowance for the Lord-Lieutenant. The fact of my correspondence with newspapers would be commented on in Parliament, and what was his Excellency to say? "Say," I rejoined, "why say again through Lord Lansdowne what he said before, that the letter was written outside the prison, and my name forged to it."

Lord Clarendon was very indignant, and his Crown lawyer found an opportunity of gratifying his animosity against me. In Smith O'Brien's portmanteau a letter of mine was found which he had forgotten to destroy, and on the strength of that document the Solicitor- General affected to treat him as an unfortunate gentleman deluded into ruinous courses by a "diabolical tempter." Here is the diabolical temptation in question. It represents very accurately my position in that trying time. I thought we were bound to call the country to arms, formidable as the difficulties were, because a refusal would cover Ireland with contempt before America and Europe, but that no pains ought to be spared to make the revolution an honourable and magnanimous one:—

"I am glad to learn that you are about to commence a series of meetings in Munster. There is no half-way house for you—you will be the head of the movement, loyally obeyed, and the revolution will be conducted with order and clemency, or the mere anarchists will prevail with the people, and our revolution will be a bloody chaos. You have at present Lafayette's place—so graphically painted by Lamartine—and I believe have fallen into Lafayette's error, that of not using it to all its extent and in all its resources. I am perfectly well aware that you don't desire to lead or influence others—but I believe, with Lamartine, that this feeling, which is a high personal and civic virtue, is a vice in revolutions. One might as well, I think, not want to influence a man who was going to walk on thawing ice, or to cross a fordless river, as not to desire to keep men right in a political struggle, and to do it with might and main. If I was Smith O'Brien I would shape out in my own mind, or with such counsel as I valued, a definite course for the revolution, and labour incessantly to develop it in that way. For example, your project of obtaining signatures to the roll of the National Guard, and when a sufficient number were procured, and not sooner, calling the Council of Three Hundred, was one I entirely relied upon. But it has been permitted to fall into disuse, and could scarcely be revived now. The clubs, however, might take the place of the National Guard, and the proposal in your letter on Union of a definite number of clubs being formed would suit as well, if it were vigorously and systematically carried out—each day adding an item to it, and all the men we could influence employed upon it. Forgive me for urging this so anxiously upon you, but I verily believe the hopes of the country depend upon the manner in which the next two months are used. There is not a town in which you could not find a band of missionaries to organise the neighbouring counties—every club has its active men fit for this work—and it is only by applying all our force to it that we will succeed."

It was held by lawyers of moderate temper that since the era of the Stuarts so shocking an outrage had not been committed in a court of justice as the Solicitor-General's speech.

O'Brien was not a man to permit brutality, which pretended to favour him at the cost of one of his friends, to pass in silence, and the following dialogue took place, highly characteristic of both the interlocutors:—

"The Solicitor-General (Mr. Hatchell): I wish Mr. O'Brien had not listened to this diabolical tempter, who was pressing him to his destruction."

The Prisoner (Mr. O'Brien): It is not fair to speak of Mr. Duffy in this manner in his absence.

"The Solicitor-General: I do believe Mr. O'Brien was unwilling to take this step. His honour, his position, his feelings, his education were against it, but he was urged on by bad advisers. I regret ———

The Prisoner: I must say that it is wrong, at the time that that gentleman himself is awaiting his trial, to take this opportunity of prejudicing the public mind against him. I beg most distinctly to repudiate any such observation of the Solicitor-General."

The prisoners at Clonmel were all convicted, and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. They sued out a writ of error on technical grounds which was decided against them, and Lord John Russell then announced that the Queen would commute their punishment to transportation for life. But under the law then in existence the assent of the prisoners was necessary to this modification of their sentence, and they positively refused assent, preferring death to perpetual transportation. The deadlock was terminated by the passage of a marvellous Act of Parliament to enable the Queen to pardon prisoners without their own consent.[5]

  1. 1848.
  2. The upshot is highly characteristic. After some weeks the fact that articles were written from the prison attracted attention in England, and finally the Government were questioned in the House of Lords how they came to permit such a practice. Lord Lansdowne was instructed to reply that the prisoners had not been permitted to send out any correspondence, and that the signed articles were written outside, and the prisoners' names appended for the political effect. This statement, in which there was not a scintilla of truth, throws a lurid light on the method in which Irish news is cooked for Parliament. It will complete the story to state here that the Government, who declared we had not written the articles in question, placed them in the indictments on which we were tried, and one of them furnished the main evidence on which Martin was convicted.
  3. Of these two heroic girls, one died since I commenced this narrative, an honoured matron in Belfast; the other is happily still living a Dominican nun, in a convent in New Zealand.
  4. The article most relied on was an offence against common sense rather than against "Our Lady the Queen." It was a weak and incoherent echo of the United Irishman. The writer disregarded a union of Repealers; he objected to any negotiations with the imbeciles and traitors of Burgh quay, and had no confidence in the proposed Irish League; the people were long and fully prepared for a struggle, and Meagher was invited to put himself at the head of the clubs and begin.—"Four Years of Irish History."
  5. While the fate of the prisoners was still in doubt Mr. John O'Connell ventured to interpose his good offices and received a contemptuous rebuff.

    "Richmond Bridewell,
    "Jan. 12, 1849.

    "John O'Connell, Esq., M.P.

    "Sir,—Having lately seen in the newspapers two letters bearing your signature, in the first of which you misrepresent and insult the State prisoners who have now no opportunity of replying to your aspersions, and in the second of which you profess to claim for them merciful consideration, we cannot refrain from telling you that though perfectly contented to pass over the former in silence, we cannot tolerate with the same equanimity your affectation of pity. We therefore sincerely deprecate any intervention on your part in regard to the penalties which it may be our lot to suffer for having endeavoured to serve our country.—We remain, Sir, your obedient servants,

    "William Smith O'Brien,
    "Thomas Francis Meagher,
    "Terence Bellew MacManus,
    "Patrick O'Donohoe."