Antipodal Ireland and Tasmanian Underworlds: John Mitchel and William Moore Ferrar


The Central Highlands of Tasmania is an unlikely antipodes of Irish writing, but it is a region that has complex representations by exiled and immigrant Irish writers. The picturesque landscape of the Highlands in the Young Irelander John Mitchel’s Jail Journal (1856) is well known; less well known is the writing of William Moore Ferrar, born in Dublin in 1823 and who emigrated to New South Wales, then Van Diemen’s Land, as a free settler in 1843. His novel Artabanzanus: The Demon of the Great Lake: An Allegorical Romance of Tasmania: Arranged from the Diary of the Late Oliver Ubertus (1896) represents a vision of an ideal surface world and a hellish underground. Dedicated to Arthur James Balfour, and dramatising the issue of Irish home rule, Ferrar’s novel is an eccentric but multi-faceted instance of the Irish-Tasmanian imaginary.  

This article explores the seemingly chance parallels between the lives of Irish political prisoners sent to Van Diemen’s Land in the mid-nineteenth century, some of whom wrote about their experience in Tasmania, and an instance of the literary re-imagining of the geography and landscape of central Tasmania by the Irish immigrant writer William Moore Ferrar. These originally Irish transplants to Tasmania knew little, if anything, about each other even though they lived in close proximity over several years and in one of the most remote locations of British colonial settlement. This discussion begins with the associative literary links in their writings between both the political contentions of the subjugated Ireland they had experienced, and that they remembered, and the remote locations in which they found themselves sometimes by choice and for life, sometimes for shorter periods of imprisonment and exile. These writers’ literal and literary geographies vary in their calculus…

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Published 30 September 2021 in Special Issue: The Uses of Irish-Australian Literature . Subjects: Allegory, Australian landscape - Literary portrayal, Convict transportation, Poetry, Van Diemen's Land (1803-1856), Irish-Australian Literature, Life-Writing, Political Prisoners, Dante, John Mitchel, William Moore Ferrar.

Cite as: Mead, Philip. ‘Antipodal Ireland and Tasmanian Underworlds: John Mitchel and William Moore Ferrar.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 36, no. 2, 2021, doi: 10.20314/als.9685696bb9.