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Chapter 29

When people do not respect us we are sharply offended; yet deep down in
his private heart no man much respects himself.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

Necessarily, the human interest is the first interest in the log-book of
any country. The annals of Tasmania, in whose shadow we were sailing,
are lurid with that feature. Tasmania was a convict-dump, in old times;
this has been indicated in the account of the Conciliator, where
reference is made to vain attempts of desperate convicts to win to
permanent freedom, after escaping from Macquarrie Harbor and the "Gates
of Hell." In the early days Tasmania had a great population of convicts,
of both sexes and all ages, and a bitter hard life they had. In one spot
there was a settlement of juvenile convicts--children--who had been sent
thither from their home and their friends on the other side of the globe
to expiate their "crimes."

In due course our ship entered the estuary called the Derwent, at whose
head stands Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. The Derwent's shores
furnish scenery of an interesting sort. The historian Laurie, whose
book, "The Story of Australasia," is just out, invoices its features with
considerable truth and intemperance: "The marvelous picturesqueness of
every point of view, combined with the clear balmy atmosphere and the
transparency of the ocean depths, must have delighted and deeply
impressed" the early explorers. "If the rock-bound coasts, sullen,
defiant, and lowering, seemed uninviting, these were occasionally broken
into charmingly alluring coves floored with golden sand, clad with
evergreen shrubbery, and adorned with every variety of indigenous wattle,
she-oak, wild flower, and fern, from the delicately graceful
'maiden-hair' to the palm-like 'old man'; while the majestic gum-tree,
clean and smooth as the mast of 'some tall admiral' pierces the clear air
to the height of 230 feet or more."

It looked so to me. "Coasting along Tasman's Peninsula, what a shock of
pleasant wonder must have struck the early mariner on suddenly sighting
Cape Pillar, with its cluster of black-ribbed basaltic columns rising to
a height of 900 feet, the hydra head wreathed in a turban of fleecy
cloud, the base lashed by jealous waves spouting angry fountains of
foam."

That is well enough, but I did not suppose those snags were 900 feet
high. Still they were a very fine show. They stood boldly out by
themselves, and made a fascinatingly odd spectacle. But there was
nothing about their appearance to suggest the heads of a hydra. They
looked like a row of lofty slabs with their upper ends tapered to the
shape of a carving-knife point; in fact, the early voyager, ignorant of
their great height, might have mistaken them for a rusty old rank of
piles that had sagged this way and that out of the perpendicular.

The Peninsula is lofty, rocky, and densely clothed with scrub, or brush,
or both. It is joined to the main by a low neck. At this junction was
formerly a convict station called Port Arthur--a place hard to escape
from. Behind it was the wilderness of scrub, in which a fugitive would
soon starve; in front was the narrow neck, with a cordon of chained dogs
across it, and a line of lanterns, and a fence of living guards, armed.
We saw the place as we swept by--that is, we had a glimpse of what we
were told was the entrance to Port Arthur. The glimpse was worth
something, as a remembrancer, but that was all.

The voyage thence up the Derwent Frith displays a grand succession of
fairy visions, in its entire length elsewhere unequaled. In gliding over
the deep blue sea studded with lovely islets luxuriant to the water's
edge, one is at a loss which scene to choose for contemplation and to
admire most. When the Huon and Bruni have been passed, there seems no
possible chance of a rival; but suddenly Mount Wellington, massive and
noble like his brother Etna, literally heaves in sight, sternly guarded
on either hand by Mounts Nelson and Rumney; presently we arrive at
Sullivan's Cove--Hobart!

It is an attractive town. It sits on low hills that slope to the harbor
--a harbor that looks like a river, and is as smooth as one. Its still
surface is pictured with dainty reflections of boats and grassy banks and
luxuriant foliage. Back of the town rise highlands that are clothed in
woodland loveliness, and over the way is that noble mountain, Wellington,
a stately bulk, a most majestic pile. How beautiful is the whole region,
for form, and grouping, and opulence, and freshness of foliage, and
variety of color, and grace and shapeliness of the hills, the capes, the,
promontories; and then, the splendor of the sunlight, the dim rich
distances, the charm of the water-glimpses! And it was in this paradise
that the yellow-liveried convicts were landed, and the Corps-bandits
quartered, and the wanton slaughter of the kangaroo-chasing black
innocents consummated on that autumn day in May, in the brutish old time.
It was all out of keeping with the place, a sort of bringing of heaven
and hell together.

The remembrance of this paradise reminds me that it was at Hobart that we
struck the head of the procession of Junior Englands. We were to
encounter other sections of it in New Zealand, presently, and others
later in Natal. Wherever the exiled Englishman can find in his new home
resemblances to his old one, he is touched to the marrow of his being;
the love that is in his heart inspires his imagination, and these allied
forces transfigure those resemblances into authentic duplicates of the
revered originals. It is beautiful, the feeling which works this
enchantment, and it compels one's homage; compels it, and also compels
one's assent--compels it always--even when, as happens sometimes, one
does not see the resemblances as clearly as does the exile who is
pointing them out.

The resemblances do exist, it is quite true; and often they cunningly
approximate the originals--but after all, in the matter of certain
physical patent rights there is only one England. Now that I have
sampled the globe, I am not in doubt. There is a beauty of Switzerland,
and it is repeated in the glaciers and snowy ranges of many parts of the
earth; there is a beauty of the fiord, and it is repeated in New Zealand
and Alaska; there is a beauty of Hawaii, and it is repeated in ten
thousand islands of the Southern seas; there is a beauty of the prairie
and the plain, and it is repeated here and there in the earth; each of
these is worshipful, each is perfect in its way, yet holds no monopoly of
its beauty; but that beauty which is England is alone--it has no
duplicate.

It is made up of very simple details--just grass, and trees, and shrubs,
and roads, and hedges, and gardens, and houses, and vines, and churches,
and castles, and here and there a ruin--and over it all a mellow
dream-haze of history. But its beauty is incomparable, and all its own.

Hobart has a peculiarity--it is the neatest town that the sun shines on;
and I incline to believe that it is also the cleanest. However that may
be, its supremacy in neatness is not to be questioned. There cannot be
another town in the world that has no shabby exteriors; no rickety gates
and fences, no neglected houses crumbling to ruin, no crazy and unsightly
sheds, no weed-grown front-yards of the poor, no back-yards littered with
tin cans and old boots and empty bottles, no rubbish in the gutters, no
clutter on the sidewalks, no outer-borders fraying out into dirty lanes
and tin-patched huts. No, in Hobart all the aspects are tidy, and all a
comfort to the eye; the modestest cottage looks combed and brushed, and
has its vines, its flowers, its neat fence, its neat gate, its comely cat
asleep on the window ledge.

We had a glimpse of the museum, by courtesy of the American gentleman who
is curator of it. It has samples of half-a-dozen different kinds of
marsupials--[A marsupial is a plantigrade vertebrate whose specialty is
its pocket. In some countries it is extinct, in the others it is rare.
The first American marsupials were Stephen Girard, Mr. Aston and the
opossum; the principal marsupials of the Southern Hemisphere are Mr.
Rhodes, and the kangaroo. I, myself, am the latest marsupial. Also, I
might boast that I have the largest pocket of them all. But there is
nothing in that.]--one, the "Tasmanian devil;" that is, I think he was
one of them. And there was a fish with lungs. When the water dries up
it can live in the mud. Most curious of all was a parrot that kills
sheep. On one great sheep-run this bird killed a thousand sheep in a
whole year. He doesn't want the whole sheep, but only the kidney-fat.
This restricted taste makes him an expensive bird to support. To get the
fat he drives his beak in and rips it out; the wound is mortal. This
parrot furnishes a notable example of evolution brought about by changed
conditions. When the sheep culture was introduced, it presently brought
famine to the parrot by exterminating a kind of grub which had always
thitherto been the parrot's diet. The miseries of hunger made the bird
willing to eat raw flesh, since it could get no other food, and it began
to pick remnants of meat from sheep skins hung out on the fences to dry.
It soon came to prefer sheep meat to any other food, and by and by it
came to prefer the kidney-fat to any other detail of the sheep. The
parrot's bill was not well shaped for digging out the fat, but Nature
fixed that matter; she altered the bill's shape, and now the parrot can
dig out kidney-fat better than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or
anybody else, for that matter--even an Admiral.

And there was another curiosity--quite a stunning one, I thought:
Arrow-heads and knives just like those which Primeval Man made out of
flint, and thought he had done such a wonderful thing--yes, and has been
humored and coddled in that superstition by this age of admiring
scientists until there is probably no living with him in the other world
by now. Yet here is his finest and nicest work exactly duplicated in our
day; and by people who have never heard of him or his works: by
aborigines who lived in the islands of these seas, within our time. And
they not only duplicated those works of art but did it in the brittlest
and most treacherous of substances--glass: made them out of old brandy
bottles flung out of the British camps; millions of tons of them. It is
time for Primeval Man to make a little less noise, now. He has had his
day. He is not what he used to be. We had a drive through a bloomy and
odorous fairy-land, to the Refuge for the Indigent--a spacious and
comfortable home, with hospitals, etc., for both sexes. There was a
crowd in there, of the oldest people I have ever seen. It was like being
suddenly set down in a new world--a weird world where Youth has never
been, a world sacred to Age, and bowed forms, and wrinkles. Out of the
359 persons present, 223, were ex-convicts, and could have told stirring
tales, no doubt, if they had been minded to talk; 42 of the 359 were past
80, and several were close upon 90; the average age at death there is 76
years. As for me, I have no use for that place; it is too healthy.
Seventy is old enough--after that, there is too much risk. Youth and
gaiety might vanish, any day--and then, what is left? Death in life;
death without its privileges, death without its benefits. There were 185
women in that Refuge, and 81 of them were ex-convicts.

The steamer disappointed us. Instead of making a long visit at Hobart,
as usual, she made a short one. So we got but a glimpse of Tasmania, and
then moved on.


Mark Twain