On 9th July 1849 the order for the deportation of the state prisoners – William Smith O’Brien, Terence Bellew McManus, Patrick O’Donoghue and Thomas Francis Meagher – arrived in Richmond Bridewell, Dublin. On that morning, prior to the orders arrival, Thomas F. Meagher addressed a letter to his friend, John P. Leonard in Paris. It was the last letter he would ever write in his native land.
My dear Leonard,
This morning, or to-morrow, at furthest, we will be put on board the war-brig which is to convey us to Van Diemen’s Land, and I most gladly avail myself of a few moments to at my disposal to assure you, now that I am on the eve of parting from my sad poor country, of my very warm esteem and friendship.
As I told you in one of my previous letters, the recollection of the days spent in Paris, in the eventful year of 1848, will be to me for many a year to come a source of very deep delight. Would to heaven that the hopes that then shone so brilliantly over our paths were still visible in our changeful and mournful sky – were still the objects of the people’s love, faith and adoration. But they have disappeared – clouds on clouds have thickened round them, and in the darkness which covers the land we hear the wail of the dying, and the supplications of the penniless and the breadless. Never, never was there a country so utterly downcast, so debased, so pitiful, so spiritless.
Yet I do not, could not despair of her regeneration. Nations do not die in a day. Their lives are reckoned by generations, and they encompass centuries. Their vitality in inextinguishable. Their sufferings are sometimes terrible, but they survive the deadliest plagues, the red inundation of the battle-field, the storms which topple towers and pyramids, the fire in which millions of wealth is melted down, the earthquake which engulfs cities and buries a whole people in one indistinguishable sepulchre – they have been known to survive all. Greece has so outlived her ruins and her woes. Italy has so outlived her degeneracy and her despotism. Thus too, shall Ireland survive all her sufferings, her errors, and disasters, and rear one day an ‘Arch of Triumph’ high above the wreck and wilderness of the past. This is my sincere faith. It is this which elates me at this moment – it is this which in my weary exile will make me forget my solitude, forget my privations, forget all the happiness I have sacrificed, and change what would otherwise be a weary bondage into a tranquil, happy dream. Besides I feel I have done nothing else than my plain duty, and hence I cannot be otherwise than proud and happy at this moment. My heart indeed was never so firm – the consciousness of having acted with purity, with generosity, in the face of all perils, and at the cost of friends and home and country – this is a deep, never-failing source of the most delightful joy. i would not exchange places this day with the most comfortable and happy slave in the country.
Orders have come.