MITCHEL, John (1815-1875)


MITCHEL, John (1815-1875)
Irish nationalist
son of the Rev. John Mitchel, a Presbyterian clergyman and his wife, Mary Haslett, was born at Dungiven, Derry, Ireland, on 3 November 1815. He was well educated and it was intended that he should enter the ministry. Mitchel, however, decided he had no vocation for this, and after a short period of working in a bank he studied law. On 3 February 1837 he married Jane Verner, a girl of 16, but it was not until three years later that he was admitted to practise his profession at Newry. He saw much of John Martin, a friend from boyhood, and developed an interest in Irish politics. From 1840 to 1845 he lived at Banbridge and successfully carried on his profession. In November 1844 he visited Dublin, dined with Charles Gavan Duffy (q.v.), and heard O'Connell speak against the union. He had previously met Thomas Davis and was very friendly with him until his death in September 1845. Mitchel had just completed his first book, The Life and Times of Aodh O'Neill, published in 1846, when at the end of September 1845, he arranged to give up his profession and go to Dublin as a contributor and assistant-editor to Duffy on the Nation. They worked together for over two years in amity, and then parted on a question of policy which afterwards led to a bitter quarrel. Mitchel had become convinced that self government for Ireland would only come if Englishmen realized that the effort required to govern Ireland by English-made laws was not worth the candle. He advised the people not to pay rent, not to pay poor rates, and to resist in every way short of actual insurrection the carrying away of the food they raised to be sold for payment of rent. In February 1848 he established the United Irishman, a weekly paper which soon had a large circulation. As a result of articles written by Mitchel he was put on trial for sedition in the following May, was found guilty, and sentenced to be transported for 14 years.
Mitchel was sent first to Bermuda, and in April 1849 to the Cape of Good Hope; but the colonists opposed the landing of convicts and the ship, after lying at anchor for five months, in February 1850 set sail for Tasmania, where it arrived about the beginning of April. Mitchel's friend Martin had also been transported to Tasmania, and the two men were allowed to live together on undertaking not to escape. Mitchel's health had suffered during his long voyage but it now improved rapidly. He decided to send for his wife and family of five small children, and they arrived at Hobart in May 1851. They settled in the Avoca district until in June 1853 a plan of escape was made. Mitchel with P. J. Smyth, who had come from New York to help him to escape, then walked into the police station at Bothwell where there was a police magistrate, handed him a letter resigning Mitchel's ticketof-leave and offering to be taken into custody. As both men had their hands on revolvers they were allowed to walk out and jump on horses that were waiting and so escaped. For about 40 days the two men who had separated hid in various parts of Tasmania, and in July Mitchel escaped from Hobart to Sydney, and thence to San Francisco. His wife and family were with him on the last stage of the journey. He lived in the United States for six years and then went to France. When the American civil war broke out his sons fought on the Confederate side, and two of them were killed in action. Mitchel returned to the United States before the war was over, did newspaper work, and published in 1868 his Jail Journal; or Five Years in British Prisons, and in the same year The History of Ireland from the Treaty of Limerick. Other works on the Irish question appeared at intervals. He paid a visit to Ireland in 1874 and was not molested by the authorities. In February 1875 he came to Ireland again, was nominated for a parliamentary vacancy in Tipperary, and was elected. He had, however, been in poor health for some time and he died on 20 March 1875, leaving a widow, a son and two daughters.
William Dillon, Life of John Mitchel; J. Mitchel, Jail Journal; S. MacCall, Irish Mitchel: A Biography; P. S. O'Hegarty, John Mitchel: An Appreciation; Emile Montegut, John Mitchel: A Study of Irish Nationalism; J. G. Hodges, Report of the Trial of John Mitchel; C. G. Duffy, Four Years of Irish History.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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