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Captive body, free mind: John Mitchel in Bermuda and on the Neptune 1848-1850

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 15:07 authored by Stefan PetrowStefan Petrow
In May 1848 the Irish revolutionary nationalist John Mitchel was convicted of treasonfelony and sentenced to fourteen years transportation to the hulk convict station at Bermuda, where he remained from June 1848 until April 1849. He then spent another tortuous eleven months on the convict transport the Neptune. He wrote about his experiences in his famous Jail Journal, a classic in the literature of the prison. This writing had therapeutic value and helped Mitchel cope with his captivity while held on the accommodation hulk the Dromedary, what he called his ‘seaweed state’. The mental anguish of being incarcerated on the Dromedary and being unable to fight for Irish freedom drove Mitchel, the archetypal man of action, close to madness. The Jail Journal gives a vivid view of incarceration from the point of view of an educated insider, but is here analysed in depth for the first time. Like other captivity narratives, it is rich and revealing not only about Mitchel’s own feelings on death, madness, mental decline, suicide, and loss of freedom and family, but also about his fellow convicts, his guards and the transportation system itself. Above all it demonstrates the triumph of the human mind over the physical and mental adversity of shipboard incarceration.

History

Publication title

Australia & New Zealand Law & History E-Journal

Article number

Refereed Paper No 6

Number

Refereed Paper No 6

Pagination

164-193

ISSN

1177-3170

Department/School

School of Humanities

Publisher

Australian and New Zealand Law History Society

Place of publication

University of Auckland, Faculty of Law, Auckland

Rights statement

Copyright 2012 Australia & New Zealand Law & History E-Journal

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology

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