“I am now perhaps happier than I would have been had I never known trouble”

The Reids were a literary family, and kept very entertaining and personal accounts of their experiences in early Australia. Many of their family journals, letters and diaries formed the basis of the Clyde Company Papers, the foremost record of the settlement of Port Philip Bay (Victoria), by farmers from Bothwell. They also mixed with many like-minded and literary figures. These extracts offer a sense of the Ratho Farm narrative.


By some it was looked upon as a species of madness, by others as a rash and unwise act of which the cost had not been counted: all united in considering it a most dreadful description, of banishment, and my mother a heroine to encounter the prospect of all things strange and horrible; for dim and misty were their conceptions of what was there to be endured.

Jane Williams (née Reid)

Bothwell has a church; and has four large public-houses; establishments which have much larger congregations, than the church.

John Mitchel

My Dear Uncle,

I fully intended to apologise for my untoward conduct to you yesterday, but in the mean time I beg pardon for my irresponsible engagement, as I was really much inflamed by liquor. I must have sucked up a more than usual quantity when at the Whisky Cock before dinner, and gave utterance to language altogether vice versa to what I intended (or ought to have said); and as it is only generous natures that are capable of confessing the errors they have committed, and of repairing the wrongs they have done, I truly regret that I was capable of wounding the feelings of a friend and relative, and thereby imbittering life with imaginary animosities- and more particularly to you who have always given proofs of kindness and friendship. Trusting your indulgence, and oblivion of the outrage,

I am, with regard,

Ever Yours


My Dear George,

I rec’d your letter a few minutes ago, and from the frank confession therein made I shall as frankly and freely hold out the right hand of good fellowship as if nothing had occurr’d.

I was indeed thunderstruck at your mode of speech, and if so little as I saw you take has such a potent effect, it is a dangerous companion.

With kind regards to your mother,

Believe me as usual,

Yours Sincerely,


In this era of sketches, notes, and recollections, many are tempted like myself to appear before the public who never would have dared to risk the world’s dreaded laugh in any other garb. I have thought it possible that the remembrance of a life spent in the wilds of Van Diemen’s land might not prove quite devoid of interest….

Jane Williams (née Reid)

In the month of August 1821 my father embarked with his family to seek his fortune in Van Diemen’s Land. It was not, as now, an event of everyday occurrence for a family to relinquish the attachments and comforts of their home in the old world to seek their fortunes in those far off islands of the South Sea, which were at the time when my recollections begin emphatically a terra incognita.

It was consequently viewed as no small undertaking by all his friends. By some it was looked upon as a species of madness, by others as a rash and unwise act of which the cost had not been counted: all united in considering it a most dreadful description, of banishment, and my mother a heroine to encounter the prospect of all things strange and horrible; for dim and misty were their conceptions of what was there to be endured.

The ‘Castle Forbes’ was then considered a fine vessel, and was crowded with enterprising and intelligent Scotchmen who were carrying their families from the crowded walks of Old World life to seek more elbow room in Australia.

Bushranger Attack

My dear mother was sitting one afternoon hearing me repeat the Shorter Catechism (Mr. Russell in the field holding the plough, while Captain Wood was driving the bullocks) when an armed man looked into the hut, saying he was a constable looking for bushrangers. My mother told him he could see there was no one there, but he took up his station at the door, or where a door should have been, with his loaded gun ready to fire if any of us had attempted to escape. In the mean time others of the party went out and told the gentlemen that Mrs. Reid and the women were terrified by some bushrangers, whereupon Captain Wood came running to the hut, on which both he and Mr. Russell were seized and handcuffed, as were all the men, and brought into the kitchen hut and seated round the fire, while two of the men watched them.

The others took axes and began to break open the chests of drawers, boxes, etc., when my mother with her usual admirable composure told them it was a pity to destroy the furniture, and if they were determined to help themselves she would open the drawers, and getting her bunch of keys threw everything open, while they turned out the stores of clothing and other comforts my father had provided, thinking to give us all the necessaries of life which could not then be obtained in the bush.

They remained so employed during the night, drawing off also in buckets some wine my father had brought from the Cape, and giving the farm servants abundantly of it, but keeping themselves sober. My mother had just put my brother in bed in his little crib, while the men were ransacking all around him. Coming on a telescope, they said that would suit them well. Alick started up in his bed, crying ‘No take Papa’s mark!’-the name the child gave it from hearing the captain call when taking the altitude of the sun, ‘Mark!’ My father used to tell this story in after days with much enjoyment, and how the chief bush¬ ranger said, ‘Give it to the little boy’, and so it was rescued from their grip. Captain Wood urged my mother to put laudanum in their drink, or cut the cords that tied his hands; but patient submission she thought better, and lest there might be bloodshed would not agree. Eventually they went away, in the morning, taking as much as fourteen men could carry in sheets, and comforting us by saying they would soon come back and take the rest.

My father arrived from town that day, and vowed he would not stay another day in such a place, but go and try Sydney. But my mother said, ‘I’ve come so far with you, and I can go no further.’ Some of the men were taken in the streets of Hobart Town, wearing my father’s shirts with his name in full on them. This convicted them; but as there were no courts of law then in the colony, Captain Wood had to go to Sydney to prosecute them.

My mother always spoke of the great mercy it was that they were quite civil to her and the women servants.

John Mitchel

– Irish nationalist, political prisoner and neighbor to Reids.

BIO – The Reid family were fortunate to have a famed Irish political exile, as their neighbour and he became a close friend and regular letter writer. He wrote some fantastic contributions to the written record of Ratho, and remains an enormous political figure in Ireland where the IRA and Sinn Feinn still herald his leadership, and in America where his son fired the first shots of the US Civil War and he ended up being imprisoned by Abraham Lincoln. U2 have sung about him and Yeats wrote poems to his memory, and more recently authors Thomas Keneally and Christopher Koch have published books on him and his ‘Young Ireland’ uprising; (the first by middle class, educated protestants, against English rule). He is a very significant historical figure in Ireland and the USA.

as we exchanged greetings-I know not from what impulse, whether from buoyancy of heart, or bizarre perversity of feeling-we all laughed till the woods rang around, laughed loud and long, and uproariously, till two teal rose, startled from the reeds on the lake-shore, and flew screaming to seek a quieter neighbourhood

The people of the village, as Jenny tells me, are quiet glad of my escape, and speak kindly about me. I am not surprised- I have ceased being surpised by marks of good will from Tasmanians-but after I left Bothwell at first to go on my travels through the country I own I was surprised at the readiness and zeal which all sorts of people, high and low, showed to serve me. Their houses, their horses, their time and personal exertions, all were at my service- And this quite irrespective of country. My list of efficient assistants in the business includes Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotchmen, Welshmen, and a man from Berwick-upon-Tweed…My poor Jenny tells me you have been very kind to her since I left-but that does not surprise me either. She is almost sorry to quit Bothwell. Those three years of my life seem to me now like a detached bit of landscape, or a cabinet picture framed and finished and to be hung up on the walls of my house forever.
– July 24th, 1853 a letter from Sydney during his famed escape to Mrs Jane Williams of ‘Ratho’ Bothwell,

Some of the principal settlers in the neighbourhood of Bothwell have called upon me; and we have spent some agreeable evenings in their houses. They are all large landed proprietors, and have myriads of sheep and cattle upon a thousand hills. The convict class, who form the majority of the entire population of the island are strictly tabooed. But by common consent we Irish rebels are excepted from the proscription. It gave me a sort of home-feeling, when I found myself, for the first time in two years, seated in the pleasant parlour of Ratho, the home of a most amiable and accomplished Edinburgh family; the social tea-table presided over by one of the most graceful and elegant of old ladies; the books, music, flowers-and the gentle converse of high-bred women, could not fail to soothe and soften an exasperated soul in any but its darkest hour; and I walked home to our cottage dreaming, dreaming of how blessed a privilege it is to have a home
– On the local landed gentry (Jail Journal, April 24th 1850)

It is long since I have made any entry in my log-book. Of literature I am almost sick, and prefer farming, and making market of my wool. There is somewhat stupefying to the brain, as well as invigorating to the frame in this genial clime and aromatic air.
– Enjoying his new agricultural pursuits, (Jail Journal, January 1st 1853)

Bothwell has a church; and has four large public-houses; establishments which have much larger congregations, than the church

 am prosecuting my hay-harvest diligently, with the aid of two or three horrible cut-throats, all from Ireland-and all, by their own account, transported for seizing arm. This is considered, amongst these fellows a respectable sort of offence. The rascals can earn ten British shillings per diem, at harvest-time; and they live all the year round like Irish kings, not to speak of Irish cut-throats. They don’t like to work too hard, and require a good deal of wine…Yet, with all this high reward they receive for their crimes, this paternal care to make thievery happy, and munificent endowment of rascality, the creatures are not utterly bad-not half so bad, for example, as the Queen of England’s cabinet councillors. They are civil, good-natured with one another and not thievish at all.
– Finding a greater appreciation for his fellow Irish convicts (Jail Journal, January 5th 1853)

My dear Reid
It is like going into the country to write to Bothwell out of the very heart of this infernal hubbub. Neither Dublin nor London is half so busy as this place, where there does not seem to be half room enough for the work that goes on in it, although it is stretching itself and expanding its huge limbs with convulsive energy. In the business portion of the town the streets are all very narrow, the houses immensely high, and the earth burrowed out and vaulted not only under houses but under the streets. While overhead, telegraph-wires are running and crossing each other through the air, whispering what was the price of stocks at New Orleans and at Halifax five minutes ago- carrying the congress bunkum-debates of this forenoon at Washington to the newspaper offices, where the fellows are setting-up the speech in type before the orator has finished 300 miles off. This is not like Bothwell. New York is a nervous and highly feverish patient, hysterical, irritable, with a determination of blood to the head, and a decided tendency to delirium tremens. Bothwell is a quiet and healthy shepherd whose food is mutton and his drink Clyde water (not unmingled with moderate brandy), lying on a sunny hill under a honeysuckle, listening to the sheep-bells. That I call poetical.
But seriously I do assure you, that intolerable as was my condition in Van Diemen’s Land when I thought on it, yet there were so many pleasures in it when I did not think, that here in New York I often almost long for Nant Cottage. You will hardly believe this.

– February 18th , 1854 a letter from New York to Alexander Reid of Ratho Bothwell