July 4th is American Independence Day or as it is termed over there, The fourth of July. It is the day in 1776 when the thirteen America colonies declared their independence from the mother country, Great Britain.
Over the time, the connection between America and Australia/Tasmania has been strong, often friendly and certainly those who settled here from the USA have been fascinating and purposeful. Yet initially it was not so. Indeed the Americans had plans to invade the British colony of Sydney.
The idea was formulated in 1801 with the help of the French, the arch enemy of Great Britain. Sydney, settled in 1788 was an easy target for invasion from anyone. At that time, it was a struggling, small colony. Hints of invading Sydney was formulated after the exhibition to the colony by Frenchman Nicolas Baudin.
It was to take several years before anything substantial occurred. In 1812, Governor Lachlan Macquarie, an able and humane man, was Governor of NSW and also of Van Diemen’s Land. We were then administered directly from Sydney with local Commanders in charge while a new Lieutenant Governor arrived which was to be Colonel Thomas Davey.
The planned invasion of Sydney was discovered by adventurer, Jorgen Jorgenson who learnt it from a French prisoner held in Tothill Fields Prison in England. Jorgenson informed the British authorities, who thought it was rather “amusing” and did not take it seriously, judging it to be wild and unlikely.
However, the French with their American allies were quite serious and indeed two French warships were to be sent to the new nation of America to tee up with two American vessels to invade Sydney. The French part of the invading plan was not successful. Their two ships were wrecked off the coast of Spain near Cadiz as the result of a violent storm.
The Americans continued their plan to invade, sailing for Sydney. While doing so they attacked British non-naval vessels, primarily whaling ships and by all accounts destroyed a considerable number of them.
Even so, without the French warships not accompany them, the desire of the two American ships started to wane especially when a British man-of-war was seen by them. The experience sent them scampering thus ending the planned invasion of Australia by America.
Jorgenson eventually came to Van Diemen’s Land as an explorer, editor, navigator and colonial constable.
Fortunately since the debacle of the invasion most visitations were generally peaceful and helpful, although it does depend which side you were on. Colonial Americans were one of the main agitators during the Eureka Stockade incident and in 1840 a number of Americans were sent to our island as political convicts after the disastrous Canadian revolt in which many south of the border participated.
Whilst here their treatment was brutal, but fortunately for them they received a pardon by Queen Victoria and left our shores for good, happy to go.
A few years later there were further political prisoners, this time Irish. One, Thomas Francis Meagher, fought in the American Civil War with the Unionists as Brigadier-General, after escaping from Tasmania. His colleague, John Mitchel also was involved in the war, by supporting the Southern States, becoming the editor of the Richmond newspaper in Virginia,
Mitchel like Meagher spent some time in Tasmania with Mitchel enjoying the company of his family. A son of his with whom he lived in Bothwell, followed his father to America after he had escaped from his prisoner home. Interestingly enough this young man, John Jnr, who once lived amongst us was the person to fire the first shot heralding the start of the American Civil War. He was a Commander of a regiment who fired a canon volley on Fort Sumpter thereby opening the war.
In reference to the American Civil War, three American war veterans are buried here, they being Francis Waters (Cornelian Bay), Henry Wells (Somerset) and Charles Baker (Beaconsfield).
As a matter of interest actor Edwin Booth, brother of John Booth who assassinated President Abe Lincoln, played at one time at the Theatre Royal in Hobart while Hobart also enjoyed a visit from author Mark Twain who spent a very brief spell of only several weeks with the Confederate Army, arriving in Tasmania 2nd November 1895. Twain described Hobart as “one of the tidiest cities in the world”.
Another connection is with John P. Mikesell who superintended the construction of Tasmania’s original telegraph line in the 1870s. Mikesell was born in Virginia in the 1830s and participated in the Californian gold rush in the late 1840s and 50s. He enlisted in the Union Army in November 1861 and resigned as Captain in 1863. When gold was found in Australia shortly afterwards, he sailed for our shores. After completing his services as a superintendent to our telegraph construction, he left Australia and returned permanently to America.
The connection between our country, state and America goes back many years and is quite substantial.