Sometimes, towards the end, he would look back on it all and laugh. As the years had gone by, Henry Reading had accumulated an immense wealth; he owned over 120 properties in the north of the island, and it was said that there wasn’t a street in Launceston that you couldn’t find a house of Henry’s.
He was the equivalent of a millionaire, but that hadn’t seemed like Henry Reading’s destiny from the beginning. Born to a young mother in one or another of London’s gin-soaked hovels, Reading was imprisoned for stealing beeswax, and sentenced to Van Diemen’s Land on the Claudine. When he arrived in 1821, he had just turned thirteen years old, and stood at a a miniscule 137 centimetres tall.
Henry was a well-behaved convict and earned his ticket-of-leave in due course. The urge to have a fresh start stirred within the young man. He decided to leave Hobart, and head for the northern settlement of Launceston. For a poor convict lad, there was no transportation available – other than his two feet. Henry Reading put his few possessions on a handcart and began lugging it the 190 kilometres from Hobart to Launceston.
It was April when he set out. Cold winds blew, rain came and went, and the odd storm assailed him. The transplanted trees on the homesteads were beginning to litter their leaves. Occasionally a servant, a cook, or even a master would take pity on the little man hiking across the island and give him soup, grog, or a bed to sleep in.
Oddly, when he was older and reminiscing on his walk, Henry Reading could remember little of the aching muscles, the wet clothes, the cold rivers he had to wade, the blisters, the nights of bad sleep, or the hunger. He knew that’s how it had been – a tough slog – but instead, he remembered the good moments: these instances of hospitality, or the sight of a blue sky over the Midlands plains. Or best of all, that final day of walking.
It had nearly been a month since he crossed the Derwent River coming out of Hobart Town. Now, departing Breadalbane on May 12th, Henry felt the load lighten a little, knowing he would soon be arriving to a new life, a clean slate, a blank page. And as he approached Launceston, he noted in his diary the immense heads of cattle that he was passing through. “Prosperity bodes well here,” he scrawled.
Yes, when Henry Reading thought about the naïve young man he had been when he wrote that prognostication, he had to laugh.