George Barrington: The Prince of Pickpockets

By Michaela Ann Cameron

Supported by a Create NSW Arts and Cultural Grant – Old Parramattans & Rogues

Barrington picking the pocket of J. Brown Esqr.,” in George Barrington, The Memoirs of George Barrington, Containing Every Remarkable Circumstance, (London: J. Bird, 1790), PIC Drawer 7281 #U6319 NK2788 / nla.obj-136035049, National Library of Australia via Trove.

All night long, convicts broke and burnt ‘all the benches and moveables in their wards’ at Newgate, ‘shouting, singing,’ tearing up boards, trying to set fire to the prison, and ‘continually opening and shutting all the doors at once.’[1] The latter rite, known as ‘firing the great guns,’ was ‘peculiar to Christmas Eve and New Years Day’—but it was late February 1791.[2] The convicts had unseasonally appropriated the rite as their ‘parting ceremonial’ so as to ‘manifest their joy’ at their imminent transportation to the penal Colony of New South Wales.[3] And, as the reporters of the day would rush to tell it, only one man could have served as the principal of this anarchic scene ‘from a desire [to] go … off with éclat’[4]: the celebrity cutpurse whose ‘memoirs’ were at that very moment advertised in all the newspapers; a man ‘well known throughout the three kingdoms’[5] for his exquisitely artful dodging and whose much admired eloquence and theatricality at the Old Bailey had ensured his ‘polite legerdemain’[6] had not resulted in a trip beyond the seas as an ‘involuntary passenger’ for the better part of two decades.[7] Yet, having finally caught, tried and successfully sentenced this undisputed ‘genius,’ it seems the authorities could hardly wait to let him go.[8] Just seven months later, the ‘Prince of Pickpockets,’ the ‘celebrated George Barrington’ would be appointed the subordinate to Thomas Daveney, the Superintendent of Convicts at Toongabbie, Toogagal Country, and was soon made Principal Watchman, earning him a conditional pardon and a land grant before the end of the following year.[9] By September 1796, he had another Parramatta land grant in Burramattagal Country, a full pardon, and was promoted to Chief Constable of Parramatta.[10]

A Star is Born: ‘The Genteelest Thief’

Barrington had served his apprenticeship as a pickpocket among a group of travelling players and swindlers in Éire (Ireland), where he was reportedly born ‘George Waldron’ in Maigh Nuad, Contae Chill Dara (Maynooth, County Kildare) in 1755.[11] He sailed to England in 1773 and adopted the look and feasible backstory of a young man of some fortune and breeding, (a persona entirely funded by the spoils of his crimes), which allowed the imposter to quickly and effectively ingratiate himself with English gentlefolk before picking gold watches and other trinkets from their pockets without being detected or even suspected. Two years on, however, Barrington ‘advanced with new audacity,’ distinguishing himself from the common pickpocket by attempting more difficult and more valuable acquisitions.[12] In succeeding ‘beyond the most sanguine expectations that could have been formed’ in stealing ‘the diamond order of some of the Knights of the Garter, Bath and Thistle’ and absconding ‘perfectly unsuspected,’[13] he set an impeccably high standard for himself, and this appetite for more audacious crimes also came with higher risk.

Thus, it was only in November 1775 that Barrington burst into public view with what would become his trademark flair, as a fresh-faced, well-spoken, genteelly dressed twenty-year-old. His victim was none other than Catherine the Great’s favourite, the Russian nobleman Count Orlov, whom Barrington had been attempting to rob of a golden snuffbox ‘set with brilliants’ at Covent Garden Theatre.[14] The diamond snuffbox had been gifted to Orlov by the Empress and was obscenely valuable, worth an estimated £30,000 at the time (the equivalent of £2,583,135 in 2017 currency or around $4,668,293 in Australian dollars in 2021).[15] Yet, even as Orlov seized him by the collar, Barrington’s prowess ensured he was not caught with the item in his hands. With a professional magician’s sleight of hand, Barrington returned the snuffbox to its rightful owner in the commotion so he could only be charged at the Bow Street Public Office ‘on suspicion of stealing.’[16] As the Stamford Mercury reported on 9 November 1775: ‘The young man’s landlord gave him a good character; and as Prince Orloff [sic] did not appear, nor any other sufficient evidence to convict him, he was discharged.’[17]

Barrington detected picking the Pocket of Prince Orlow, in the Front Boxes at the Covent Garden Theatre, of a Snuff Box set with Diamonds supposed to be worth £30,000, (Fleet Street [London]: G. Kearsley, 6 October 1790), (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), © The Trustees of the British Museum.

While Barrington had failed to secure the treasure he had overambitiously grasped for, the daring nature of the crime, the novelty of his ‘genteel’ appearance in connexion with such criminal activity, and his lucky escape from justice at a time when people were hanged for much less, all ensured he had well and truly captured something else altogether—the public’s interest. For a pickpocket, who relied on being inconspicuous, unsuspected, and undetected, though, the attention Barrington had drawn to himself in the high profile Orlov incident proved detrimental to his ‘professional’ work. He continued to ‘visit…all the genteel places of resort,’ including ‘both Houses of Parliament, where he acquired considerable sums,’ only to be recognised by a gentleman acquainted with the Orlov case, and immediately ejected from the House of Lords.[18]

Barrington’s growing fame also undoubtedly influenced the negative outcome of his first trial at the Old Bailey on 15 January 1777. A widow named Ann Dudman[19] had felt a hand in her pocket whilst in the crowded theatre pit of Drury Lane Playhouse, Covent Garden and, upon ‘instantaneously’ grabbing it as it was being withdrawn, ‘found it to be [Barrington’s] hand, with her [silk] purse in it,’ containing ‘a pair of silver studs, value 1 s, an half guinea, and 3 s. 6 d. in money.’[20] Mrs. Dudman reclaimed her purse, declared him a thief, and called out for a constable to secure him, while a gentleman nearby named Marshall rallied to her cause, accusing Barrington of the crime. But Barrington’s fast and devious fingers were matched by his razor sharp wit and his words: well aware of the immense credibility his raiment and affected demeanour automatically bestowed upon him in England’s class-conscious society, Barrington denied the accusation and pointed out ‘he was a gentleman of fortune, and lived in Pallmall,’ then quickly reversed the victim and offender roles by stating that Dudman and Marshall ‘were taking a gentleman’s character from him.’[21] He might have looked, sounded, and overall acted the part, however Barrington’s abode was not Pallmall, as historian Deidre Palk has observed, but ‘the markedly un-genteel neighbourhood of Charing Cross.’[22]

At the trial, the public were treated to the sight of the accused in the form of a gorgeously attired toff, and to what would become his famed oratorical talents. In a lengthy, splendidly poised address to the criminal court, Barrington set out a measured defence worthy of any barrister. In his opening statement he established that Dudman’s case was founded on insufficient evidence, then ‘related the transaction’ in detail, describing the setting of the theatre pit and the impossibility that ‘any person, in such a crowd’ could ‘distinguish who was the thief,’ least of all Dudman who, he had come to learn, was ‘blind of one eye.’[23] In a bid to raise further doubts about the testimony of the prosecutrix, he refuted the claim that he had been immediately seized with the purse in his hand, and presented an alternative timeline in which he had been plucked from the crowd at random a good five minutes after Dudman had grabbed some unknown person’s hand in the midst of the ‘exceeding crowd.’[24] According to Barrington, even the fact that Dudman had a gentleman witness corroborating her version in court was nothing compared to the numerous gentlemen witnesses ‘unanimously’ professing his innocence at the scene itself.[25] Nevertheless, Barrington had willingly submitted to a search of his person to clear his good name, at which point property was confiscated and detained for eight days, ‘and then returned, because no person could claim a single article.’[26] As time would tell, however, a favoured Barringtonian method was to pass stolen items to an accomplice who fled the scene; in the event that Barrington was arrested, then, he would not be caught with any evidence of his guilt on his person.[27] Thus, the utterly guilty Barrington could be so bold as to state to his lordship Mr. Justice Ashhurst and the gentlemen of the First Middlesex Jury, ‘if the evidence this lady [Dudman] has given is sufficient to convict me of the crime, it is in the power of any one to take away the life or liberty of any persons whatsoever.’[28] The Prince of Pickpockets did not merely rely on his eloquence in court, for the trial transcript reveals that whilst awaiting trial in his cell at the Tothill-fields Bridewell he had also employed his considerable literary talent to emotionally manipulate Ann Dudman via a letter designed to ‘animate [her] heart, and induce [her] to put a stop to a prosecution which cannot be attended by any agreeable reflection.’[29] Despite Barrington’s impressive performance both in the court and on the page, as well as another excellent character reference from his then landlord, the peruke maker Henry Finch, ‘the jury, without the least hesitation, pronounced him guilty.’[30]

The following month, Barrington was sentenced to three years hard labour on the hulks moored on the Thames.[31] Yet Barrington had performed his role as the gentleman thief so effectively at his first Old Bailey trial that some of his admirers in the audience were outraged at the thought of one so admirably stylish, classy, and evidently ‘learned’ being subjected to this lowly punishment among the great unwashed:

Barrington from his appearance, is badly qualified to become a pupil of Mr. Campbell’s, at his academy off Woolwich. He is a very genteel man, about 21, and very far from athletic; his hair dressed a-la-mode; clothes quite in the taste; a fine gold-headed taper cane, with suitable tassels, and elegant Artois buckles. In short, he is the genteelest thief we ever remember to have seen at the Old Bailey, and it is a great pity he should be condemned to so vulgar an employment as ballast-heaving.[32]

David Brown Dignam, George Barrington, Drawn from the Life,” The London Magazine (May 1777), (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), © The Trustees of the British Museum.

He was by no means the only one of his perceived ‘class’ reduced to the hulks at the time, which meant he and his fellow elevated defrauders, including David Brown Dignum and Flint, became something of a tourist attraction on the Thames.[33] Indeed, months after Barrington’s conviction, even with the war between England and her American colonies raging, he remained a drawcard. As the Hampshire Chronicle noted, with the shipping out of 1500 English matrosses to fight the rebellious American colonists by mid-June 1777, Woolwich would have been rendered ‘a mere desert, but for the crowds of company who daily resort there to see the convicts work, and in particular the three gentlemen convicts, as they are called for distinction sake, Dignam, Barrington, and Flint.’[34] By then, the commentators who had pronounced Barrington ill suited to the punishment were proven right with reports that he was already ‘an object of commiseration—the mere shadow of a shade. He is reduced almost beyond a possibility of being known.’[35] Such sympathetic reports also emphasised his supposed innate gentility, even in his degraded situation: ‘His behaviour is mild, humble, and penitent, and he performs his lot with all possible industry, in a state of true contrition.’[36] There were rumours of preferential treatment, with Barrington and Dignam being ‘indulged with having their Irons off,’ although the Oxford Journal dismissed the claim and insisted ‘we are assured they are not only narrowly watched, but treated with the utmost Strictness.’[37] At any rate, Barrington was soon favoured with a full pardon from His Majesty King George III in January 1778, having served only eleven months of his three-year sentence.[38]

Just two months after his early release, ‘Beau Barrington’ showed his gratitude for His Majesty’s mercy by being charged with picking several pockets at a ‘crowded congregation,’ which had assembled at St. Sepulchre’s Church, Snow-hill for the ‘Anniversary Sermon for the benefit of the Human Society for the recovery of drowned persons.’[39] Again, a victim of his own growing fame, the rumour quickly spread that Barrington was in attendance and that multiple items were already missing. An undertaker named Bethel and a constable named Payne, who knew Barrington by sight, followed and observed him with his hand in a lady’s pocket before the thief, realising he was being watched, slipped out of the church.[40] Constable Payne pursued and detained him at the end of Cock Lane.[41] At the watch-house, another constable discovered Barrington had concealed property on his person when he ordered him to remove his hat and a gold watch dropped (the media would sensationally claim) from the immaculate ‘toupée of his hair.’[42] A metal watch, a blue purse containing money, a gold snuffbox, a toothpick case, and a variety of trinkets were also recovered.[43]

As Barrington was ‘conveyed’ from Guildhall to the Mansion-House ‘a Concourse of People…thronged about the Coach to such a Degree, that it was stopped several Times on its Way, and the Glasses were ordered to be pulled down, that the Populace might have a full View of him.’[44] The ‘Mob’ continued to swell so that by the time the coach reached the Mansion-House ‘the Prosecutrix,’ one Elizabeth Ironmonger, ‘was obliged to be handed thro’ the Windows.’[45] A showman through and through, Barrington would have been energised by the mob, knowing he had them eating out of the palm of his infamous hands. Thus, never dreaming to disappoint his audience, he gave them a taste of his celebrated gentility—but only, emphatically, the smallest, most delicious titbit and the promise of a truly satisfying, much grander feast to come: ‘I hope your Worship will not be offended with me for deferring my Defence to a superior Court. I humbly request you will commit me to Newgate.’[46] Undoubtedly resigned to the fact that he would do substantial time for this latest crime, Barrington appears to have been determined to give his fans something to relish while he toiled on the Thames. His request for his turn upon a ‘stage’ worthy of his obvious notoriety was granted and, based on the extraordinary performance that was to follow, it seems he positively threw himself into the task of composing and polishing his next great speech at London’s Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey.

‘Degrading Talents and Perverted Eloquence’

The Gentleman Pickpocket had already firmly established that he had a way with words just as surely as he had his ways into other people’s pockets, but when he came before Mr. Justice Blackstone and the jury at the Old Bailey on 29 April 1778, it is fair to say he completely outdid himself.[47] Indeed, when the Old Bailey Proceedings were published in June that year, ‘the remarkable Trial of George Barrington, with his very curious defence, verbatim,’ received special mention in the advertisement and, in the long term, proved to be a marketable product again when it was repackaged in compilations of Barrington’s other famous ‘speeches.’[48]

Sessions House, Old Bailey, by C. Lacy after George Shepherd (London: James Asperne, 1812), (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), © The Trustees of the British Museum.

For the present-day reader, one of the most notable ‘curiosities’ of his April 1778 oration is just how familiarly modern this Georgian-era celebrity appears. Like many celebrities of our own day, Barrington mastered the art of using the media to his advantage. He courted the media with his attention-seeking antics, only to accuse them of using ‘every possible art…to draw me before the public eye,’ and complained bitterly of how great a disservice these ‘mercenary hirelings’ did him by depicting him ‘in a most infamous point of view’[49]:

The daily papers have been filled with paragraphs against me; they have loaded me with a liberality bordering on profusion, with the epithets of notorious, infamous, and abandoned; yet infamous and abandoned as they would have me appear, this is the second time of my being tried in any court, while offenders more atrocious, that have visited this and other bars often, have escaped without even these epithets so plentifully cast upon me. If hitherto I have unhappily fallen into the commission of a crime, it is not to be inferred from thence that I am now guilty, or must always be so; and I beg of you to consider, gentlemen, if I have offended the laws, I have likewise suffered the punishment they have inflicted, nor would they have been mitigated, if signs of reformation had not marked the unhappy object…’[50]

‘The facts,’ he stressed, ‘have been misrepresented and exaggerated, but I trust that sensible and impartial minds, such as I hope my jury are composed of, will not be influenced by news-paper invectives.’[51] It is true it was only his second time before the Old Bailey, but only because this bona fide career criminal was so cunning as to avoid conviction previously. His marked eloquence, meanwhile, was itself one of the many ways he profited from his crimes; while honest men put in a full day’s work, Barrington had been able to live a life of leisure and study whatever happened to take his fancy or might even prove useful in, say, a court of law. As a result, noted the Chester Chronicle,

‘Barrington is one of the most remarkable instances which the present age has produced of degrading talents and perverted eloquence, and cannot be regarded without a mixture of wonder and detestation. Of such a character what can we say, in the words of a late noble author, but alas, poor human nature!

Grac’d with each talent that applause might gain,

Defam’d by vice that makes each talent vain.”[52]

Impressed as his audience may have been by his oratory, it did not move the court to find him innocent of the crime for which he was tried. They pronounced him ‘guilty of stealing the watch, but not guilty of stealing it privately from the person.’[53] His subsequent desperate attempts at negotiation, offering ‘to enter into his majesty’s service’ as a surgeon proved ineffectual, as Justice Blackstone quipped: ‘You very well know where to make your application for the mitigation of your sentence, if you think the circumstances will deserve it.’[54] He was sentenced to another five years’ navigation on the Thames.[55]

In Newgate Prison a month later, the Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser claimed Barrington had ‘stabbed himself in the breast’ with a penknife, but that ‘[t]he wound is not likely to prove mortal.’[56] Barrington himself had memorably warned not to believe everything that was written about him in the papers, as journalists were, he claimed, determined that his life should be ‘paragraphed away.’[57] The fact that the sensational story of his suicide attempt was not widely reported, and that Barrington never referred to it later when describing the state of his health, could indicate that it was nothing but fancy. One of a number of supposedly ‘genuine’ biographies of Barrington, however, accepted it and stated that the wound was ‘deep,’ ‘dangerous,’ and in the long term proved to be slow healing; its ‘effects, after near two years continuance’ apparently brought on a ‘consumption’ that afflicted him on the hulks and seemed would inevitably lead to a ‘lingering and…miserable death.’[58]

View of the Justitia Hulk, with the Convicts at Work, near Woolwich.” New Newgate Calendar or Malefactor’s Register, (Woolwich: 1777). © National Maritime Museum Collections.

If there was any truth to the report that he had lost all hope and made an attempt on his life, then he must have regained some confidence in his ability to alter his situation, no matter how dire. Whilst on the Justitia hulk, he is credited with penning letters to a clergyman in early 1781, for the stated purpose of obtaining a mitigation in the sentence of a pitiful fellow convict who was ‘almost at the point of death.’[59] Despite his explicit statements to the contrary, the sorry soul for whom he was soliciting this support was actually himself; after hooking his prey, Barrington sent a reply in which he killed off his imaginary friend, and openly worked on his own behalf henceforth.[60] According to Barrington, he was four years into his ‘very rare and severe’ five-year sentence, by which time ‘colds that I had repeatedly caught had ulcerated my lungs, and labour often exceeding my strength by day, and putrified [sic] air by night, had greatly reduced, and wasted my frame.’[61] The hulk’s surgeons, finding ‘the usual medicines’ wholly ineffective, ‘applied to the superintendant [sic], and obtained a milk and vegetable diet’ for him, even though such ‘a regimen’ was ‘never allowed there, but like extreme unction to those that were at the point of death.’[62] His ‘constitution’ by his own account was ‘destroyed’ by his sufferings on the hulk and his condition continued to deteriorate, leaving him ‘labouring under a nervous fever and shortness of breath,’ so he officially petitioned for a mitigation of his sentence, probably bolstered by the good word of his new pen pal the clergyman; it was granted by Majesty King George III on 30 April 1782, a year before his sentence was due to expire.[63] However, it was a pardon that came with conditions: he was to be freed from ‘that seminary of vice’[64] a year early only on the proviso that he leave the kingdom within ten days of his release, never to return.[65] Barrington, of course, did no such thing.

According to the Derby Mercury, on 26 December 1782, the ‘notorious’ one was doing what he did best—diving into the pockets of ‘a Country Gentleman’ at one of his old favourite haunts, the Drury Lane Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.[66] Unfortunately for the pickpocket, his victim ‘seized him by the Hand’ right as he was relieving him of ‘a small Case, containing five hundred Pounds in Bank Notes.’[67] Lest we conclude Barrington had grown sloppy in his technique since his incarceration, it is also worth noting he had already removed the same gentleman’s watch, which, not being found upon him, was assumed to have been ‘conveyed’ to one of his disciples. He was arrested and taken to Bow Street, where, it seems, he was not indicted for theft, presumably because (as usual) no stolen property was found on his person. He was committed to Newgate to await trial regardless; his sheer presence in London being sufficient to prove he was in violation of the conditions of His Majesty’s pardon.

Front of Drury-Lane-Theatre, [Covent Garden], by unknown artist, (1775–1794), (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), © The Trustees of the British Museum.

When Barrington graced the Old Bailey with an appearance around a fortnight later on 15 January 1783, he did not disappoint his fans.[68] He pre-emptively refuted any suggestion that he was detained for being up to his old tricks: ‘I have done nothing since [my pardon and release], that a man need be ashamed of,’ and again resorted to his earlier argument that he was a victim of his own distorted reputation: ‘my Lord, I have learned that a man whose character has once been blemished, will always be suspected: I was merely for a name apprehended, and some time afterwards I understood that detainers were lodged against me for not fulfilling the conditions of my pardon.’[69] But where Barrington really shone on this occasion was in the legal argument he mounted in his own defence:

I will appeal to the court, whether it was not contrary to every principle of justice, equity, and law, when a very severe sentence was nearly expired, to saddle me with the condition of being transported for ever; of being a fugative [sic] for ever from my native country, which would of itself have been considered a very severe sentence.[70]

It was a strong argument that demonstrated considerable knowledge of the inner workings of the law, but as the court noted in its lengthy reply, it was not without its flaws. The condition of his pardon was not ‘transportation,’ as Barrington had classified it, but,

simple banishment,…a much milder sentence than transportation, because, by transportation the place of destination is fixed, and the subject has not a right to go to any other part of the world; nor to that part of the world of his own liberty but his person is transferred in a state of servitude and slavery during that term; and the property of his service and labour is assigned to the persons who contract with the court: not so with the condition of your pardon; that is only a condition to remove yourself from that society, which you have so grievously offended, and not to return to it again.[71]

In other words, His Majesty King George III had given the sickly Barrington the best deal he could hope for in his current situation, and he had failed to take advantage of it. He had been offered a life of liberty, so long as he became some other country’s problem for the remainder of his natural life, and he had thrown that chance away, despite knowing he would inevitably be tried again—if not because he had not yet permanently relinquished his thieving ways, then because, as he readily acknowledged, his reputation preceded him and he would ever be ‘suspected’ of criminal conduct whenever anything went missing in his presence. The law was clear-cut on the matter of what to do with a person who broke the condition of His Majesty’s pardon: ‘the person to whom that pardon is granted, remains in the same situation that he would have been if that pardon had not been granted.’[72] In short, Barrington still had a full year to serve on the hulks. He, of course, desperately pleaded that ‘it is not in the power of medicine to relieve me if I go down to that place; and certain death must be the consequence.’[73] The court acknowledged that if Barrington’s ill health did in fact ‘render it dangerous’ for him to serve the time, he would be detained ‘till you can be with safety removed; or it may be a ground for a further extension of his Majesty’s mercy…the power rests with the King alone.’[74] Barrington ‘was taken from the bar, and,’ wrote the Hampshire Chronicle melodramatically, ‘appeared in a deep decline, so that in all probability this young man, to whom nature has been so liberal, and whose education is a reproach to his morals, will die a wretched example of the certain consequences of abilities misapplied bringing inevitable ruin and disgrace.’[75]

Barrington the justice perverter did not return to the hulks; he spent the remainder of his former sentence in filthy Newgate Prison, and the incorrigible rogue lived to pick another pocket or two, or three, or four…[76]

‘A Citizen of the World’

Barrington became intimately acquainted with the interior of Sir Godfrey Webster’s pocket at the opera in early February 1784. This act was followed by another thrillingly verbose Old Bailey performance on the 25th of the same month, this time to save his very neck, as it was a capital conviction. The ruling: Not Guilty.[77]

Next, he took his show on the road, picking pockets in Dùn Èideann (Edinburgh), Alba (Scotland), then in Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin), Éire (Ireland), where he was soon detected and arrested in July 1784.[78] Incredibly, ‘the bills of indictment preferred against the noted Barrington’ were ‘insufficient to ground a criminal charge against him,’ so he was released.[79] A ‘light fingered journey through Cymru (Wales), and some pickings up at Chester in England followed.[80]

Wherever there was a crowd of people, Barrington was sure to be there. On 19 October 1784, therefore, he mingled with the crowds amid the ‘great processional pomp’ that accompanied ‘the Going-up of Mr. Blanchard’s Balloon’ at Chelsea, but was detected and ‘instantly handcuffed, by the Peace-Officers in Waiting.’[81] Despite their vigilance and success in discovering and detaining him, however, the authorities could never seem to make any mud stick. Thus, shortly thereafter, on Christmas Day 1784, the Oxford Journal could report an ‘alarming and singular Robbery’ upon a Mr. Grey as he was going to the theatre and crossing from St. Martin’s Court into New-Street. Mr. Grey had found himself surrounded by five or six men who stripped him of his gold watch and umbrella. ‘Officers of the Police’ searched nearby houses ‘where these Fellows frequent,’ and ‘found the noted Barrington,’ thoroughly composed, ‘with a Bottle of Wine before him’; they were powerless to charge him with anything in particular or take him into custody.[82]

A couple of months later, on 26 February 1785, Barrington, probably unable to resist an opportunity to imitate Shakespearean art in his own life, chose a Drury Lane production of Macbeth—a play fixated on the work of one’s hands—as the setting of his latest criminal handiwork. The play’s protagonist asks, ‘What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes…[83] and Barrington’s latest victim John Bagshaw, Esq., probably said words very much to that effect as he felt Barrington’s strange hand in his breeches pocket, ‘plucking’ out his gold watch ‘in the pit-passage of Drury-lane.’[84] Bagshaw pursued and confronted the thief, but when the case was heard at the Old Bailey, Barrington ‘made a defence’ that Justice Baron Eyre admitted, ‘no one could hear without lamenting, that a man of such talents, should have the misfortune to stand accused of a crime of this nature, or to have a character in any degree blemished, that should prevent such talents from being exerted to his own advantage, and the advantage of the public.’[85] The entire case was based on circumstantial evidence, so after ‘conferr[ing] a few minutes,’ the Jury returned a verdict of ‘Not Guilty.’[86]

It was around this time that William Beechey painted his portrait of Barrington. The portrait captures the pickpocket’s paradoxical persona in all its feigned gentility and clashing impishness—thanks to that subtle, contemptuous smirk, which seems to say, ‘I fooled you with this get-up, didn’t I? But, of course, I knew I would…’ Having made the Prince of Pickpockets the subject of his brushwork, Beechey eventually moved on to capturing genuine royalty on canvas as a royal portraitist.

Portrait of George Barrington, by William Beechey (c. 1785), PIC Screen 11 #T275 NK13 / nla.obj-134292248, National Library of Australia via Trove.

With his fame growing, there were numerous sightings of the well-travelled thief reported all over the kingdom (and beyond), so wherever a pocket was well picked, it was fancied that Barrington had been there.[87] Reports that he was apparently forced to expand his repertoire of characters to more effectively blend into the crowds and do his worst were, therefore, not unexpected. These disguises were not always successful: he was said to have posed as ‘a country gentleman,’[88] but at ‘about six feet high, very thin and strait made, of a dark sallow complexion, with small sharp eyes,…a genteel address, [and] very long fingers,’ Barrington commanded attention and on that occasion was quickly recognised.[89] Another tactic he appeared to have employed to lull people into a false sense of security around him was dressing ‘in mourning,’ and always with the look of gentility, with ‘his hair tied behind in a queue, and … powdered, but sometimes [with] a short curled wig over his hair.’[90] Whilst ‘the Protean Filcher Barrington’ was ‘lurking’ in Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin), however, he appears to have been even bolder with his disguise. An informant’s letter dated 2 April 1788 described ‘a slender fashionable looking young man’ taking some light blue and white silk to ‘a celebrated mantua maker’s in Capel-street, where he had his own measure taken, with directions that a suit, should be made, to fit him as nice as possible.’[91] On taking the completed ensemble to the client’s carriage, ‘the servant perceived a beautiful plume of feathers and several millinary [sic] articles necessary to complete this female apparatus.’[92] The customer claimed it was for a sister who lived remotely, but the suspected falsity of this claim came to light when ‘a number of watches and purses’ subsequently went missing at the Rotunda, and many attendees buzzed amongst themselves that the ‘most celebrated adept among the nimble-fingured [sic] tribe,’ was not only responsible but had been ‘dressed in woman’s clothes, with a large French night cap, which hid the most part of his face, that was well decorated with rouge and pearl powder.’[93] The pickpocket, recounted the informant, ‘was accompanied by an imported accomplice…dressed in high stile [sic] as a gentleman, and on whose arm Lady Barrington rested, and paraded round the room, until a proper booty was secured.’[94] It would not be the last time Barrington resorted to cross-dressing to achieve his aims.

On 19 January 1787, Barrington picked the pocket of Havilard le Mesurier Esq., at the play-house in Drury Lane, Covent Garden, in full view of a clergyman named Mr. Adean. What transpired next only added to Barrington’s legend. When he was arrested and taken to Bow Street, he was detained in a supposedly ‘better fortified’ back apartment, from which a constable on duty apparently contrived to help the pickpocket escape.[95] Having failed to appear at court to answer to the charge the next day, therefore, Barrington was declared an outlaw, meaning he was beyond the protection of the law so anyone could legally kill him. During his time as an outlaw, he posed as a Welsh dentist named William Jones, and had been living with a woman he called his wife under the aliases of Mr and Mrs Ray of Yorkshire, so Barrington must have had a gift for accents as well as barefaced lying.[96] He was finally recognised and re-arrested for the Le Mesurier incident in July 1788—a good eighteen months after the fact—at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. During his initial confinement there, he became a tourist attraction once more, with ‘a vast concourse of people of all ranks’ flocking to see—and being given access to—the man who was keeping ‘an elegant table composed of every delicacy in season’ in complete defiance of his lowly criminality and detainment, and the fact that, as an outlaw, he was a dead man walking.[97]

Barrington, tried in a Cause of Outlawry &c, Taken by Stealth in Court, by unknown artist, (c.1780–1790), (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Eventually, Barrington was moved by writ of Habeas Corpus to Newgate. In September 1788, he would address the court at the Old Bailey with his usual, impressive eloquence, as ‘Barrington alias Jones,’ mounting a case that he knew nothing of a Bill of Indictment being against him and that he would never have knowingly ‘subjected’ himself ‘to a Process so summary as Outlawry,’ which would ‘doom a Man to Death because it appears he has been negligent.’[98] To save his very life, he put it to the court that the outlawry was an ‘obsolete law’ deliberately revived to facilitate his legal execution for a crime in which he was only ‘suspected’ and which would likely end in an acquittal for lack of evidence were he permitted to undergo a normal trial by jury.[99] His performance rendered it ‘impossible for the public to avoid feeling some pity for him, notwithstanding the criminal excesses of his conduct,’ and left them hoping ‘he will not suffer on the sentence of outlawry, but undergo a regular trial by his peers, and then, if he is convicted, it will be more satisfactory to mankind in being the result of fair investigation, and substantial evidence of guilt.’[100] While the Recorder found that outlawry was not an obsolete law at all, he admitted that the courts were ‘disposed to listen to every attempt to assign Errors in the [writ] of Outlawry, by which the Attainder might be reverse, and the Party restored to the Benefit of a Trial by his Country.’[101] With the help of his counsel, William Garrow, Barrington did indeed succeed in having his outlawry overturned. Thus it was that almost three years had passed before the Le Mesurier case was finally brought to trial at the Old Bailey on 9 December 1789 and, for the victim at least, it was not at all worth the wait. Owing largely to the death of the clergyman, who was to have served as principal evidence against Barrington, the undoubtedly guilty one was found ‘not guilty.’[102] The ‘no less famous D’Arcy Wentworth[103] had appeared at the Old Bailey the very same day and memorably declared his intention to transport himself to the penal colony as a surgeon; it being his only means of avoiding a forced transportation as a convict with the Second Fleet.[104] How Wentworth must have bristled when he heard that Barrington, of all people, had managed to squirm his way out yet again when he had not![105] Constable Richard Blandy had also been less fortunate for his part in the Le Mesurier incident; he was found guilty of ‘wilfully suffering Barrington to escape from the Hands of Justice’ whilst in his custody, and was imprisoned in Newgate for twelve calendar months.[106]

The ‘ingenious Gentleman’ was ‘once more set at Liberty to prey upon the Unwary,’[107] and did not waste any time in resuming his old business: after all, he now had an immense reputation for cheeky villainy to uphold. While on a passage to Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin) in March 1790, ‘he ingratiated himself very much into the esteem of the passengers’ and paid ‘particular attention to a Lady…, whose pocket he eased of a purse containing 28 guineas.’[108] He was directly accused and searched, which he claimed ‘wounded’ his feelings and offended his respectability.[109] ‘The property was not found upon his person,’ although it was subsequently found in one of the beds, ‘undiminished.’[110] His ‘dexterous feats of legerdemain’ continued in the crowded theatres of Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin),[111] and he was back in London by the start of the next month.

There was nothing exceptional about the crime that finally earned our Prince his one-way ticket in the convict class to the penal colony. On 1 September 1790, Barrington attended the racecourse at Enfield Marsh, where he helped himself to the contents of Henry Hare Townshend, Esquire’s pockets. Although none of the stolen property was found on his person, two or three bystanders observed him throwing Townshend’s watch away from him once he knew he had been detected. The Ipswich Journal reported that when he reached Clerkenwell Prison, where he was to be detained prior to his trial, ‘he very composedly drew out his purse, and sent a detainer of five guineas to Mr. Garrow.’[112] The report was probably one of the few we can accept as factual; after all, it seems highly likely that Garrow put as many words in the mouth of Barrington as the newspaper reporters had over the years. Barrington was undoubtedly brilliant and eloquent, and had feasibly even managed to independently study enough of the law to make a fair argument in his own defence, but a barrister of Garrow’s calibre would have instantly recognised the power of Barrington’s oratorical abilities, and harnessed his popularity and innate talents as a performer; he would have seen clearly that the arguments coming from the mouth of his client, a silver-tongued celebrity thief, were possibly far more effective than if he had made some of those statements himself.

Barrington robbing a Nobleman at Court; Barrington taken prisoner on the Race Course,” in John Fairburn & Rodney Disney Davidson, Fairburn’s Edition of the Life, Amours, and Wonderful Adventures of that Notorious Pickpocket, George Barrington, giving a full account of his trial, and conviction, with many curious anecdotes of this notorious character, (London: J. Fairburn, 1829), SR 364.162092 B276F / nla.obj-490740899, National Library of Australia via Trove.

Barrington was transferred to Newgate not long before his trial, which took place at the Old Bailey on 15 September 1790.[113] The trial lasted three hours and resulted in a guilty verdict.[114] As the crime was not a capital offence, it was a foregone conclusion that Barrington was going to get off lightly, so when the trial was all but over and his honest opinion could no longer be said to have ‘prejudiced the Jury,’ the Lord Chief Baron felt compelled to tell the prisoner what he thought of him in no uncertain terms:

I must say that you have been treated with much more favour than you deserve. This ought to have been a capital indictment, and it ought to have reached your life, and public justice very much calls for such a sacrifice; for if ever there was a man in the world that abused and prostituted great talents to the most unworthy and shameful purposes, you are that man; and you have done it against all warning, against the example of your own case, and of a thousand other cases that have occurred; and I am afraid, that now, as the punishment does not reach your life, I cannot entertain the least hope that you will in any manner reform; but that you must be a shameful spectacle at your latter end.[115]

It would not be the Lord Chief Baron who had the last word in Barrington’s final appearance at the Old Bailey. The true grand finale of Barrington’s last great trial belonged to the showman himself. He addressed the court in what was described as his ‘valedictory speech’[116]:

The world, my Lord, has given me credit for much more abilities than I am conscious of possessing; but the world should also consider that the greatest abilities may be so obstructed by the mercenary nature of some unfeeling minds, as to tender them entirely useless to the possessor. Where was the generous and powerful man that would come forward and say, you have some abilities which might be of service to yourself and to others, but you have much to struggle with, I feel for your situation, and will place you in a condition to try the sincerity of your intentions; and as long as you act with diligence and fidelity you shall not want for countenance and protection? But, my Lord, the die is cast! I am prepared to meet the sentence of the Court with respectful resignation, and the painful lot assigned me, I hope, with becoming resolution.[117]

As the Oxford Journal told its readers, at the close of his speech, ‘Mr. Barrington … bowed most respectfully to the Court, the Jury, and the Auditory, and withdrew from the public Scene, most likely for ever.’[118]

George Barrington drawn from the life during his trial at the Old Bailey on Friday Sep. 17, 1790, by unknown artist, (1790), (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), © The Trustees of the British Museum.

He was not, however, to vanish from the newspapers any time soon. The Caledonian Mercury had him theatrically declaring, ‘they may transport [me] if they will; but they can never send [me] out of [my] own country—[I am] a Citizen of the World.’[119] ‘Not less than three lives of the celebrated George Barrington’ had also hit the shelves.[120] ‘Who would not wish to be a great man?’ the Chester Chronicle rather sardonically enquired.[121] Meanwhile, the Northampton Mercury could not resist one last entertaining (potentially true) anecdote in which Barrington endeavoured to escape from Newgate in drag: ‘He was discovered…in his wife’s apparel,…before he had passed two doors, and was conveyed to his old situation, where all chance of escape this way will hereafter be cut off.’[122] And the Hereford Journal joked that Barrington had finally been put out of business, since he was heading for a place where ‘the settlers have no money, and the natives have no pockets.’[123]

View of Black-Friars Bridge, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, Joseph Constantine Stadler after Joseph Farington (London, William Byrne, 31 May 1790), (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The morning after he roused the Newgate rabble to ‘fire the great guns,’ Barrington was among ‘a party of upwards of one hundred male convicts … marched to Blackfriars-bridge,’ in chains.[124] But Barrington, ever the ‘beau,’ walked beside the gaoler ‘at the head of them, disengaged from the chain,’ as a mark of his distinction from the common criminals, and ‘amused himself’ by tearing to pieces some letters he had in his pockets.[125] Once aboard, so said the newspapers, ‘all the convicts’ were stripped of their clothing, their heads were ‘closely shaved,’ and they were ‘furnished with woollen caps, jackets,…&c.’[126] Barrington was not exempt, claimed the Kentish Gazette, which described him making ‘one of his best speeches for the preservation of his head of hair,’ only to be ‘ obliged to submit to the humiliating operation.’[127] A few days later, the Ipswich Journal claimed that ‘upwards of 200…of the convicts on board the [Third Fleet] ships,’ had been found to have ‘spring saws concealed in their hair, and between the soles of their shoes, for the purpose of sawing off their irons. This was discovered by one of the convicts having on a very old pair of shoes, and the saw was disclosed through the openness of the sole.’[128] A general search of the fleet’s ships supposedly revealed ‘Barrington and some others’ had ‘a large sum of money, probably to bribe the centinels [sic],’ theorised the reporter; ‘but every shilling was taken away and committed to the care of the commanding officers, who are to return it when it is judged safe to do so.’[129] Barrington, however, would later reveal in a letter to a friend that on embarking he was actually ‘[i]f…not pennyless [sic],…at least…next door to it, not being possessed of a dozen guineas, including cash, necessaries, and property of every kind. What a stock for so vast a voyage! What a provision to carry me from one part of the world to the other, and to lay a foundation for future subsistence!’[130] It seems the charming Barrington, however, would not require anything so common as money for the purposes of bribery.

Versatility of Genius

The former preferential treatment Barrington was shown as a genteel celebrity thief had actually continued on board the Active (1791). Writing to a friend from the Cape of Good Hope in July 1791, Barrington dismissed the newspapers’ accounts of his departure and asserted he had not had his hair cut off or his own clothes taken away; he had been ‘permitted to retain both, and continue to this hour to meet every indulgence that can soften my situation.’[131] Some gentlemanly correspondence that reached England per the Earl Fitzwilliam by October 1791, appears to confirm Barrington’s version of events, and it seems the chief reason Barrington had been set apart from his convict brethren yet again was the same reason First Fleet convict John Irving and the almost-Second-Fleet-convict D’Arcy Wentworth had been valued: Barrington, like Irving and Wentworth before him, ‘was originally bred a surgeon.’[132] A year earlier, the Chester Chronicle had actually noted his background and accurately predicted the pickpocket’s utility ‘in his future travels.’[133] He proved to be ‘generally useful on board his vessel, and sometimes assisted the surgeon,’ so he ‘was paid particular attention to, having, since he left England, behaved himself in such a manner as to merit the esteem and regard of every officer on board the ship in which he was an involuntary passenger.’[134] He thereby earnt himself a number of privileges; for example, ‘He was…suffered to walk on shore,…when th[e] ship touched at the Cape of Good Hope, … and even to associate with some of the officers, who allowed him to mess with them during the voyage.’[135] Unlike many of his fellow convicts on the same vessel, Barrington ‘appeared … in good health and high spirits, and had not a doubt of visiting Old England again.’[136]

Even after his arrival at Warrane (Sydney Cove), Cadigal Country, per Active (1791) on 26 September 1791, Barrington continued to reap the rewards of his conduct during the passage. A short while after Barrington landed, Governor Arthur Phillip placed him ‘in a situation’ at Toongabbie, Toogagal Country, ‘first…as a subordinate,’ to Thomas Daveney, and shortly after as a principal watchman.’[137] This situation, Judge Advocate David Collins mused, ‘was likely to attract the envy and hatred of the convicts, in proportion as he might be vigilant and inflexible.’[138]

Captain Watkin Tench, Royal Marines, 1787, First Fleet, First Fleeter, Colony of New South Wales, St. John's Cemetery Project, Old Parramattans, St. John's Cemetery, Parramatta
Captain Watkin Tench, Royal Marines, 1787, [unsigned] in Photographic copies of two miniature portraits of General Tench, one dated 1787 and two oil portraits of Watkin Tench and his wife Anna Maria Tench, post 1821 / copied from the original works held in a private collection, FM5/651 / FL14298193. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy of the owner of the original works.

At the time, Watkin Tench, a First Fleet officer of the Marine Corps, was documenting life in the colony and, having done so, was about to bid ‘adieu to Rose Hill [Parramatta], in all probability for the last time of [his] life.’[139] Even he was so ‘struck’ (or perhaps star-struck) by the very idea of ‘Barrington, of famous memory,’[140] that he found he could not dream of departing without seeking the company of the ‘elegant culprit,’[141] who had been in the settlement between two and three months:

I saw [Barrington] with curiosity. He is tall, approaching to six feet, slender, and his gait and manner, bespeak liveliness and activity. Of that elegance and fashion, with which my imagination had decked him (I know not why), I could distinguish no trace. Great allowance should, however, be made for depression, and unavoidable deficiency of dress. His face is thoughtful and intelligent; to a strong case of countenance, he adds a penetrating eye, and a prominent forehead: his whole demeanour is humble, not servile. Both on his passage from England, and since his arrival here, his conduct has been irreproachable. He is appointed high-constable of the settlement of Rose Hill, a post of some respectability, and certainly one of importance to those who live here. His knowledge of men, particularly of that part of them into whose morals, manners, and behaviour, he is ordered especially to inspect, eminently fit him for the office. I cannot quit him without bearing my testimony, that his talents promise to be directed in future, to make reparation to society, for the offences he has heretofore committed against it.”[142]

Tench may have gotten ahead of things a little by referring to Barrington’s role in late 1791 as being that of ‘high-constable’ but, if so, then it would prove true enough with the passing of time.[143] In any case, accounts from ‘Botany Bay,’ furnished to the British public via the newspapers told them that their beloved pickpocket ‘continue[d] in a lucrative and respectable situation.’[144] Indeed, Barrington proved to be ‘diligent, sober, and impartial,…and so eminently serviceable’ in the performance of his duties, ‘that the governor resolved to draw him from the line of convicts; and with the instrument of emancipation’ in the form of a conditional pardon, he received the first of two thirty-acre land grants, both of which were ‘in … eligible situation[s] near Parramatta’ in Burramattagal Country.[145]

Grants labelled ‘G. Barrington’ in the Field of Mars, North Parramatta. Note how close the more northerly property is to Simon Burn’s grant. Parish of Field of Mars, County of Cumberland, Maps/0020 / FL8763286, State Library of New South Wales.

Barrington went on to purchase another fifty acres on the Deerubbin (Hawkesbury).[146] On all three properties, he had yet another opportunity to show off ‘the versatility of his genius’ by applying himself to farming.[147] In 1796, Governor John Hunter made Barrington’s pardon ‘absolute’ and Barrington—the very fellow who had ‘always offended the Law in this country [England]’—was appointed ‘High Constable’ of ‘Rose-Hill,’ (Parramatta), Burramattagal Country.[148] ‘His advice was taken on every important occasion, and he was admitted to the Tables of the principal Officers of the Settlement.’[149]

A Deep One [portrait of George Barrington], (Dublin: Walker, c. 1800), P2/505 / FL3276579, State Library of New South Wales.

Yet, to his credit, Barrington was not only well liked by the ‘principal inhabitants.’ Evidently Collins’s conjecture that Barrington might end up hated for doing his duty did not come to pass; no doubt, this owed much to his greatest asset, his unfailing charisma, of which one John Black could attest in a September 1798 letter that was eventually printed in the Reading Mercury a year later: ‘Barrington is a man of very genteel address; I have drank a glass of grog in his house; he is head-constable at Parramatta, and is much respected; he is a pleasant and conversible man [sic].’[150]

News of Barrington using his talents for good instead of evil in the colony inevitably set the newspapers atwitter, and only proved to the reporters how much of an appetite they still had for Barringtonian morsels. In truth, Barrington did continue to figure in a number of important criminal cases in Parramatta, Burramattagal Country, including the so-called ‘first’ murder of John Lewis, and that of his near neighbour Simon Burn. However, since new tales of daring crime were not to be gleaned from Constable Barrington with him in his most popular role as the flamboyant, incorrigible offender, reporters began to regularly invoke his name in numerous articles conscientiously detailing the shenanigans of a London-based woman said to be ‘his wife,’ ‘the celebrated’ and ‘notorious Mrs. Barrington,’ alias Mary Murray.[151] They were still doing so when rumours reached British shores that their favourite showman had already performed his last act and taken his final bow.

‘It is not every man that lives to hear of his own death’

George Barrington, Late Officer of the Peace, at Paramatta [sic], Engraved from a Miniature Picture in the possession of Mrs. Crane, (Paternoster-row, London: M. Jones, 25 March 1803), (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), © The Trustees of the British Museum.

It is only fitting that a man who frequently objected to what he saw as the downright fallacious media reports of his criminal activities should end up being erroneously declared dead by the same newspapers. In late 1802, ‘a Gentleman of opulence’ had returned to Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin) from ‘Botany Bay’ with the latest news of some of England’s more infamous exports, including the celebrated pickpocket. Barrington, the informant stated, had ‘got his death by excessive drinking;…he had been endeavouring to obtain a pardon from the Governor of Botany Bay, but being disappointed, he took to drinking, “to banish his sorrow.”’[152] A few days later, the Gloucester Journal reflected on the life that was not yet fully lived, stating ‘He is gone now, after having in his latter years acted a good part. His conduct was exemplary: he applied his former knowledge of the world to the improvement of a country, which may one day equal in importance and splendour any that has yet existed.’[153]

By 10 January 1803, the Evening Mail could report that ‘Barrington of nimble-fingered fame, who was said to have been dead at Botany Bay, is resuscitated by a Morning Print, which reports him only to be insane. But, to a genius like Barrington, who lived by his wits—insanity and death are pretty much the same.’[154] The same day, the Hampshire Telegraph referred to a letter in the Hull Packet that also contradicted the claim that his condition resulted from ‘his having taken to violent drinking.’[155] His reported insanity was instead the result of ‘a contusion he sometime since suffered on the head.’[156] As January 1803 wore on, the Oxford Journal was still none-the-wiser that Barrington yet lived or, at the very least, opted to err on the side of caution by ignoring the latest reports that Barrington was very much alive: they did, however, correct the earlier account that ‘his death was the consequence of grief at his captivity,’ stating that ‘Governor Philips [sic] long since gave him his liberty within the limits of the colony; and Governor Hunter, in consideration of his services, six years ago completely emancipated him, so that he might have returned to this country had he thought proper.’[157] Two days later, the Sun (London) published a statement of Civil Officers in New South Wales as at June 1802, in which Barrington was replaced as Chief Constable at Parramatta by a John Jennings, having been ‘invalided,’ indicating there probably was some truth to one of the earlier reports that a blow to the head had caused Barrington’s reported ‘insanity.’[158] By the end of May, the British Press could confirm that ‘The noted Barrington … is in a state of lunacy, and not expected to live long.’[159]

Such reports did nothing to dissuade London publishers from continuing to churn out volumes of works supposedly penned by Barrington. In fact, the second his name graced the newspaper columns again, titles including Barrington’s New London Spy, The Frauds of London, and Barrington’s Annals of Suicide, or Horrors of Self-Murder, and Barrington’s History of and Voyage to, New South Wales, were splashed over all the advertising sections of those papers as of yore, so the publishers could cash in on his marketable persona to the very end.[160]

At the same time, reporters also benefited from Barrington’s demise in their own way; entertaining their readers by continuing to print witty words supposedly composed by the ailing pickpocket, just as they had in his golden days in London. For instance, one newspaper really tried to recapture the glory of former times by conjuring a funny exchange between the celebrated Prince of Pickpockets and ‘the no less famous D’Arcy Wentworth,’[161] who had both been tried at the Old Bailey on the same day in 1789[162]:

Surgeon D'Arcy Wentworth. Silhouette. Parramatta. Old Parramatta. Old Parramattan. Superintendent of Police. Magistrate. Superintendent of Convicts. Surgeon. Second Fleet. St John's Cemetery Parramatta, St John's Cemetery Project

While the noted Barrington, late High Constable of Botany Bay, was in the exercise of his office, D’Arcy Wentworth, so often tried for highway robberies at the Old Bailey, though since a surgeon in the New South Wales Settlement, was brought before him. Barrington, as a magistrate, immediately ordered him to take off his hat. “No,” replied Wentworth, “it shall never be said that a brave highwayman, who has been often known to commit robberies in an honourable manner upon Shooter’s-hill, in the idle of the day, should ever degrade himself, by pulling off his hate to a paltry pick-pocket.[163]

Photograph of silhouette believed to be D’Arcy Wentworth, n.d., artist and photographer unknown, in Box 38: Portrait file, Wentworth to Wilson, ca. 1808 to 1953, PXA 2100/Box 38 / FL11068876, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

But it was the Saint James’s Chronicle that took the prize for imagining a truly Barringtonian retort, which seems unlikely to have been managed by one ‘in a state of lunacy’ and nearing death: ‘When Barrington was told that his death was announced in the news-papers—“Well,” said he, with an air of indifference,” “It is not every man that lives to hear of his own death!”[164]

Estate of Mr. George Barrington, a Lunatic, deceased,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Sunday 30 December 1804, p. 1, nla.news-article626563, National Library of Australia via Trove.

Throughout the year of 1804, British papers continued to cover stories of the ‘notorious Mrs. Barrington,’[165] while another even desperately searched for and claimed to have discovered a new talent named Wilson, whose ‘adroitness in picking pockets, is considered superior even to the noted Barrington; being stiled by the light finger’d gentry in the metropolis, the King of the thieves’ [sic].[166] Most papers, however, showed more loyalty and respect for the real McCoy and fading star, ‘poor Barrington,’ ‘who will ever hold a very distinguished rank amongst the light-fingered disciples of Mercury.’[167] They kept their readers updated on his condition, informing them he was ‘still a lunatic,’ had been ‘reduced to a state of idiotcy [sic],’ and now required ‘a man to attend him upon all occasions wherever he goes.’[168] ‘He was emaciated, and apparently in the last stage of human life; a melancholy instance of abused talents, and the force of remorse and conscious sensibility, on a mind intended for better things.’[169] James Thomson, who had been Assistant Surgeon in the colony but had since returned to England, no doubt had the news of Barrington’s deterioration in mind when he sat down at 59 Crown Street, Westminster, and penned a letter to Under Secretary Cooke on 28 June 1804. In the letter, Thomson perpetuated the idea that Barrington was no common con: ‘I can enumerate but few instances among the whole where the smallest propensity to industry appeared, and of these the notorious George Barrington was the most conspicuous.’[170] He was the poster boy for the ‘colonial cure’: proof that a convict could be reformed by the harsh sentence of transportation.[171] Barrington’s reward for at last using his ‘degrading talents’ for the benefit of society after so many years of lining his own pockets, was ‘a pension’ of ‘£50 per annum,’ which was ‘to cease on his demise,’[172] a time that was fast approaching.

As the year of 1804 waned so, too, did Barrington. The Sydney Gazette recorded that he died on Friday 28 December, aged around 49, and was laid to rest the next day in a service officiated by Reverend Samuel Marsden.[173] We know nothing of his funeral because, oddly, unlike its British counterparts, the Sydney Gazette refrained from saying anything much about him whatsoever. The fact Marsden registered the burial in the parish register also tells us little. After all, Barrington was an Irishman who had undoubtedly participated in the very Irish wake of his compatriot and nearest neighbour, the murder victim Simon Burn in 1794, so it could be that Barrington had gone out with riotous éclat in 1804, just as he and his transports did when they ‘fired the great guns’ in Newgate all those years ago on the eve of their transportation.[174] For their part, even the British newspapers had uncharacteristically little to say of his passing; the news of Barrington’s actual death being rendered somewhat stale and anticlimactic after the false reports of his death two years too soon.

He had been one of the biggest celebrities of the Georgian era; so famous that he could no longer blend in, as per the requirements of his chosen ‘profession.’[175] Yet, as we might reasonably expect of one so paradoxical as he, George Barrington found that obscurity in death. Despite supposedly dying a ‘very rich’ man, and leaving ‘a valuably legacy to a near relation’ in Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin), no headstone marks his grave: the exact location of his resting place in the parish of St. John’s, Parramatta is frustratingly unknown and unknowable, and it seems that is precisely as Barrington wished it to be.[176] For, it would appear that Barrington remained true to his own words, written to a friend from the Cape in July 1791:

Portrait of George Barrington, by F.W (1800), PIC Drawer 7282 #PIC/T2058 NK9767 / nla.obj-135307319, National Library of Australia via Trove.

“I left England and Europe without a spark of malevolence in my mind against any creature whatever, wishing every good heart as much happiness as it could wish itself, and every bad one to become better, perfectly resigned to whatever might happen, and not without hope in the kindness of Providence. With this temper I committed myself to the winds and waves, and with this temper I hope I shall descend to the grave, and I am very easy about where that grave may happen, whether in Europe, in New South Wales, or in the bosom of the ocean. To my thinking, it is of little consequence where the residuum lies, if the spirit ascends to Heaven.”[177]

Yes, the Prince of Pickpockets, who had been watched like a hawk—not only by the authorities but also by his adoring public—succeeded one last time in filling his pockets with riches with the vaguest hint of a smirk, before getting lost in the multitude, slipping out a side passage, and disappearing down a dark, crooked laneway of ill-fame, well and truly giving us the slip forever.

CITE THIS

Michaela Ann Cameron, “George Barrington: The Prince of Pickpockets,” St. John’s Online, (2021), https://stjohnsonline.org/bio/george-barrington, accessed [insert current date]

References

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

  • Australian Dictionary of Biography, “Barrington, George (1755–1804),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barrington-george-1746/text1935, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 12 April 2021.
  • Toby R. Benis, “Criminal Transport: George Barrington and the Colonial Cure,” Journal of Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 20; No. 3 (May 2002): 167–177.
  • Nathan Garvey, The Celebrated George Barrington: A Spurious Author, the Book Trade, and Botany Bay, (Surry Hills: Hordern House, 2008).
  • Deidre Palk with Tim Hitchcock, Sharon Howard and Robert Shoemaker, “George Barrington 1755–1804: The Life of a Pickpocket,” London Lives 1690 to 1800: Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis, (londonlives.org, Version 2.0), https://www.londonlives.org/static/BarringtonGeorge1755-1804.jsp, accessed 12 April 2021.
  • Suzanne Rickard, George Barrington’s Voyage to Botany Bay: Retelling a Convict’s Travel Narrative of the 1790s, (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 2001).
  • Marty Wechselblatt, “Celebrity Thief, Man of Paper,”: Book Review of Suzanne Rickard’s George Barrington’s Voyage to Botany Bay, …,” Cultural Studies, (June 2002): 98–100.

NOTES

[1] Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 3 March 1791, p. 1; Newcastle Courant, 5 March 1791, p. 2.

[2] Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 3 March 1791, p. 1; Newcastle Courant, 5 March 1791, p. 2.

[3] Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 3 March 1791, p. 1; Newcastle Courant, 5 March 1791, p. 2.

[4] Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 3 March 1791, p. 1; Newcastle Courant, 5 March 1791, p. 2.

[5] Life of George Barrington (King of the Pickpockets) as delivered by himself, to a friend, from his birth in 1755, to his last conviction, at the Old Bailey, on Friday, the 17th of September, 1790, also all his Tryals and Admired Speeches, faithfully taken from the records of the King’s Bench, Old Bailey, &c. &c. by a Gentleman of Lincoln’s-Inn, (Liverpool: Charles Wosencroft, 1791), p. 5, A923.41/B276/7 / FL18053996–FL18054127, State Library of New South Wales.

[6] Ipswich Journal, 1 October 1796, p. 4.

[7] Derby Mercury, 27 October 1791, p. 4.

[8] Referred to as a ‘genius’ in numerous sources including: Norfolk Chronicle, 19 February 1791, p. 1. “So little encouragement have men of talents in this country, that on Wednesday last the greatest genius in his line this nation ever beheld, took his leave for Botany Bay; need we mention the all-accomplished Barrington !”

[9] Regarding his conditional pardon from Governor Phillip on 2 November 1792, not long before the Governor left for England, see New South Wales Government, Card Index to Letters Received, Colonial Secretary, Series: 1250; Reel Number: 774, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia). For his ‘Northern Boundary Farms’ land grant, to the north of Parramatta dated 3 November 1792, see New South Wales Government, Special Bundles, 1794–1825, Series: 898; Reels: 6020–6040, 6070; Fiche 3260–3312; Page: 12, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia); New South Wales Government, Special Bundles, 1794–1825, Series: 898; Reels: 6020–6040, 6070; Fiche: 3260–3312, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia).

[10] The titles given to his position in the colony are a bit ambiguous. Some commentators from the period, including Watkin Tench, referred to him as ‘High Constable of Parramatta’ as early as late 1791, which seems to be interchangeable with “Chief Constable of Parramatta,” while David Collins described his role as that of subordinate and then ‘principal watchman. It may be that Watkin Tench, who was a bit starstruck by him, exaggerated his position in order to have a quintessentially Barringtonian anecdote to tell upon his return to England; that is, one of an incredible turnaround by the genius, genteel thief, because it was actually not until 13 September 1796 that Barrington was appointed “Superintendent of Convicts” — how this differed to “Principal Watchman” (if at all) is unclear. What we do know is that he was in a position of power and authority over his fellow convicts soon after landing. For Collins’s description of Barrington’s role see: David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 244. See also “Barrington, George (1755–1804),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barrington-george-1746/text1935, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 12 April 2021. Regarding Barrington’s second Parramatta land grant, granted on 9 December 1794 at ‘North Brush, Field of Mars’ to the north of the town of Parramatta, see New South Wales Government, Special Bundles, 1794–1825, Series: 898; Reels: 6020–6040, 6070; Fiche 3260–3312, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia), p. 42. This was most likely the land grant that was near what became the Female Orphan School. For Barrington’s absolute pardon in September 1796, see New South Wales Government, Card Index to Letters Received, Colonial Secretary, Series: 1250; Reel Number: 800, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia). For his appointment as Superintendent of Convicts on 13 September 1796 see New South Wales Government, Special Bundles, 1794–1825, Series: 898; Reels: 6020–6040, 6070; Fiche 3260–3312, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia).

[11] I have not attempted to cover his early life, as the various ‘memoirs’ and so forth published about Barrington at the height of his celebrity cover these details. See for example Life of George Barrington (King of the Pickpockets) as delivered by himself, to a friend, from his birth in 1755, to his last conviction, at the Old Bailey, on Friday, the 17th of September, 1790, also all his Tryals and Admired Speeches, faithfully taken from the records of the King’s Bench, Old Bailey, &c. &c. by a Gentleman of Lincoln’s-Inn, (Liverpool: Charles Wosencroft, 1791), p. 51, A923.41/B276/7 / FL18053996–FL18054127, State Library of New South Wales. A second reason I have not covered the earlier part of his life here is because those so called ‘memoirs’ or ‘lives’ were not authorised and definitely were distributed by publishers to cash in on his fame, so it is uncertain how much of what they claim can be accepted as fact. At the same time, the newspaper reports of Barrington I have used throughout the essay are just as dubious, but it is that very relationship between Barrington and the media that this essay directly addresses, so those quotations are never offered as pure fact, but merely as part of the living legend that the media were actively constructing at the time of the events.

[12] Life of George Barrington (King of the Pickpockets) as delivered by himself, to a friend, from his birth in 1755, to his last conviction, at the Old Bailey, on Friday, the 17th of September, 1790, also all his Tryals and Admired Speeches, faithfully taken from the records of the King’s Bench, Old Bailey, &c. &c. by a Gentleman of Lincoln’s-Inn, (Liverpool: Charles Wosencroft, 1791), p. 51, A923.41/B276/7 / FL18053996–FL18054127, State Library of New South Wales.

[13] Life of George Barrington (King of the Pickpockets) as delivered by himself, to a friend, from his birth in 1755, to his last conviction, at the Old Bailey, on Friday, the 17th of September, 1790, also all his Tryals and Admired Speeches, faithfully taken from the records of the King’s Bench, Old Bailey, &c. &c. by a Gentleman of Lincoln’s-Inn, (Liverpool: Charles Wosencroft, 1791), p. 52, A923.41/B276/7 / FL18053996–FL18054127, State Library of New South Wales.

[14] Life of George Barrington (King of the Pickpockets) as delivered by himself, to a friend, from his birth in 1755, to his last conviction, at the Old Bailey, on Friday, the 17th of September, 1790, also all his Tryals and Admired Speeches, faithfully taken from the records of the King’s Bench, Old Bailey, &c. &c. by a Gentleman of Lincoln’s-Inn, (Liverpool: Charles Wosencroft, 1791), p. 53, A923.41/B276/7 / FL18053996–FL18054127, State Library of New South Wales.

[15] The National Archives, Currency Converter: 1270–2017, (The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, England),https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency-converter/#currency-result, accessed 12 April 2021.

[16] Stamford Mercury, 9 November 1775, p. 1.

[17] Stamford Mercury, 9 November 1775, p. 1.

[18] Life of George Barrington (King of the Pickpockets) as delivered by himself, to a friend, from his birth in 1755, to his last conviction, at the Old Bailey, on Friday, the 17th of September, 1790, also all his Tryals and Admired Speeches, faithfully taken from the records of the King’s Bench, Old Bailey, &c. &c. by a Gentleman of Lincoln’s-Inn, (Liverpool: Charles Wosencroft, 1791), p. 57, A923.41/B276/7 / FL18053996–FL18054127, State Library of New South Wales.

[19] Also recorded as Miss Dedman.

[20] The Ipswich Journal, 18 January 1777, p. 2; Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1777, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17770115-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17770115-13, accessed 12 April 2021.

[21] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1777, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17770115-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17770115-13, accessed 12 April 2021.

[22] Deidre Palk with Tim Hitchcock, Sharon Howard and Robert Shoemaker, “George Barrington 1755–1804: The Life of a Pickpocket,” London Lives 1690 to 1800: Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis, (londonlives.org, Version 2.0), https://www.londonlives.org/static/BarringtonGeorge1755-1804.jsp, accessed 12 April 2021.

[23] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1777, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17770115-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17770115-13, accessed 12 April 2021.

[24] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1777, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17770115-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17770115-13, accessed 12 April 2021.

[25] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1777, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17770115-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17770115-13, accessed 12 April 2021.

[26] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1777, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17770115-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17770115-13, accessed 12 April 2021.

[27] See for example Derby Mercury, 26 December 1782, p. 4.

[28] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1777, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17770115-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17770115-13, accessed 12 April 2021.

[29] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1777, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17770115-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17770115-13, accessed 12 April 2021.

[30] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1777, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17770115-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17770115-13, accessed 12 April 2021.

[31] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 19 February 1777, punishment summary of GEORGE BARRINGTON (s17770219-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=s17770219-1, accessed 12 April 2021.

[32] The Ipswich Journal, 18 January 177, p. 2. See also The Oxford Journal, 18 January 1777, p. 2; Chester Courant, 21 January 1777, p. 2.

[33] Hampshire Chronicle, 30 June 1777, p. 3.

[34] Hampshire Chronicle, 30 June 1777, p. 3.

[35] Stamford Mercury, 22 May 1777, p. 3.

[36] Stamford Mercury, 22 May 1777, p. 3; “An account of the employment and treatment of the convicts presently employed in ballast-heaving on the Thames. By a gentleman who saw them at work,” The Scots Magazine, 1 July 1777, p. 8.

[37] The Oxford Journal, 10 May 1777, p. 1.

[38] Stamford Mercury, 19 March 1778, p. 3.

[39] Stamford Mercury, 19 March 1778, p. 3.

[40] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[41] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[42] Stamford Mercury, 19 March 1778, p. 3. The trial transcript reveals that the constables present were not sure exactly where the watch fell from, only that someone had told him to remove his hat and that while they were not looking directly at his head the watch fell ‘from above.’ Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[43] Stamford Mercury, 19 March 1778, p. 3

[44] Oxford Journal, 21 March 1778, p. 1

[45] Note: the name of the prosecutrix was reported in the paper as ‘Anne Ironmonger,’ but her name was recorded as ‘Elizabeth Ironmonger’ in the Old Bailey trial transcript. Oxford Journal, 21 March 1778, p. 1; Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[46] Oxford Journal, 21 March 1778, p. 1.

[47] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[48] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 3 June 1778, Old Bailey Proceedings Advertisements (a17780603-1). https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=a17780603-1, accessed 12 April 2021.

[49] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[50] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[51] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[52] Chester Chronicle, 1 October 1790, p. 1.

[53] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[54] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[55] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, punishment summary of GEORGE BARRINGTON (s17780429-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=s17780429-1, accessed 12 April 2021.

[56] Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 2 June 1778, p. 3.

[57] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021.

[58] The Genuine Life and Trial, of George Barrington: from his birth, in June, 1775 [sic], to the Time of His Conviction at the Old Bailey, in September 1790, for Robbing Henry Hare Townshend, Esq. of His Gold Watch, Seals, &c., (London: Mrs. Mary Clements, Mr. James Sadler, and Mr. John Eyes, 1795), pp. 34–5.

[59] George Barrington, The Memoirs of George Barrington, Containing Every Remarkable Circumstance, (London: J. Bird, 1790), pp. 19–20.

[60] George Barrington, The Memoirs of George Barrington, Containing Every Remarkable Circumstance, (London: J. Bird, 1790), pp. 19–20.

[61] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1783, supplementary material GEORGE BARRINGTON (o17830115-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=o17830115-1, accessed 12 April 2021.

[62] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1783, supplementary material GEORGE BARRINGTON (o17830115-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=o17830115-1, accessed 12 April 2021.

[63] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1783, supplementary material GEORGE BARRINGTON (o17830115-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=o17830115-1, accessed 12 April 2021.

[64] Hampshire Chronicle, 27 January 1783, p. 1.

[65] Kentish Gazette, 22 January 1783, p. 4.

[66] Derby Mercury, 26 December 1782, p. 4.

[67] Derby Mercury, 26 December 1782, p. 4.

[68] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1783, supplementary material GEORGE BARRINGTON (o17830115-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=o17830115-1, accessed 12 April 2021

[69] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1783, supplementary material GEORGE BARRINGTON (o17830115-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=o17830115-1, accessed 12 April 2021

[70] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1783, supplementary material GEORGE BARRINGTON (o17830115-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=o17830115-1, accessed 12 April 2021

[71] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1783, supplementary material GEORGE BARRINGTON (o17830115-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=o17830115-1, accessed 12 April 2021

[72] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1783, supplementary material GEORGE BARRINGTON (o17830115-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=o17830115-1, accessed 12 April 2021

[73] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1783, supplementary material GEORGE BARRINGTON (o17830115-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=o17830115-1, accessed 12 April 2021

[74] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 January 1783, supplementary material GEORGE BARRINGTON (o17830115-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=o17830115-1, accessed 12 April 2021

[75] Hampshire Chronicle 27 January 1783, p. 1.

[76] I have, of course, loosely referenced the memorable show tune, Lionel Bart’s “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,” Oliver! (1960), sung by the Jewish “receiver of stolen goods, Fagin in the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s 1838 novel Oliver Twist.

[77] Oxford Journal, 7 February 1784, p. 4; Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 25 February 1784, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17840225-6), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17840225-6, accessed 12 April 2021.

[78] Chester Courant, 6 July 1784, p. 3

[79] Ipswich Journal, 14 August 1784, p. 2.

[80] Ipswich Journal, 28 August 1784, p. 1

[81] Northampton Mercury, 25 October 1784, p. 1

[82] Oxford Journal, 25 December 1784, p. 1.

[83] Macbeth, Act II, Scene II.

[84] The Scots Magazine, 1 April 1785, pp. 45–46; Ipswich Journal, 5 March 1785, p. 4; Kentish Gazette, 5 March 1785, p. 3; Sussex Advertiser, 14 March 1785, p. 2.

[85] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 6 April 1785, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17850406-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17850406-13, accessed 12 April 2021.

[86] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 6 April 1785, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17850406-13), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17850406-13, accessed 12 April 2021; The Scots Magazine, 1 April 1785, pp. 45–46; Derby Mercury, 1 April 1785, p. 1; Ipswich Journal, 9 April 1785, p. 2; Caledonian Mercury, 11 April 1785, p. 2;

[87] Stamford Mercury, 29 July 1785, p. 3; Sussex Advertiser, 8 August 1785, p. 3; Kentish Gazette, 2 September 1785, p. 4; Caledonian Mercury, 10 October 1785, p. 2; for a Parisian incident in which Barrington was suspected see Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 13 January 1790, p. 1.

[88] Oxford Journal, 21 January 1786, p. 2.

[89] Newcastle Courant, 10 February 1787, p. 1.

[90] Newcastle Courant, 10 February 1787, p. 1.

[91] Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 16 April 1788, p. 3.

[92] Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 16 April 1788, p. 3.

[93] Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 16 April 1788, p. 3.

[94] Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 16 April 1788, p. 3.

[95] Stamford Mercury, 26 January 1787, p. 1.

[96] Newcastle Courant, 5 July 1788, p. 4.

[97] Stamford Mercury, 1 August 1788, p. 1.

[98] Derby Mercury, 18 September 1788, p. 2.

[99] Derby Mercury, 18 September 1788, p. 2.

[100] Sheffield Register, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, & Nottinghamshire Universal Advertiser, 27 September 1788, p. 1.

[101] Derby Mercury, 18 September 1788, p. 2. The Stamford Mercury also offered a precedent, even while acknowledging that it was ‘a harsh means of justice, as it deprives the subject of his trial by jury.” See Stamford Mercury, 19 September 1788, p. 1.

[102] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 9 December 1789, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17891209-18), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17891209-18, accessed 12 April 2021; Newcastle Courant, 14 March 1789, p. 3.

[103] Stamford Mercury, 11 December 1789, p. 3.

[104] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 9 December 1789, trial of D’ARCY WENTWORTH (t17891209-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17891209-1, accessed 12 April 2021. For more on D’Arcy Wentworth see Catie Gilchrist, “D’Arcy Wentworth: A Gentleman Rogue,” St. John’s Online, (2021), https://stjohnsonline.org/bio/darcy-wentworth, accessed 12 April 2021.

[105] Derby Mercury, 13 November 1788 p. 4.

[106] Kentish Gazette, 10 February 1789, p. 3; Derby Mercury, 5 February 1789, p. 1.

[107] Oxford Journal, 12 December 1789, p. 3.

[108] Derby Mercury, 4 March 1790, p. 4; Oxford Journal, 6 March 1790, p. 3.

[109] Derby Mercury, 4 March 1790, p. 4; Oxford Journal, 6 March 1790, p. 3.

[110] Derby Mercury, 4 March 1790, p. 4; Oxford Journal, 6 March 1790, p. 3.

[111] Hereford Journal, 10 March 1790, p. 3.

[112] Ipswich Journal, 11 September 1790, p. 1.

[113] Reading Mercury, 13 September 1790, p. 3; Bury and Norwich Post, 15 September 1790, p. 1.

[114] Hampshire Chronicle, 20 September 1790, p. 3; Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 September 1790, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17900915-10), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17900915-10, accessed 12 April 2021.

[115] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 September 1790, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17900915-10), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17900915-10, accessed 12 April 2021; Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), punishment summary of GEORGE BARRINGTON, 15 September 1790 (s17900915-1), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=s17900915-1, accessed 12 April 2021.

[116] Oxford Journal, 25 September 1790, p. 2.

[117] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 15 September 1790, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17900915-10), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17900915-10, accessed 12 April 2021

[118] Oxford Journal, 25 September 1790, p. 2.

[119] Caledonian Mercury, 4 October 1790, p. 2.

[120] Chester Chronicle, 29 October 1790, p. 3.

[121] Chester Chronicle, 29 October 1790, p. 3.

[122] Northampton Mercury, 30 October 1790, p. 3.

[123] Hereford Journal, 9 February 1791, p. 4.

[124] Newcastle Courant, 5 March 1791, p. 2.

[125] “News in Brief,’ The Times (London, England), 26 February 1791, p. 3.

[126] Chester Courant, 8 March 1791, p. 3; Kentish Gazette, 8 March 1791, p. 4.

[127] Kentish Gazette, 8 March 1791, p. 4.

[128] Ipswich Journal, 12 March 1791, p. 2

[129] Ipswich Journal, 12 March 1791, p. 2

[130] George Barrington, “George Barrington to a Gentleman in the County of York, Cape of Good Hope, 1st July, 1791,” in F. M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. II.—Grose and Paterson, 1793–1795, (Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1893), pp. 781–85.

[131] George Barrington, “George Barrington to a Gentleman in the County of York, Cape of Good Hope, 1st July, 1791,” in F. M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. II.—Grose and Paterson, 1793–1795, (Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1893), pp. 781–85.

[132] Chester Chronicle, 29 October 1790, p. 3. Barrington refers to his surgical background in Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 29 April 1778, trial of GEORGE BARRINGTON (t17780429-103), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17780429-103, accessed 12 April 2021. For more on John Irving see Alexander Cameron-Smith, “John Irving: ‘The Best Surgeon Amongst Them,’” St. John’s Online, (2019), https://stjohnsonline.org/bio/john-irving, accessed 12 April 2021; Catie Gilchrist, “D’Arcy Wentworth: A Gentleman Rogue,” St. John’s Online, (2021), https://stjohnsonline.org/bio/darcy-wentworth, accessed 12 April 2021.

[133] Chester Chronicle, 29 October 1790, p. 3.

[134] Derby Mercury, 27 October 1791, p. 4.

[135] Derby Mercury, 27 October 1791, p. 4.

[136] Derby Mercury, 27 October 1791, p. 4.

[137] David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 244.

[138] David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 244.

[139] Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson(Frankfurt: Books on Demand, 2018), p. 90.

[140] Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson(Frankfurt: Books on Demand, 2018), p. 90.

[141] Ipswich Journal, 1 October 1796, p. 4.

[142] Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson(Frankfurt: Books on Demand, 2018), p. 105.

[143] As mentioned in footnote n. 10, the titles given to his position in the colony are a bit ambiguous. Some commentators from the period, including Watkin Tench, referred to him as ‘High Constable of Parramatta’ as early as late 1791, which seems to be interchangeable with “Chief Constable of Parramatta,” while David Collins described his role as that of subordinate and then ‘principal watchman. It may be that Watkin Tench, who was a bit starstruck by him, exaggerated his position in order to have a quintessentially Barringtonian anecdote to tell upon his return to England; that is, one of an incredible turnaround by the genius, genteel thief, because it was actually not until 13 September 1796 that Barrington was appointed “Superintendent of Convicts” — how this differed to “Principal Watchman” (if at all) is unclear. What we do know is that he was in a position of power and authority over his fellow convicts soon after landing. For Collins’s description of Barrington’s role see: David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 244. See also “Barrington, George (1755–1804),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barrington-george-1746/text1935, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 12 April 2021.

[144] Madras Courier, 6 June 1798, p. 2.

[145] David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 244. For his ‘Northern Boundary Farms’ land grant, to the north of Parramatta opposite Simon Burn’s farm, dated 3 November 1792, see New South Wales Government, Special Bundles, 1794–1825, Series: 898; Reels: 6020–6040, 6070; Fiche 3260–3312; Page: 12, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia); New South Wales Government, Special Bundles, 1794–1825, Series: 898; Reels: 6020–6040, 6070; Fiche: 3260–3312, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia).Regarding Barrington’s second Parramatta land grant, granted on 9 December 1794 at ‘North Brush, Field of Mars’ to the north of the town of Parramatta, see New South Wales Government, Special Bundles, 1794–1825, Series: 898; Reels: 6020–6040, 6070; Fiche 3260–3312, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia), p. 42. This was most likely the land grant that was near what became the Female Orphan School.

[146]NOTICE,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Sunday 30 December 1804, p. 1; “Barrington, George (1755–1804),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barrington-george-1746/text1935, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 12 April 2021.

[147] David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 244; Oxford Journal, 14 September 1793, p. 2.

[148] Gloucester Journal, 20 December 1802, p. 4; Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 12 September 1793, p. 2; Derby Mercury, 30 August 1798, p. 2.

[149] Madras Courier, 6 June 1798, p. 2.

[150] Reading Mercury, 4 November 1799, p. 3.

[151] Norfolk Chronicle, 26 November 1796, p. 1; Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 10 December 1796, p. 1; Staffordshire Advertiser, 10 December 1796, p. 3; Norfolk Chronicle, 24 December 1796, p. 4; Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 22 November 1798, p. 4; Staffordshire Advertiser, 24 November 1798, p. 2; Oxford Journal, 5 January 1799, p. 2; Ipswich Journal, 19 January 1799, p. 4; Oxford Journal, 16 August 1800, p. 2; Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 21 August 1800, p. 2; Staffordshire Advertiser, 23 August 18001, p. 2; Sun (London), 19 February 1802, p. 3; Weekly Dispatch (London), 21 February 1802, p. 4; Sun (London), 29 March 1802, p. 3; Bury and Norwich Post, 8 September 1802, p. 4; Morning Post, 10 September 1802, p. 2; Sun (London), 13 October 1802, p. 3; Star (London), 16 October 1802, p. 4; Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 17 October 1802, p. 7; Weekly Dispatch (London), 17 October 1802, p. 4; Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 21 October 1802, p. 2; Morning Post, 30 October 1802, p. 3; Bury and Norwich Post, 3 November 1802, p. 4; Weekly Dispatch (London), 3 June 1804, p. 4. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 30 November 1796, trial of MARY MURRAY, otherwise BARRINGTON (t17961130-40), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17961130-40, accessed 12 April 2021.

[152] The Sun (London), 16 December 1802, p. 4.

[153] Gloucester Journal, 20 December 1802, p. 4

[154] Evening Mail, 10 January 1803, p. 2

[155] Hampshire Telegraph, 10 January 1803, p. 2.

[156] Hampshire Telegraph, 10 January 1803, p. 2.

[157] Oxford Journal, 22 January 1803, p. 4

[158] Sun (London), 24 January 1803, p. 3.

[159] “Botany Bay,” British Press, 31 May 1803, p. 2. See also Morning Chronicle, 31 May 1803, p. 3; Chester Chronicle, 3 June 1803, p. 2.

[160] Stamford Mercury, 21 January 1803, p. 4; Northampton Mercury, 29 October 1803, p. 3. For more on the way publishers cashed in on Barrington’s celebrity and attributed works to him he had no hand in writing see Suzanne Rickard, George Barrington’s Voyage to Botany Bay: Retelling a Convict’s Travel Narrative of the 1790s, (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 2001); Marty Wechselblatt, “Celebrity Thief, Man of Paper,” [Book Review of Suzanne Rickard’s George Barrington’s Voyage to Botany Bay, …,” Cultural Studies, (June 2002): 98–100; Nathan Garvey, The Celebrated George Barrington: A Spurious Author, the Book Trade, and Botany Bay, (Surry Hills: Hordern House, 2008); Toby R. Benis, “Criminal Transport: George Barrington and the Colonial Cure,” Journal of Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 20; No. 3 (May 2002): 167–177.

[161] Stamford Mercury, 11 December 1789, p. 4.

[162] The Ipswich Journal, 12 December 1789, p. 2; Bury and Norwich Post, 16 December 1789, p. 4.

[163] British Press, 2 March 1803, p. 2

[164] Saint James’s Chronicle, 30 August 1803, p. 1.

[165] Weekly Dispatch (London), 3 June 1804, pp. 3–4; Bury and Norwich Post, 31 October 1804, p. 2.

[166] “Exeter, May 23,” Sun (London), 26 May 1804, p. 3.

[167] Sun (London), 20 November 1804, p. 3; Kentish Gazette, 3 August 1804, p. 3.

[168] Sun (London), 20 November 1804, p. 3; Kentish Gazette, 3 August 1804, p. 3.

[169] “State of the Colony of New South Wales,” The Scots Magazine, 1 March 1806, p. 36.

[170] James Thomson, “Assistant-Surgeon Thomson to Under-Secretary Cooke, London, 59 Crown-street, Westm’r, 28th June 1804,” in F. M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales: Vol. V.—KING, 1803, 1804, 1805, (Sydney: William Applegate Gullick, Government Printer, 1897), p. 388.

[171] Toby R. Benis, “Criminal Transport: George Barrington and the Colonial Cure,” Journal of Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 20; No. 3 (May 2002): 167–177.

[172]Government and General Order, 31st December, 1803,” in F. M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales: Vol. V.—KING, 1803, 1804, 1805, (Sydney: William Applegate Gullick, Government Printer, 1897), p. 287.

[173] Age is an estimate calculated from his reported birth year. The age recorded in the burial record, by contrast, was 55, but ages are often incorrect in the St. John’s burial register. “DIED,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Sunday 30 December 1804, p. 4; “Burial of George Barrington, 29 December 1804,” Parish Burial Register, Textual Records, St. John’s Anglican Church, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia.

[174] For more on Simon Burn’s very Irish send-off, and to see the role Barrington himself played in the evening of Burn’s murder, see Michaela Ann Cameron, “The Killing and Keening of Simon Burn,” St. John’s Online, (2020), https://stjohnsonline.org/bio/simon-burn, accessed 12 April 2021.

[175] In fact, Suzanne Rickard has stated his celebrity was ‘without precedent’ in the 1780s and 1790s. See Suzanne Rickard, George Barrington’s Voyage to Botany Bay: Retelling a Convict’s Travel Narrative of the 1790s, (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 2001), pp. 3–4.

[176]NOTICE,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Sunday 30 December 1804, p. 1; Star (London), 30 July 1805, p. 2.

[177] George Barrington, “George Barrington to a Gentleman in the County of York, Cape of Good Hope, 1st July, 1791,” in F. M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. II.—Grose and Paterson, 1793–1795, (Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1893), pp. 781–85.

© Copyright 2020 Michaela Ann Cameron