George Barrington  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

George Barrington (May 14, 17551804) was an Irishman with a curious history. He was born at Maynooth, the son of a working silversmith named Waldron. In 1771 he robbed his schoolmaster at Dublin and ran away from school, becoming a member of a touring theatrical company under the assumed name of Barrington. At the Limerick races he joined the manager of the company in pocket-picking. The manager was detected and sentenced to transportation, and Barrington fled to London, where he assumed clerical dress and continued his pickpocketing. At Covent Garden theatre he robbed the Russian Count Orlov of a snuff-box, said to be worth £30,000. He was detected and arrested, but as Count Orlov declined to prosecute, was discharged, though subsequently he was sentenced to three years hard labour for pocket-picking at Drury Lane theatre.

On his release he was again caught at his old practices and sentenced to five years hard labour, but influence secured his release on the condition that he left England. He accordingly went for a short time to Dublin, and then returned to London, where he was once more detected pocket-picking, and, in 1790, sentenced to seven years transportation. On the voyage out to Botany Bay a conspiracy was hatched by the convicts on board to seize the ship. Barrington disclosed the plot to the captain, and the latter, on reaching New South Wales, reported him favourably to the authorities, with the result that in 1792 Barrington obtained a warrant of emancipation (the first issued), becoming subsequently superintendent of convicts and later high constable of Parramatta.

In 1796 a theatre was opened at Sydney, the principal actors being convicts, and Barrington is said to have written the prologue to the first production (though other sources attribute it to one Henry Carter). This prologue has become well known on its own (for example, it is quoted in the film Breaker Morant). It begins:

From distant climes, o'er widespread seas, we come,
Though not with much éclat or beat of drum;
True patriots we, for, be it understood,
We left our country for our country's good.

Barrington died at Parramatta.

Books by George Barrington

  • A Voyage to Botany Bay (London, 1801)
  • The History of New South Wales (London, 1802)
  • The History of New Holland (London, 1808)

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