From Here to Eternity – Thomas Barrett

‘Just three [3] weeks before half a continent had been declared Crown land in one of the most remarkable acts of plunder in modern times…five [5] men were convicted of theft and condemned to death, illustrating that property was more sacrosanct than life itself’. Henry Reynolds, Searching for Truth-Telling, History, Sovereignty and the Uluru Statement From the Heart, NewSouth Publishing 2021


The death penalty was brought to Australia with the First Fleet’. Mike Richards, The Hanged Man, The Life and Death of Ronald Ryan, 2002


‘When leaving Botany Bay [25 January 1788] Phillip noticed two French ships in the offing…there would seem to be ‘some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days’. Edward Jenks, History of the Australian Colonies, cited H.E. Egerton, A Short History of British Colonial Policy, Methuen, London, 1928


Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de la Perouse [was] hanging around [at Botany Bay] on an expedition with two [2] ships’.  Professor Larissa Behrendt, The Honest History Book, eds. David Stephens & Alison Broinowski, NewSouth Publishing Press, 2017


‘New Holland is a good blind, then,  when we want to add to the military strength of [Mysore] India’.  Anon.  to Evan Nepean, Frank Murcott Bladen, Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol.1 1892


‘The arm of a large tree was fixed upon as a gallows’. 

Sydney Cove 1788 – 27 February:   One (1) month after disembarking from the ‘First Fleet’ convicts Thomas Barrett, John Ryan, Henry Lavell and Joseph Hall were charged with stealing food from the government store-house.

All, found guilty as charged, were sentenced to death. The execution to take place that same day.

Only Thomas Barrett died that day. A small plaque at the corner of Harrington and Essex Streets in Sydney’s Rocks area marks Barrett’s fleeting presence in Australia.

Thomas Barrett fashioned the ‘Botany Bay Medallion…a skilfully engraved metal medallion inscribed with a brief description of the voyage…and a representation of the Charlotte at anchor in Botany Bay’. Mollie Gillen, Founders of Australia, Library of Australian History, 1985

2008 –  23 July, Melbourne: At auction  in July 2008 the medallion was offered for sale as the ‘Charlotte Medal’.

Peter Garrett authorised assistance from Australia’s Cultural Heritage Account and the medallion was purchased for one million [$1,000,000] AUD .

image of charlotte medal

The Charlotte Medal created by Thomas Barrett

It is on permanent display in the National Maritime Museum, Sydney the institution that drove its purchase for the nation.


‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between the marines and the [male] convicts…the standard adopted was that of the troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, 1990

Thomas Barrett’s execution was public theatre staged to instil terror into all spectators. Convicts soldiers, sailors, the silent unseen First Australians and La Perouse and his men,‘hanging around‘  in Botany Bay.

On ‘shaky evidence’ Barrett aged about 30 years was accused, in company with three (3) others,of stealing food from government stores.

It is a matter of record, the day before  they were charged, each condemned man had received the ‘standard’ ration issued ‘troops serving in the West Indies’. 

Nevertheless at twelve (12) noon on the 27th February 1788 they appeared before a hastily convened court of military officers.


London – 1782:  Six (6) years earlier, at different times during 1782, each appeared at London’s Old Bailey on various charges. Found guilty all had been sentenced to death.

Each man had his death sentence forgiven on condition he was marked ‘ for transportation to America’.

The Transportation Act of 1717-18 permitted Britain to send exile criminals reprieved death on condition of ‘banishment from the realm’.

Between 1718-1775 Britain exported some 50,000 mostly male criminals ‘simply and cheaply’ to America.

Treasury made  money by selling the convict to a transporting merchant who, through his American agent, on-sold them at regular ‘slave scrambles’ mostly to cotton and tobacco planters.

To be precise the agent sold a prisoner’s ‘service’ for the term of his or her sentence be it seven (7) fourteen (14) years or for life.

In 1775 conflict, America’s Revolutionary War of Independence (1775-1783) brought an abrupt halt to the lucrative British-American convict trade.


‘The American Revolution as John L. Gray notes in his forward,was just one theater in a world war.

Although the Revolution had began in 1775 as a small series of skirmishes between British troops and American militia at Lexington and Concord Massachusetts, by the time of the siege of Yorktown, in 1781, Britain was becoming overwhelmed by the effort of fighting five [5] separate nation-states around the globe – France, Spain, the United States., the Dutch Republic, and the kingdom of Mysore, in India’. Essays in The American Revolution – A World War, David K. Allison, Larrie D. ferreiro, Smithsonian.  2013

1776:  Legislation, The Hulks Act of 1776, allowed male prisoners sentenced  ‘for transportation to America’  to wait out the war confined on prison-hulks. These rat and lice infested decommissioned ships were moored along the River Thames.   

Thomas Barrett, Henry Lavell, Joseph Hall and John Ryan spent nearly three (3) appalling years confined on the hulk Dunkirk and formed strong bonds.

Paris – 1783 September:  The Treaty of Paris signed at the palace of Versailles in September 1783 brought a formal end to the American War of Independence.

Britain had lost her ’empire in the west’ Connecticut, North and South Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia the ‘thirteen [13] middle colonies’.

With them went Britain’s right to export her convicted criminals, Thomas Jefferson’s ‘rattlesnakes’,to America.

At least two (2) attempts to surreptitiously resume ‘transportation to America’ failed with heavy loss of life. See: Mutiny on Swift and Mercury

Attempts were also made to send convicts to Africa. Politician Edmund Burke’s vehement opposition in the House of Commons put paid to Africa as a permanent penal destination.


At that time noxious smells were thought to be the source of contagious disease. Botany Bay offered the only opportunity to rid bustling London of the stench and danger  moored at its very heart.

1786 – Treasury,August: ‘His Majesty‘ thought it advisable to fix on Botany Bay….Orders had been issued for the transportation of six hundred and eighty (680) males and seventy (70) female convicts to New South Wales [with] two companies of marines to form a military establishment’. Frank Murcott Bladen, Historical Records of New South Wales. Vol. 1 and 2, 1892  

The numbers were later amended. Four (4) companies 245 marines accompanied 583 male convicts and 193 female convict camp followers.

‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between the marines and the [male] convicts…the standard adopted was that of troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, The Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1999

HMS Sirius had a crew of 160 Royal Naval personnel. HMS Supply carried a crew of 50.

‘New Holland is a good blind, then,  when we want to add to the military strength of [Mysore] India’.  Anon.  to Evan Nepean, Bladen.

The invasion of New Holland, now Australia was Britain’s initial move, after the loss of ‘her empire in the west’, to reposition for ‘unfinished business’  – revenge on France and Spain and global supremacy.

Œ   §

‘The administration gave no consideration to the date of expiry of sentences, and several of the First Fleet convicts had been tried as early as 1781 and 1782.Dr John Cobley, Crimes of the First Fleet, Vol. 1. Angus and Robertson, 1984

1787 – Portsmouth, January: On the 6th January the first male prisoners were removed from the hulks and boarded Alexander the largest  of six (6) chartered convict transports ‘bound for Botany Bay‘.

‘As seven years transportation was the most common sentence, many had already served five-sevenths of their time on embarkation, and six-sevenths on disembarkation at Sydney Cove’. Cobley. op.cit.

1787 – May: On the 13th of May 1787 the expeditionary naval force of eleven (11) ships, with a complement of 1500 souls, fully funded by government, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, departed England for the invasion of New Holland. A Riddle: When is an invasion fleet not an invasion fleet? When it’s the First Fleet

1788 – Botany Bay, January 18/20: After a voyage of eight (8) months voyaging across 15,000 miles (23,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ via Spanish Tenerife, Portuguese Brazil and Dutch Southern Africa, the fleet arrived in Botany Bay between 18 – 20 January 1788. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head: Captain Arthur Phillip & Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse


‘On the first day of my arrival I [Hunter of HMS Sirius] went to examine the south shore in order to fix on a spot for erecting some buildings; but we found very little fresh water, and not any spot very inviting for our purpose’. Captain John Hunter RN, First Fleet Journal of Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island,1793

January 21: Hunter, the fleet’s specialist navigator, had Captain James Cook’s charts of 1770; ‘the Governor accompanied by me and two [2] other officers, embarked in three [3] boats….with the hope of discovering a better harbour, as well as a better country’. Hunter op.cit.

Port Jackson: About nine (9) nautical miles north of Botany Bay they found the opening to a ‘better harbourMr Cook had given the name Port Jackson’.

Sydney Cove: From a myriad of coves and bays Phillip chose a ‘snug’ deep-water cove for permanent settlement naming it for Home Secretary Lord Sydney.

January 23: ‘The boats returned [to Botany Bay] on the evening of the 23rd, with such an account of the harbour and advantages attending the place, that it was determined the evacuation of Botany Bay should commence the next morning’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, Ed. L.F. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1981

24 January- Botany Bay:  Next morning  ‘alarm’ Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse with La Boussole and L’Astrolabe appeared in the entrance to Botany Bay.

Refused entry the Frenchmen were back out into stormy seas. ‘Consternation!  Phillip had failed to raise ‘English Colours’ at Sydney Cove.

25 January – Sydney Cove:  Next morning Phillip aboard HMS Supply, attempted to sail but was held up by continuing bad weather. Supply made Sydney Cove just on nigh-fall. To his immense relief La Boussole and L’Astrolabe were not there at anchor.

‘There would seem to be some justification for the saying “Britain won Australia by six [6] days”. Edward Jenks, cited H.E. Egerton British Colonial Policy, Menthuen, London 1928

26 January- Sydney Cove:  At first light Phillip landed and raised ‘English Colours’ the flag of Queen Anne.

‘Phillip planted the flag at Sydney Cove…to make  sure the French did not make the claim first’. Larissa Behrendt, The Honest History Book.  ed. David Stephens & Alison Broinowski, NewSouth Publishing 2017 

During that long wet windy day the English fleet managed a dangerous exit from Botany Bay. By dusk all were moored alongside HMS Supply deep within Port Jackson.


‘His [Phillip’s] failure to invite the French commander [to Sydney Cove] reflect some fear that he might be known as a spy’. Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip 1738-1814, His Voyaging

Governor Phillip and La Perouse never met. Now Phillip urgently needed to ascertain the French commander’s intentions on leaving the area. He delegated the task to Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN his most trusted confrere.

King and Marine Marine Lieutenant William Dawes, the fleet’s chief scientific officer, made their way ‘by land’ across to Botany Bay.

The pair dined aboard La Bousolle. They talked into the early hours and  well into the next day before being rowed back to Sydney Cove.

During their conversations Gidley King learned La Perouse had made two (2) unsuccessful attempts to land on Norfolk Island before moving onto Botany Bay.

King formed the opinion it highly likely, La Perouse on leaving Botany Bay, would repeat his efforts to occupy the uninhabited island just over 900 nautical miles away.

Norfolk Island – January 30: Governor Phillip immediately commissioned King Lieutenant- Governor of the island and ordered he make arrangements for a voyage to the island, two (2) weeks sailing time away.

Sydney, 31 January: Without delay King boarded Lady Penrhyn  . She had brought the greatest number of female prisoners. From among them King selected six (6) women convicts and nine (9) male prisoners to seed another English settlement.


 6 February:  Between 6am and 6 pm on the 6th of February the fleet’s two hundred and twenty-two (222) women and their 50 free children – 22 of these born during the long voyage – ‘were rowed ashore’ from ships that had been their home for more than eight (8) months. 

‘At 10 pm a most outrageous storm of lighting, thunder and rain struck the settlement’. Lieutenant Ralph Clark. cited Moore. ibid.

7 February:  Proclamation Day – Captain-General, now Governor Arthur Phillip RN, without consent of its Peoples or entering into treaty with them Britain, by force of arms, took ‘effective occupation… [of the] fifth Great Continental Division of the Earth’.

Meanwhile Gidley King’s preparations for Norfolk Island went on apace. In addition to the 15 convicts and 2 doctors, a Petty Officer and 2 seamen from HMS Sirius, with a number of marines, approximately 30 persons in all with supplies for six (6) months, were ready to sail.See: Gender-  White Mischief – Genocide 

 14 February :At 6 pm HMS Supply in fading light sailed out through Sydney Harbour’s towering headlands leaving a fear-filled settlement in her wake.

At Sydney the baddies greatly outnumber the goodies. The air was alive with rebellion and with the French ‘hanging about in Botany Bay’ there was the tantalising hope of escape.

Governor Arthur Phillip RN was an old hand. He knew the Royal Navy expected him to deal with rebellion and he chose diversion.

‘The death penalty was brought to Australia with the First Fleet’. Mike Edwards, The Hanged Man, The Life and Death of Ronald Ryan, 2002


‘Killing a criminal achieved many ends simply and cheaply’.  Richard Byrne, Prisons and Punishments of London, Grafton, Harper Collins, London

Sydney Cove – 27 February:  On that day all the convicts were mustered ‘to see’  the execution of Barrett, Lavell, Hall and Ryan. See: A Vicious Circle – The Hangman’s Noose

‘In case an insurrection or an attempt at rescue should take place….The battalion paraded under arms with fixed bayonets’.   Arthur Bowes- Smyth Surgeon Lady Penrhyn, Journal ed. Fidlon and Ryan, Australian Documents Library, 1979

While under the ‘large tree fixed upon as a gallows’ pressure was brought to bear on John Ryan. The youngest of the four (4) friends; ‘he turned king’s evidence…his irons were removed’.

A commotion came from stage right. Marine Adjacent Captain James Campbell strode to the front of the parade-ground. Reverend Richard Johnson the fleet Chaplain halted his sing-song prayers.

Campbell drew aside Provost Marshall Henry Brewer and handed over a twenty-four (24) hour stay-of-execution for Hall and Lavell. Act 2 – Blind Man’s Bluff a Double Bill 

‘The ‘lifer’ Barrett ‘who was the ringleader’ stood alone.  A Vicious Circle – The Hangman’s Noose

‘I dont think that he had the least thought that he was to Suffer but when the Provos Martial put a handkerchiff about his head he turned as white as a sheet’. Marine Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, First Fleet Journal, Australian Documents Library, 1979


An actor was missing from this grisly production. London had failed to send ‘a Jack Ketch’ – hangman.  A convict was forced to kill Thomas Barrett. See: The Ketch Connection – Thomas Barrett 1788 Sydney-  Michael Barrett 1868 London – Robert Ryan 1967 Melbourne

‘It was sometime before the man could be prevailed upon to execute his office nor would he at last have complied if he had not been severely threatened by the Provost Marshall Mr Brewer and Major Ross threatened to give orders to the marines to shoot him’. Dr John White, First Fleet Journal, Australian Documents, Library, 1979

‘The wretchedness of the captive [was] acted out’. The hands of the amateur reluctant executioner shook so much he botched placing the noose.

Who hanged Thomas Barrett ? Dr White’s account of this despicable scene make it highly likely, a compromised John Ryan, he who ‘turned king’s evidence’, was forced at gun-point to take his friend’s life.

Barrett ‘mounted the ladder’ bound and blind-folded. Barrett did not die from a drop-gallows. Pushed out onto a platform rigged between the branches he was ‘launch[ed]  into Eternity’.

Aghast, the audience stood in fearful silence, watching him swing to and fro, twist and jerk as he strangled slowly from a rope hitched over a tree branch.

‘The body hung for an hour and was then buried in a grave dug very near the gallows’. Ralph Clark. ibid


‘Killing a criminal achieved many ends simply and cheaply’ .Governor Phillip’s selection of ‘the lifer’ was deliberate. As either a prisoner or combatant Barrett fell strictly within the ‘rules of and disciplines of war’. 

Brazil: Barrett was a re-offender. Between August and September 1787 when the fleet was at Rio de Janeiro, Barrett had forged quarter-dollars from the buttons and buckles supplied him by the marines. They used them to purchase goods at the colourful vibrant local markets.

At Sydney the ‘baddies’, five hundred and seventy (570) male convicts, drilled and skilled, ‘rationed as troops serving the West Indies’ out-numbered the enlisted men.

And Barrett had ‘friends’ across a wide range in this very singular population of marines, sailors and, merchant-men of nine (9) chartered vessels therefore  he represented a clear and present danger.

‘The Mercuries’  of which he was one ‘were the most feared of convicts’. According to Wilfrid Oldham there were approximately eighty (80) who had been recaptured after escaping from Mercury  before she left English waters for the six (6) week voyage to America . See: Mutiny on Mercury and Swift.

Phillip knew the charismatic Barrett could take advantage of the dangerous instability caused by the extraordinary arrival of La Perouse and his men on the 24th January 1788.

Norfolk Island: The departure of HMS Supply for Norfolk Island, just one (1) week after the women had set foot on dry land, no doubt added to the instability and energised many for rebellion.

Barrett’s execution a ‘foul carnival‘in case an insurrection should take place’ was a cruel but clever strategic diversion on Governor Phillip’s part.

‘Insurrection’ white Australia makes very little of La Perouse’s arrival in January 1788. Yet Professor Behrendt rightly indicates the physical presence of the French motivated Governor Phillip to act.

Phillip planted the flag at Sydney Cove…to make  sure the French did not make the claim first’. Larissa Behrendt, The Honest History Book.  ed. David Stephens & Alison Broinowski, NewSouth Publishing 2017 

In 1790 diversion was a tactic Phillip used after receiving news of the French Revolution. See: John McEntire – Death of a Sure Thing

‘Our wealth and power in India is their [France’s] great and constant object of jealously; and they will never miss an opportunity of attempting to wrest it out of our hands’. Sir James Harris cited Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books, 2013

A strategic manoeuvre aimed at ‘the enemy within’ the 1790 diversion  had devastating consequences for Australia’s First Peoples. See: John Macarthur ‘The Man Who Made Enemies’.

‘Few personal documents relating to [Governor] Phillip survive; his low personal profile and the secret work in which he was sometimes involved help make him one of the least-known founders of any modern state – in this case Australia’. Nigel Rigby, Peter Van Der Merwe & Glyn Williams, Pacific Explorations, Voyages of Discovery from Captain Cook’s Endeavour to the Beagle, National Maritime Museum Greenwich, Bloomsbury, Adlard Coles, London 2018 

Governor Arthur Phillip – ‘One of the least-known founders of any modern state’. It is one thing to forget history quite another to obfuscate and deliberately bury it.

And there are threads of evidence some surprisingly up to date.

Post Script

On the 10th of March 1788 La Boussole  with Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse at the helm and L’Astrolabe astern departed Botany Bay for France.

Each year in March a ceremony in memory of the gallant  La Perouse and his men, who were never seen again, is held at the Sydney suburb of La Perouse.


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