‘The grand consideration seems to be, to get them [convicted criminals] out of Europe at all Events…simply landing these people in Africa., to let them shift for themselves’. Governor Richard Miles, Cape Coast Castle to Home Office, London. Cited in Mollie Gillen, Founders of Australia, Library of Australian History.

1781 – 30 May, London: Samuel Woodham and John Rugless, then aged about 16 years – described in court papers as ‘boys’ – appeared at the Old Bailey indicted for assault and highway robbery.

Found guilty of stealing a silver shirt buckle, a cotton handkerchief and 14 (fourteen) shillings in coin they were sentenced to hang. Reprieved both were commuted for a life-time of military service in Africa and lodged in London’s infamous Newgate gaol to await shipment.

1782 – 8 October, Westminster:  Thomas Limpus appeared at the General Quarter Sessions charged with theft of a handkerchief. Found guilty he was sentenced to seven (7) years exile in Africa.

1782 – 1 November, Africa: The two (2) ‘boys’ embarked onto Den Keyser a ship chartered by the British Government to transport forty (40) convicts to Goree, Senegal a voyage of (4) weeks.

1782 – December, Goree: During the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) the fort settlement had been seized from the French. After a month at sea, on 7 December 1782, twenty (20) of Den Keyser’s prisoners including Woodham, Rugless and Limpus landed at Goree.

The remaining convicts disembarked further along the coast at Cape Coast Castle; ‘left to fend for themselves’ most died of starvation or disease.

Limpus found enough work to survive. Woodham and Rugless were taken to their assigned garrison only to find it in complete disarray. Most soldiers were like them exiled in lieu of hanging, or enlisted men banished as punishment.

A few months before their arrival, in July 1782, Joseph Wall the sadistic Lieutenant-Governor of Goree, had paraded the entire garrison to witness the flogging of Sergeant Armstrong a respected NCO, who died under a barrage of eight hundred (800) lashes. See: Africa – In and Out of Africa

Goree proved a nightmare for our three (3) amigos. They rightly saw, if they stayed the only prospect was death from intense heat, starvation, tropical or venereal disease, vengeful natives or at the hands of an insane commander.

In time all three (3) men worked a passage to England on ships that supplied the fort settlements and traded in ivory.


1783 -August, England: Limpus was first to leave Goree he was back in England by mid August 1783.

1783 – September, London:  But freedom did not last long. A month later he was arrested ‘in the notorious enclave of Seven Dials’.

1783 – 24 October, Old Bailey: He appeared in the dock of the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey in October, indicted for ‘return before expiry of sentence...being at large within the kingdom’.

Under the Transportation Act of 1718 this charge attracted mandatory death. Found guilty Limpus was reprieved once more and commuted ‘for transportation to America’ and imprisoned in Newgate goal.

1784 – March, America: Towards the end of March 1784 Thomas boarded Mercury, a vessel owned by George Moore a convict transporting merchant, for a six (6) weeks voyage to America.

1784 – 30 March: Mercury sailed for America at the end of March 1784. Among Mercury’s one hundred and seventy-nine (179) convicts were Thomas Barrett and Charles Kellan. Kellan was an old hand, he had been down this road to America before, on Swift, another of George Moore’s vessels. See: Mutiny on Swift and Mercury

A year earlier (August 1783) Kellan was among those prisoners who ‘rose on the [Swift] crew’ and escaped at Rye on the Sussex coast. All escapees were retaken, eight (8) hanged, the remainder again reprieved ‘for transportation’ returned to Thames hulks.

Charles Kellan, an educated villain, knew Mercury’s prisoners had been purchased by George Moore. To be more accurate, through the Sheriff’s Office, Moore had paid money to Treasury and purchased prisoners’ labour.

Kellan also knew when convicts arrived in America, they would be sold to the highest bidder in a ‘slave scramble’ at an open market space. See: Britons Never, Never Shall Be Slaves.

1784 – 8 April, Devon:  At Torbay ‘some prisoners [led by Kellan and Barrett] rose on the crew’ and took over the ship. The weather was against them, some convicts drowned when thrown into choppy seas from commandeered life-boats, some were rescued by HMS Helena

1784 – 24 May, Exeter: All recaptured escapees appeared before a ‘Special Assize’ at Exeter. Prisoners saved by Helena were found ‘not to have left England’s jurisdiction’ and returned to the hulks.

Thomas Limpus was among those who made it onto dry land. Together with Thomas Barrett and Charles Kellan, charged yet again with ‘return before expiry’. Each was sentenced to death, reprieved, commuted ‘for transportation beyond the seas’ and returned to the hulks.

1784 – 28 August, Plymouth: Barrett, Charles Kellan and Limpus boarded the hulk Dunkirk anchored in Plymouth Harbour at the end of August 1784 where they remained for three (3) years.

‘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. 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’. Dr John Cobley, Crimes of the First Fleet, Angus and Robertson, 1982

1787 – 11 March, Portsmouth: Nearly three (3) years later –  March 1787 – Limpus and Barrett parted company with Charles Kellan and boarded Charlotte one (1) of eleven (11) ships comprising the ‘First Fleet’ – for a voyage of eight (8) months across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ England to New Holland, now Australia. See: Apollo 11 – Fly Me to The Moon.

1788 – 26 January, Sydney: On disembarking in Sydney Cove Thomas Limpus sought out Woodham and Rugless. The three (3) friends swapped their amazing, albeit atrocious stories, of suffering and vindictive retribution.


1784 – 20 October, London: Soon after returning from Africa Woodham was picked up in London. He appeared at the Old Bailey in October charged with ‘return before expiry’.

1785 – 3 March, River Thames: Ground-hog-day came for Woodham on 3 March 1785 when, found guilty as charged, he was sentenced to die. The death penalty was forgiven and once more commuted for a life time of military service in Africa he boarded the hulk Ceres to await his fate.


1784 – November, London: Rugless returned from Africa but; ‘was taken on 23 November 1784 in St Mary White Chapple charged with return before expiry’. Found guilty, ‘remanded to his former sentence’ and sent to the Ceres he reunited with Sam Woodham.

1787 – 27th February, Portsmouth: Towards the end of February 1787 Woodham and Rugless embarked onto Scarborough a ‘First Fleet’ troop transport ‘bound for Botany Bay’.


1790 –  March, Norfolk Island: At the beginning of March 1790 Governor Phillip, in order to save his people from imminent starvation, evacuated 50% of Sydney’s English population to Norfolk Island.


1801: Thomas Limpus was among the evacuees, he died on the island in 1801.


1799, October, Sydney: Samuel Woodham remained in Sydney and received a conditional pardon in October 1799. Granted thirty (30) acres of land at Mulgrave Place he farmed on the Hawkesbury River; ‘seems to have led a quiet, uneventful life the colony’ and died in 1802.


1790 – March, Norfolk Island: Rugless remained a bit of a rogue; ‘in Sydney 1789 he was tried for stabbing Ann Fowles with whom he was living and received on the 10th [January] half of 700 lashes ordered’. In March 1790 he too was  evacuated from famine ravaged Sydney to Norfolk Island.

1804 – June: Rugless; ‘received a conditional pardon in June 1804 and was discharged from Norfolk Island’.

1807 – June, Hobart: ‘was recorded at Hobart Town in subsequent years’.

1837 – 24 June, Tasmania: died in hospital, buried, his age given as 80′


1782 – 11 September, London: Thomas Barrett was aged twenty-four (24) years when he first appeared at the Old Bailey in September 1782 charged with a non-violent crime, stealing clothing and a silver watch from unoccupied premises.

1783 – 10 September, Thames River: A year spent on remand indicates evidence against Barrett may have been inconclusive. Nevertheless at his next appearance on 1 September 1784, he was found guilty, sentenced ‘for transportation to America’ and imprisoned on a floating prison-hulk moored in the Thames.

1784 – 26 March, America: Barrett was among one hundred and forty-three (143) prisoners boarded onto Mercury a convict transport ship bound for America.

1784 – 8 April, Devon: Some prisoners including Barrett ‘rose on the crew’ escaped at Torbay and fled into the Devon country-side. Aided by dogs and beaters the escapees were hunted down and re-captured.

1784 – 24 May, Exeter: Found guilty of ‘being at large within the kingdom…before expiry’ all, including Barrett, reprieved death were commuted for ‘transportation beyond the seas’.

1784 – 9 June Thames Hulk: Thomas Barrett was lodged on Dunkirk where he met up again with Thomas Limpus, a fellow Mercury escapee.

1787 – 11 March, Portsmouth: Barrett boarded Charlotte a ‘First Fleet’ troop transport for a voyage of eight (8) months to Botany Bay on the other side of the globe.

1787 – 13 May, England: The large armed naval expeditionary force, commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN, sailed from Portsmouth at dawn on 13 May 1787 to invade the island continent of New Holland.

1787 – 7 August, Brazil: Unlike most convicts Thomas Barrett could read and write and it  seems he was never idle. He managed to forge passable quarter-dollars from ‘pewter spoons, old buttons and buckles’ given him by marines who used them to trade at local markets when, in early August 1787, Captain Phillip put into Rio de Janeiro for provisions.

Molie Gillen wrote Barrett’s ‘ingenuity [was] deplored by surgeon John White’. Coupled with confidence and irrepressible tenacity that ‘ingenuity’ cost Barrett his life;.‘the arm of a large tree was fixed upon as a gallows’.

1788 – 27 February, Sydney Cove:  At the end of February 1788, just a month after disembarking in Sydney Cove, Thomas Barrett with Henry Lavell, Joseph Hall and John Ryan, friends of long-standing were found guilty, ‘on the most shaky evidence’, of stealing from the government store-house and condemned to die.

While under the  ‘gallows tree’ pressure was  brought to bear on Ryan, the youngest of the four (4) friends, he turned ‘king’s evidence’. Ryan’s sentence was ‘forgiven’ his ‘irons removed’.

Prayers were said and nooses placed on Barrett, Lavell and Hall but at the very last moment Hall and Lavell were given a twenty-four (24) hour stay-of-execution. See: Blind Man’s Bluff

Their nooses removed the two (2) men were marched to one side and forced to watch as Thomas Barrett was made to climb a ladder and out onto ‘a platform fix’d between the branches’.

‘He [Barrrett] expressed not the lest signs of fear till he mounted the ladder and then he turned very pale and seemed very much shocked…The body hung for an hour and was then buried in a grave dug very near the gallows’. Dr John White, First Fleet Journal

Barrett fashioned the medallion from ‘a silver-coloured dish’ said to be the property of Dr John White the fleet’s Chief Medical Officer.

Every day during the eight (8) month voyage John White recorded the temperature and took barometer readings. It seems highly likely White supplied the technical information, supervised its engraving and, in so doing, established a relationship with Barrett.

‘He [Thomas Barrett] may have been the maker of the Botany Bay Medallion. A skilfully engraved metal medallion inscribed with a relief description of the voyage dated 20 January 1788 and a representation of the Charlotte at anchor in Botany Bay’. Mollie Gillen, Founders of Australia, Library of Australian History, 1985                                                                                                

Dr White was undoubtedly an excellent administrator but records show he possessed a very nasty streak. White could have pleaded on Barrett’s behalf with a vengeful Governor Phillip, instead he played a significant role in the gruesome pantomime of his execution.


2008 – July,  Sydney: The ‘Botany Bay Medallion’  – known also as the ‘Charlotte Medal’ – was offered at auction. The medallion, purchased for the nation in 2008 for one million ($1,000,000) dollars, is on permanent display in the National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney. See: Ketch Connection – Thomas Barrett 1788

Biographical information taken from Mollie Gillen’s Founders of Australia.

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