‘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 Mollie Gillen, Founders of Australia, Library of Australian History.

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

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

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

During the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)  snatch-and-grab occupation of some African fort settlements see-sawed between the French and British.

Biographical information is taken from Mollie Gillen’s fabulous Founders of Australia

West Africa – 1782,  November 1: Limpus, Woodham and Rugless embarked onto Den Keyser a ship chartered by government to transport forty (40) convicts to Senegal a voyage of (4) weeks.

Goree – 1782 December 7: After a month at sea twenty (20) of Den Keyser’s prisoners including  the three (3) amigos landed at Goree.

The remaining convicts were refused permission to land. They were carried further along the coast to Cape Coast Castle where they were; ‘left to fend for themselves’. Most would die of starvation or disease.

Meanwhile Woodham and Rugless were taken to their assigned garrison only to find it in complete disarray peopled mostly by enlisted soldiers who, like themselves,had been exiled in lieu of hanging.

A few months earlier, in July 1782, Joseph Wall, Goree’s sadistic Lieutenant-Governo, paraded the entire garrison to witness the flogging of Sergeant Armstrong. The respected NCO died under a barrage of eight hundred (800) lashes. See: Africa – In and Out of Africa

Goree proved a nightmare for all who landed there. The civilian Limpus found enough work to survive . But it soon became clear if he stayed his only prospect was death from intense heat, slow starvation, tropical and venereal disease, vengeful natives or at the hands of an insane governor.

In time all three (3) men worked a passage home to England on the ships that brought supplies and left laden with ivory.

THOMAS LIMPUS ‘return[ed] before expiry of sentence’ .

Under the Transportation Act of 1718 ‘return before expiry’ attracted a mandatory death sentence.

England – 1783 August: Limpus was first to leave Goree. By mid August 1783 he was back in England. But freedom did not last long. In September he was arrested ‘in the notorious enclave of Seven Dials’.

Old Bailey – 1783 October 24: Limpus appeared at the Central Criminal Court in October. Found guilty of being at large within the kingdom’ he was sentenced to death. Reprieved and commuted ‘for transportation to America’ he was imprisoned in Newgate.

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

March 30: Mercury set sail for America at the end of March 1784. Among Mercury’s one hundred and seventy-nine (179) prisoners, most came from prison-hulks moored along he River Thames hulks Among them were Charles Kellan and Thomas Barrett.

Sussex: Kellan was an old hand at this. A year earlier (August 1783) he had boarded  Swift another of George Moores’ vessels bound for America. At Rye on the Sussex coast with others he ‘rose on the [Swift] crew’ and escaped

All were retaken. Eight (8) were executed. The remainder again reprieved death ‘for transportation’ returned to a Thames hulk. See: Mutiny on Swift and Mercury

Charles Kellan was an educated villain He knew that the prisoners on Swift,  Mercury’s had been purchased by George Moore. When they reached America, they would be sold at a ‘regular slave scramble’.

To be more accurate, when Moore  paid money to Treasury through the Sheriff’s Office, he had purchased their labour.  Their ‘service’ as it was officially termed, was sold to the highest bidder, usually a tobacco or cotton planter. See: Britons Never, Never Shall Be Slaves.


Devon – 1784  8 April 8:  At Torbay ‘some prisoners [led by Kellan and Barrett] rose on the crew’ and took over Mercury. The weather was ferocious.  Some prisoners drowned when thrown into choppy seas from commandeered life-boats. A few of these were rescued by HMS Helena

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

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

Plymouth – August 28: Thomas Barrett, Charles Kellan and Thomas Limpus boarded  Dunkirk ,then anchored in Plymouth Harbour, at the end of August 1784.  For just on three (3) years they clung to life.


‘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

Portsmouth – 1787 March 11: In  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’ to New Holland, known now Australia. See: Apollo 11 – Fly Me to The Moon.

Sydney Cove – 1788 – January 27: On landing in Sydney Cove Thomas Limpus found Woodham and Rugless. The three (3) friends swapped their amazing, albeit atrocious stories, of relentless suffering, desperate uncertainty and vindictive retribution.

SAMUEL WOODHAM – ‘return before expiry’

London – 1784, October 20: Soon after returning from Africa Woodham was picked up in London. By October he was back at the Old Bailey.

1785 –  March: Ground-hog-day for Woodham came on 3 March 1785. Back in the dock, found guilty of ‘return before expiry’ and sentenced to die.

The sentence was forgiven and  commuted once more for a life time of military service in Africa.  Samuel Woodham boarded the hulk Ceres to await his fate.

JOHN RUGLESS – ‘return before expiry’.

‘White Chapple’ – 1784  November:  Rugless; ‘was taken on 23 November 1784 in St Mary White Chapple’. Found guilty as ‘charged was remanded to his former sentence’ he reunited with Woodham on Ceres.

Portsmouth – 1787 February 27: Towards the end of February 1787 Woodham and Rugless embarked onto Scarborough another of the First Fleet’s six (6) troop transports ‘bound for Botany Bay’.

All three (3) men were in for a big surprise.

‘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. Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1990   


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

Thomas Limpus was among them. He died on the island in 1801.

Samuel Woodham remained in Sydney. He ‘seems to have led a quiet, uneventful life the colony’.

In October 1799 he received a conditional pardon. In 1802 Woodham was granted thirty (30) acres of farming land at Mulgrave Place on the Hawkesbury River where he died.

John Rugless 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 was  evacuated to Norfolk Island. He ‘received a conditional pardon in June 1804 and was discharged from Norfolk Island’.

[He] ‘was recorded at Hobart Town in subsequent years…died in hospital, buried, his age given as 80′.  


+ ONE – THOMAS BARRETT –‘He 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’.

London – 1782  September 11: Thomas Barrett was aged twenty-four (24) years when he first appeared at the Old Bailey in September 1782 charged with a break and enter.

His was a non-violent crime he stole clothing and a silver watch from unoccupied premises.He was charged and spent a year on remand.

Thames – 1783 September 10:  Perhaps this indicated the evidence against him was inconclusive. Nevertheless at his next appearance a year later –  1 September 1784 – he was found guilty, sentenced ‘for transportation to America’ and imprisoned on a Thames hulk.

America – 1784 March 26:  He was among one hundred and seventy-nine (179) prisoners who boarded Mercury bound for America.

Devon – 1784 , April 8: Barrett  with other prisoners ‘rose on the crew’ at Torbay and fled into the Devon country-side. Some  drowned.  Men with dogs hunted down those who made it onto dry land.

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

Thames – 1784, June 9: Thomas Barrett was lodged on the hulk Dunkirk where he met up again with Thomas Limpus from Mercury.

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

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

1787 – 13 May, England: The large armed amphibious 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. See: A Riddle – When was an invasion fleet not an invasion fleet?


Thomas Barrett was a convict with skills. Skills that made him friends among the prisoners and the marines. For ,unlike most the fleet’s convicts and marines he could read. Not only that he also wrote a fine hand.

Brazil – 1787 August: At Rio, where the fleet stayed for a month to take on provisions, Barrett forged passable ‘quarter-dollars’ from ‘pewter spoons, old buttons and buckles’ given him by marines.

The marines took them shopping in the local markets. The uproar that followed had all the hallmarks of an international incident. Barrett’s ‘quarter-dollars’ could have ended with the Portuguese confiscating the fleet and enslaving its 1500 souls.

Portugal: That disaster didn’t happen was down to Captain Arthur Phillip RN.  Earlier, at the invitation of the Portuguese Government, England’s only ally at that time, he had spent nigh on four (4) years in Rio seconded to the Portuguese Navy.


Sydney  -1788 February: According to Mollie Gillen Barrett’s ‘ingenuity [was] deplored by surgeon John White’. Coupled with Phillip’s vengeance,  Barrett’s cockiness,  tenacity and ‘ingenuity’ cost him his life.

1788 – February 27: ‘The arm of a large tree was fixed upon as a gallows’.

Just a month after disembarking in Sydney Cove, ‘on the most shaky evidence’ Thomas Barrett with Henry Lavell, Joseph Hall and John Ryan, friends of long-standing from the Dunkirk hulk, were found guilty of stealing from the government store-house and condemned to death. See: Ketch Connection – Thomas Barrett 1788 – Michael Barrett 1868 – Robert Ryan 1967

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

Then there were three.

No hangman came with the First Fleet. A convict was selected to execute Thomas Barrett; .‘he would not have compli’d …Major Ross threaten’d to give orders to the Marines to shoot him’. It is possible John Ryan was forced to hang his friend. See: The Ketch Connection.

After prayers were completed nooses were placed over the heads of Barrett, Lavell and Hall. 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 were removed. Then there was one.

The two (2) men were forced to watch as Thomas Barrett was made to climb the 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’. Lieutenant Ralph Clark, Fist Fleet Journal.

Thomas Barrett was buried in an unmarked grave ‘dug very near the gallows’. See: From Here to Eternity

2008 – July,  Sydney: The ‘Botany Bay Medallion’  – known also as the ‘Charlotte Medal’ – was offered at auction in 2008. Purchased for the nation for one million ($1,000,000 Au) dollars it is on permanent display in the National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney.

2020 – 27 February, The Rocks: A small plaque at the corner of Harrington and Essex Street in Sydney’s Rocks marks Barrett’s fleeting presence in Australia.


The anniversary of his death goes un-remarked yet the 27th of February 1788 could only have been a few days after Barrett finished engraving The Botany  Bay Medallion.


The medal said to have been  fashioned from ‘a silver-coloured dish’ belonging to Dr John White the fleet’s Chief Medical Officer.

During the voyage of eight (8) months White took daily temperature and barometer readings.

xxxxxSupposition;  this writer thought previously White, who had a deep if not obsessive interest in art, probably supervised Barrett’s engraving.xxxxxx

‘English clockmaker John Harrison, a mechanical genius who pioneered the science of portable precision timekeeping…invented a clock that would carry the true time from home port, like and eternal flame, to any remote corner of the world’. Dava Sobel, Longitude, Fourth Estate, 1998

Tahiti: In 1768 Rev. Nevil Maskelyne Britain’s Astronomer Royal had denied Lieutenant James Cook RN John Harrison’s H-4 chronometer for the Endeavour voyage 1769-1771.

Captain Cook did have the benefit of  K-1 for his second and third voyages. Tradition has it – the time-piece stopped – when Cook was murdered at Hawaii on the 14th of February 1779. See: Lotto and Longitude

Greenwich Observatory:  In 1787 Marine Lieutenant William Dawes  was given K-1, a faithful replica of H-4,  for the ‘First Fleet’ voyage.

‘John Harrison, the man who solved the problem of longitude in 1759’. Peter Ackroyd, Revolution, Macmillan, London 2016

Given the medallion’s accuracy in calculating longitude it now seems safe to assume Lieutenant Dawes supplied the script and supervised its engraving. See: Lieutenant William Dawes – ‘The Eternal Flame & Universal Terror’



2008 – July,  Sydney: The ‘Botany Bay Medallion’  – known also as the ‘Charlotte Medal’ – was offered at auction in 2008. Purchased for the nation for one million ($1,000,000 Au) dollars it is on permanent display in the National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney.

2020 – 27 February, The Rocks: A small plaque at the corner of Harrington and Essex Street in Sydney’s Rocks marks Barrett’s fleeting presence in Australia.

2021: As always The anniversary of his death goes un-remarked.


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