TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD – THOMAS BARRETT

‘He [ 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, Sydney, 1990

Sydney Cove 1788 – 27 February 27:  Thomas Barrett a ‘lifer’ was the Englishman hanged in European Australia. A plague on the corner of Harrington and Essex Street in Sydney’s Rocks area marks Barrett’s fleeting presence in and dramatic exit from Australia.

Barrett fashioned the ‘Botany Bay Medallion’ AKA the ‘Charlotte Medal from a ‘silver coloured metal kidney dish’ thought to belong to Dr. John White. As Chief Medical Officer White would have certified Barrett’s death. See: From Here to Eternity 

An excellent medical administrator White nevertheless was a flawed character.  Exemplified by a controversy over provenance of paintings in the Watling Collection that remains current to this day.

London: Barrett, probably son of Irish immigrants, was born in London in 1758. His profile is not that of the usual illiterate dead-beat English common criminal. Unusual for those times he could read and, as exemplified by the medallion, wrote a find hand.

In September 1782 Barrett stood in the dock of the Old Bailey accused of stealing clothing and ‘a silver watch with chain’ from an unoccupied house, described as ‘up for rent’.

Found guilty as charged, sentenced to death, he spent the following twelve (12) months on ‘death row’ in one of London’s appalling prisons.

On 11 September 1783 his death penalty was commuted ‘for transportation to America’ for the ‘term of his natural life’ . He was transferred to Censor a Thames River prison-hulk to await shipment.

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Brothers Charles and Herbert Kellan had, a month earlier – August 1783 – boarded Swift a convict transport owned by George Moore a transport merchant.

Paris:  Although Britain, via the Treaty of Versailles (1783) had lost the right to resume ‘transportation to [independent] America’, government  issued George Moore a contract to ship one hundred and forty-three (143) prisoners there.

Prior to the Revolutionary War of American Independence (1775-1783) their ‘service’  would have been sold at a regular ‘slave  scramble’. More precisely prisoners’ ‘service’ – their labour – was sold ‘legally’ for the term of sentence; 7 years, 14 years or for life.

Prisoners reprieved death on condition of ‘transportation to America‘ were purchased by plantation owners.  Male convict worked alongside Negro slaves purchased in Africa and shipped to America for a life-time of labour in Britain’s profitable colonial plantations.

Sussex:  Swift – at Rye off the Sussex coast Herbert and Charles were among prisoners who ‘rose on the crew’ and fled. All were recaptured.  Found guilty of ‘being at large within the kingdom’ – all were sentenced to death.

Eight (8) were executed. The remainder, forgiven death on condition of ‘transportation to America’, returned to the hulks. The Kellans boarded  Censor where they met up with Thomas Barrett.

Remarkably for those times all three (3) men could read and write.  Well educated the brothers determined to find out what ‘transportation to America’ meant in practice. A task delegated to their mother.

After Mrs. Kellan discovered, since  Geo.1 The Transportation Act of 1717-18, convicts transported to America were sold she fought tirelessly to have her sons released. See: Britons, Never Never Shall Be Slaves

One (1) of Mrs Kellan ‘pitiful letters to Evan Nepean and Lord Sydney on behalf of her sons’ survives. It is especially poignant as later one (1) son was hanged in Sydney.

Quite possibly it is the only one of its kind written for a convict sentenced ‘for transportation to America’ who ended up in Australia only to be executed here.

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Few prisoners returned to England. Some survived their sentence and made good.  Most, when set adrift Benjamin Franklin compared to ‘rattle-snakes’, turned to crime and died either destitute or in prison.

So in March 1784, when Charles Kellan and Thomas Barrett were ordered with one hundred and seventy-seven (177) others to board Mercury, another of George Moore’s ships, they knew it was bad news – but perhaps with opportunity.

Devon: Opportunity knocked at Torbay on the Devon coast.  With Charles and Thomas leading the charge a mutiny similar to that of the Swift, took place. See: Mutiny on Swift and Mercury. 

In the confusion some, though not all Mercury’s prisoners, took the opportunity to escape. All were eventually recaptured. Found guilty of ‘return before expiry…being at large within the kingdom’ and once more sentenced to death.

Ground-hog day all were reprieved. Thomas Barrett, although deemed the ring-leader had, in the heat of battle  shown compassion; ‘his intervention had saved the steward’s life and prevented the captain’s ears from being cut off’.

Sentenced for transportation yet again, however this time the destination was – wherever – ‘beyond the seas’.

Thames River:  By the end of May 1784 Thomas Barrett and Charles Kellan found themselves once more on a Thames hulk. This time the dreaded Dunkirk where they were joined by three (3) other Mercury escapees, Joseph Hall, Henry Lavell and John Ryan.

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Portsmouth 1787 – 11 March:  Five (5) years after Barrett’s original sentence (1782) he parted company with Charles Kellan. His mother’s appeal had earned him a full pardon. But his brother Herbert, blind in one (1) eye, boarded the ‘First Fleet’ transport Scarborough.

Along with Joseph Hall, Thomas Barrett boarded Charlotte, another of six (6) ships chartered by the British Government to transport seven hundred and eighty (780) convicted criminals ‘beyond the seas’ to Botany Bay, New Holland – now Australia.

Ryan the youngest of the group and Henry Lavell sailed to their exile 13,000 miles (21,000 km) from home in Friendship.

Portsmouth 1787 – 13 May: The ‘First Fleet’, an armed convoy of eleven (11) vessels with a complement of 1500 souls, one-half of them convicted criminals, under command of Captain Arthur Phillip RN, sailed from England bound for Botany Bay by way of Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town. See: Apollo 11 – Fly Me To The Moon.

‘At Rio de Janeiro…he [Barrett] was involved in passing some forged quarter dollars ingeniously made from some pewter spoons and old buttons and buckles belonging to marines’. Gillen. op.cit.

Brazil 1787 – 6 August- 4 September: When the fleet re-provisioned at Rio de Janeiro for a month, between 6 August and 4 September 1787, Thomas Barrett got into mischief.

He fashioned ‘quarter dollars’ from buckles and buttons given him by marines who went shopping in local Rio markets;  ‘passing [his] forged quarter dollars’.

That he attempted the Rio scam at all tells a lot about Thomas Barrett.  Charismatic he had friends in both camps. Optimistic and resilient, his spirit unbroken by two (2) death sentences and five (5) terrible years of imprisonment; three (3) of them spent in overcrowded, filthy, decaying floating Thames prison-hulks

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 ‘All were ready to depart [Botany Bay ] at daybreak on 24 January when, to everyone’s consternation, two (2) French ships were sighted standing off the heads’. John Moore, The First Fleet Marines 11786-1792., Queensland University Press, 1986

The French presence  triggered a cascade of possibilities – hope – seizure – escape.  At Rio Barrett, a proven leader of men with friends among the marines, had thumbed his nose at authority. Now in ‘unsettled’ times at Sydney Barrett was a man to be reckoned with.

‘As far as the unsettled state of matters would allow‘ Phillip turned his attention to the urgent strategic problems thrown up by La Perouse and his men.

‘The [eighty] Mercuries…were the most feared of the convicts’.

From them Governor Arthur Phillip chose four (4) Thomas Barrett, Henry Lavell, Joseph Hall and John Ryan.  They were accused of robbing or conspiring to rob the government stores-house. See: The Ketch Connection: Michael Barrett  London 1868, Thomas Barrett Sydney 1788, Ronald Ryan Melbourne 1967 

It is however a matter of record, the previous day all males – marine and convict alike, ‘without distinction’ received the mandated ration issued to ‘troops serving in the West Indies’. 

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

Sydney 1788 – 7th February: On the 7th of February, with all the ‘pomp and circumstance of glorious war’ Captain-general Governor Arthur Phillip RN, claimed British sovereignty over New Holland ‘from the Northern extremity of the coast called Cape York…to the Southern extremity…South Cape

Norfolk Island – 14 February:  Most urgent-  a week after claiming British sovereignty over the entire eastern coast of New Holland HMS Supply sailed to Norfolk Island.

‘To secure the same to us, and prevent it being occupied by the subject of any other European power [Lieutenant] King as commandant…a surgeon, a midshipman, a sawyer, a weaver, two marines and sixteen convicts of whom six were women’. Historical Records of New South Wales

Sydney – 27 February:  Two (2) weeks later, a mere month after landing in Sydney Cove, Judge-Advocate Captain David Collins hastily convened a court composed of six (6) military officers.

The four (4) ‘Mercuries’ stood in a make-shift dock accused of stealing food. Found guilty all were  condemned to death. The execution to take place before sunset.

‘Killing a criminal achieved many ends simply and cheaply…for maximum effect there had to be maximum ceremony…a prolonged public display in which the power of authority and the wretchedness of the captive were acted out in a procession which every citizen might see’. Richard Byrne, Prisons and Punishment of London, Grafton – Collins, London.

At 5 pm ‘All the Convicts were summon’d to see the deserved end of their Companions…the unhappy wretches’ were conductd wt. a party of Marines walking before them.

With a large party of Marines drawn up opposite the Gallows…in case an insurrection or rescue should take place.

When they arrived near the large tree fixt as a gallows’ pressure was brought to bear on John Ryan, youngest of the four ;‘he turned king’s evidence [and] his irons were removed’.

Then there were three (3) Barrett, Hall and Lavell.

Major Ross recd. a respite of 24 hours for Lavell and Hall. Arthur Bowes Smyth , Surgeon Lady Penrhyn, First Fleet Journal.

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Then there was one (1) Thomas Barrett.

‘Abt. 1/2 after 6 o’clock pm he express[ed] not the least signs of fear till he mounted the ladder  then he turn’d very pale & seem’d very much shock’d’. Marine Lieutenant Ralph Clark, First Fleet Journal

No hangman came with the ‘First Fleet’ a fellow convict was forced to take the role of executioner.

‘It was some time before the man cd. be prevail’d upon to execute his office nor wd. he at last have comply’d if he had not been severely threaten’d by the Provost Marshall, Mr. Brewer and Major Ross threaten’d to give orders to the Marines to shoot him…but Barrett who was a most vile character was turn’d off abt. half past 6 p.m. John White, Chief Medical Officer, First Fleet Journal.

Although from this distance in time, evidence must be considered circumstantial, it is highly likely when ‘the marines threatened to shoot him’ John Ryan executed his friend.

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Marine Lieutenant William Dawes had provided Thomas Barrett with the detailed technical information for and supervised the engraving of the ‘Botany Bay Medallion’.

‘Maximum ceremony…maximum effect’  given Dawes later actions ( December 1790) it is probable he found Phillip’s tactics ‘killing a criminal achieved many ends simply and cheaply’ morally questionable.  See: Marine Lieutenant William Dawes, ‘The Eternal Flame & ‘Terror’.

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

Thomas Barrett’s execution was first of three (3) malicious acts played out over the following two (2) days.  We can only imagine the thoughts and feeling of all onlookers.  Silent and unseen Aborigines stood on home-ground watching a sadistic ritual unfold.

Convicts and guards, fear-filled strangers newly arrived in a bewildering place 13,000 miles (21,000 km) from home where nothing but the gallows was familiar. See: Blind Mans Bluff

The French were ‘hanging about at Botany Bay’ – ‘ insurrection of rescue’ – New South Wales could be at stake.

‘Parallel to and dependent upon, the Anglo-French duel for command of the sea went their struggle for overseas bases and colonies; here too, the culminating point in a century-long race was reached, with Britain emerging in 1815, with a position so strengthened that she appeared to be the only real colonial power in the world’. Paul Kennedy, the Rise and Fall of the British Naval Mastery, Fontant Press, 3rd Ed. London 1976

American War Map

 ‘New South Wales had been formally annexed by Cook in 1770. If La Perouse had arrived at Botany Bay before Phillip, and had fronted him with a French annexation, the act would have been equivalent to declaration of war on Great Britain’. Prof. G.A. Wood, The Discovery of Australia, 1969 edition. See: Britain By A Short Half-Head

The invasion of New Holland  was a means to an end  ‘in the Anglo-French duel for command of the sea…. Britain emerg[ed] in 1815…the only real colonial power’.

In that ‘duel’ Australia’s First Peoples were collateral damage in Britain’s rise to pre-eminent ‘colonial power’ after Waterloo.

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Following America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 France supported George Washington’s Patriot militia with massive amounts of money, men, munitions and military know-how.

So much military hard-ware and, naval support to such an extent, that Britain could quite rightly hold France responsible for the loss of her American empire –  the colonies of Connecticut, North and South Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

For Captain Arthur Phillip RN and his fellow Royal Navy Officers, particularly galling, even aside from the French  Navy’s successful blockade of the England Channel that disrupted Britain’s long supply lines,  was the pivotal role French Admiral de Grasse played in bottling up the English Navy at Chesapeake in September 1781.

In October 1781, largely as a consequence of that action, General Lord Cornwallis hemmed in and starved of reinforcements, was forced to surrender to a combined French and American force.

Such profound humiliation aroused great passion in every American Loyalist and British Royalist. Especially when it became known, France, as a result of her American success, had revived her ‘enthusiasm for war’.

Yet few Australian historians make meaningful mention of the arrival of La Perouse on the 24th of January 1788.

POST SCRIPT

Why was Thomas Barreett executed? ‘ ‘In case an insurrection should take place’. Single-minded for King and Country Governor Phillip killed Thomas Barrett because, according to legislation,  The Hulks Act, he could. See April Fools Day – The Hulks Act 1776

 

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xxxxxxxxxx Botany Bay 1788 –  20 January: Eight (8) months after leaving England, within thirty-six (36) hours all eleven (11) vessels lay at anchor in Botany Bay.

Phillip assessed; ‘Botany Bay, offered no Security for large Ships’ and with insufficient fresh water for such a large number, unsuitable for permanent settlement.

Port Jackson – 1788, 21 January:. Armed with Cook’s 1770 charts he set off with marines and sailors in three (3) longboats to explore the surrounding country-side. They rowed south as far at Point Sutherland but did not find the sandstone bluffs Cook had sighted, named Port Jackson, but did not enter.

Turning north around mid-afternoon the rowers sighted the towering headlands that matched Cook’s description and entered a vast harbour;  ‘here’ he wrote ‘a thousand Ship of the Line may ride in the most perfect Security’.  

Sydney Cove: The next five (5) miles heading into choppy seas proved to be the rowers most difficult task. Presented with a myriad of inlets Phillip settled on a ‘snug’ deep-water cove and named after Lord Sydney the then Home Secretary.

1788 – 23 January, Botany Bay: By evening they were back in Botany Bay with good news – the ‘First Fleet’ had found a home. Phillip who had commanded a ship in the War of American Independence (1775-1783) was elated.

He had succeeded in what he knew to be the main game getting to New Holland before the French and claiming the island continent ‘ a gateway to India ‘for the British Empire.

Additionally an alternate sea-route for the British Navy via the Southern Oceans would expose Spain’s South American Pacific  ‘treasure colonies’ to attack.

xxxxxx ‘Phillip intended losing no time in relocating the settlement and told the fleet to prepare for departure next morning’. John Moore, First Fleet Marines , 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1987

Who could have conceived the ‘consternation…next morning’ would bring to Botany Bay?

 

Botany Bay –  24 January: HMS Sirius ,her gun-ports open, refused L’Astrolabe and La Boussole entry forcing Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse to take his ships back out to sea.

 

 

xxxxVerbatim accounts of Thomas Barrett’s execution on the 27th February and the proceedings of the 28th – Hall and Lavell – See Blind Mans Bluff and the 29th February – James Freeman – See: Catch 22  are held in the archives of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Facsimiles published in 1913. They can be found in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

2008 – July, Sydney:  Arguably European Australia’s most iconic artefact the medallion was purchased for $ one million (1000,000) AUD in July 2008. It is  on permanent display in the National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour.

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As he had no idea where La Perouse had gone Phillip was alarmed’ and ordered a party south to Point Sutherland to ‘raise English Colours.

‘Raising the flag was one of the acts recognised as an assertion of a prior claim against other colonial powers eyeing off same land’. Professor Larissa Behrendt, The Honest History Book, Invasion or Settlement, ed. David Stephens & Alison Brionowski, New South Books, Sydney 2017

On the  21st Phillip had entered Port Jackson and named Sydney Cove but had not raised ‘English Colours’ there.  Now – the 25th –  he quit Botany Bay and returned to Sydney Cove arriving just on nightfall.

1788 – 25 January, Sydney Cove:  At first light Phillip aboard HMS Supply prepared to quit Botany Bay immediately but foul weather held up departure until after midday.

To Phillip’s intense relief there was not a French ship in sight when, at 7 o’clock that night, Supply dropped anchor in Sydney Cove.

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove:  Next morning at dawn  Captain Phillip and a party of marines landed; ‘hoisted His Majesty’s Colours’ and clinched the deal – Britain’s victory over France. See: Only Men ? Aside from seagulls how many white birds were on the ground at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 – None

‘There would be some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days’. Professor Edward Jenks, History of the Australian Colonies, cited Hugh Egerton, A Short History of British Colonial Policy, Methuen & Co. Ltd, London, 1928  

The fleet was under orders to follow Supply to Port Jackson as soon as safety allowed. High winds and cross- currents made for a dramatic exit; two (2) collisions and a near miss. By 8pm  – 26 January – the entire English fleet were riding alongside HMS Supply.

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‘As part of… {this} world wide European expansion, the British invaded and settled Australia. Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wwars, Conflict in the early colony 1788-1817, New South Press, Sydney, 2018

Historians have largely ignored both the importance of the French arrival and its consequences. Yet with Governor Phillip, the recent loss of America weighing heavily. He rightly saw the French presence as a menace to King and Country.

What the English men, women and children banished to the end of the known world saw in the French and their ships was a glimmer of hope.

Given this dichotomy it seems impossible to overplay the seriousness of the crisis Phillip faced.

He sent Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN, a trusted friend who had served with him during the American War and Marine Lieutenant William Dawes, the fleet’s scientific officer also veteran of that conflict, to Botany Bay where La Perouse and his men were now at anchor.

‘Phillip’s wariness was well-placed‘. King, after dining with La Perouse on La Boussole, formed the opinion, on leaving Botany Bay, La Perouse intended to occupy Norfolk Island 1650 kms to the west of Sydney.

Norfolk Island:  That on the 14th of February 1788 Phillip sent Lieutenant Pilliip Gidley King RN, the only man at that point in time, he knew he could trust, off into the wide blue yonder aboard HMS Supply is a yard-stick of both his determination to thwart La Perouse and his loyalty to King and Country.

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‘Owing to the multiplicity of pressing business necessary to be performed immediately after landing, it was found impossible to read the public commission and take possession of the colony in form, until the 7th February [1788]’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

The preparation of a functional tent settlement was left to the military who reluctantly supervised the convicts’ labour.

‘In one place, a party cutting down the woods; a second setting up a blacksmith’s forge; a third, dragging along a load of stores or provisions; here an officer pitching his marquee, with a detachment of troops parading on one side of him; and a cook’s fire blazing up on the other’. Tench.ibid.

1788 – 6 February: Eleven (11) days later the fleet’s female contingent landed from the ships that had been home for nigh on a year.

Of the fleet’s seven hundred and fifty (750) convicts only two hundred and twenty-one (222) were women; 189 convicts (22 children) 31 wives of marines (23) children and Mary wife of Chaplain Richard Johnson. See: G for Genocide

It is said that dark and stormy night ‘the men got among the women’. No doubt there was intense competition for heterosexual partners but given the overwhelmingly male population, the ‘noisy orgy’ must have been homosexual, predominately male. See: Brokeback Mountain

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‘Of all the places in the world this is the greatest nest of rascals; it is impossible to trust any one of our men, much more any of the convicts; in short, there is no difference between soldier, sailor, or convicts; they are six of the one, or half a dozen of the other….I took a stick out of one of the serjeant’s hands and gave him a sound thrashing…I will give him the same every day for this month  come’. Marine Lieutenant Ralph Clark, First Fleet Journal

 

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The charge however deserves investigation. All male convicts were rationed as ‘troops serving in the West Indies’ andon that very day they had received a week’s supply of provisions’.

 

EPILOGUE

‘The European colonial expansion between and twentieth centuries led to frontier wars on every continent’. Gapps. ibid.

Barrett’s execution as a diversion served as a template for the death of another convict

1790 – December, Botany Bay: ‘John M’Entire the governor’s game-keeper (the person of whom Baneelon had, on former occasions, shown so much dread and hatred)’ provided the ignition point for Britain’s ‘frontier wars’. See: John Mc Intyre – Death of A Sure Thing

‘Military and police raids against dissenting Aboriginal groups lasted from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries. These raids had commenced by December 1790’. Professor Bruce Kercher, An Unruly Child, A History of Law in Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1994

Postscript

Despite Mrs Kellan’s pleas to save both sons Herbert Kellan was hanged at Sydney in 1806.

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American Map

 

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