‘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

image of charlotte medal

The Charlotte Medal, created by Thomas Barrett

Sydney Cove 1788 – 27 February 27: A lifer’  Thomas Barrett was the first Englishman hanged in European 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. The fleet’s 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.  Controversy over provenance of paintings;  ‘by  the artist known as the Port Jackson Painter’ in the Watling Collection, London Natural History Museum, 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 hang, he spent the following twelve (12) months on ‘death row’ in one of London’s appalling prisons.

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

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

America:  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) convicts were sold at regular ‘slave  scrambles’.

To be precise prisoners’ ‘service’ –  their labour – was sold ‘legally’, mainly to plantation owners for the term of sentence; 7 years, 14 years or life.

Males worked alongside Negro slaves purchased in Africa and shipped to America to labour in Britain’s profitable colonial tobacco and cotton plantations. Many female prisoners served their sentence as house-servants.

Sussex:  Swiftat 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 were reprieved and returned to the hulks. The Kellans boarded  Censor where they met up with Thomas Barrett.

Remarkably for those times all three (3) could read and write.  The well educated  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, the 50,000 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 the letter, written on behalf of a convict sentenced ‘to America’ who ended up in Australia only to be executed here, is the only one of its kind.


Few convicts returned to England. Some survived their sentence and made good.  Most when set adrift, Benjamin Franklin compared them 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 into the country-side. All were eventually recaptured. Found guilty of ‘return before expiry…being at large within the kingdom’ and sentenced once more 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 once more found themselves 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.


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 Charles a full pardon. But Herbert his brother, 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.

John 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.  

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

‘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.

The marines took the ‘forged dollars’ and went shopping in the local Rio markets. Captain Phillip had to work hard to avert an ‘international incident’ that could well have led to mass seizure of the fleet’s vessels.

That Thomas Barrett attempted the scam at all tells a lot about the man.  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 in overcrowded, filthy, decaying floating Thames prison-hulks

⇐ Review  Botany Bay 1788 ⇐

‘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

1788 –  18/20 January:   Within thirty-six (36) hours after voyaging across thirteen thousand (13,000) miles, twenty-one (21, 000 km) of imperfectly explored oceans‘ by way of Spanish Tenerife, Portuguese Brazil and Dutch Cape Town the entire  ‘First Fleet’ was safely at anchor in Botany Bay. See: Apollo 11 – Fly Me To The Moon.

‘All were ready to depart [Botany Bay for Sydney Cove] 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

Phillip immediately turned his attention to the urgent strategic problems thrown up by the arrival of La Perouse and his men.

‘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

Proclamation Day –  7th February:  Without consent or treaty, but 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’.

‘It is much to the credit of those in office [Pitt administration] that an empire has been founded in the south, which time will render much superior to that which their predecessors [North administration [have lost in the west [America]…..Anon. to Evan Nepean, Historical Records of New South Wales.

A veteran of the American War,  the recent (1783) loss  of Britain’s ‘empire in the west’  her thirteen (13) American colonies  in 1783 weighed heavily on Governor Phillip.

‘Parrallel to and dependent upon,  in the Anglo-French duel for command of the sea went their struggle for overseas bases and colonies’. Paul Kennedy, the Rise and Fall of the British Naval Mastery, Fontana Press, 3rd Ed. London 1976

Phillip had, by the narrowest of margins, succeeded in what he knew to be the main game, getting to New Holland before the French to secure Britain ‘a gateway to India’. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head – Arthur Phillip  & Jean Francois La Perouse.

‘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

Norfolk Island:  14 February:  HMS Supply sailed to ‘secure the same to us, and prevent it being occupied by the subject of any other European power .

[Lieutenant Gidley] King as commandant…a surgeon, a midshipman, a sawyer, a weaver, two marines and sixteen convicts of whom six were women’ raised the Union Jack and established an outpost of empire on the uninhabited island. Historical Records of New South Wales

The French were ‘hanging about at Botany Bay’.  Phillip for whom ‘this Country [was] a most Valuable acquisition’ quite rightly saw the French presence a menace to King and Country.

Whereas among the ‘unsettled’ Robinson Cruscoe captives, banished to the end of the known world, the French triggered a cascade of possibilities – hope – seizure –  rescue – insurrection – escape.

It is impossible therefore, given the dichotomy, to overplay the seriousness of the crisis facing Governor Arthur Phillip RN.

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

Sydney – 27 February: Judge-Advocate Marine Captain David Collins convened a court composed of six (6) military officers.

‘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.

Governor Phillip chose four (4).‘Mercuries‘. Thomas Barrett, Henry Lavell, Joseph Hall and John Ryan were accused ‘on shaky evidence’ of robbing food from the government stores-house.

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

The men stood together  in a make-shift dock. Found guilty as charged all were  condemned to death. The execution to take place before sunset.

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.

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’.  See: The Ketch Connection: Michael Barrett  London 1868, Thomas Barrett Sydney 1788, Ronald Ryan Melbourne 1967 

‘Maximum effect’- 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 pm. John White, Chief Medical Officer, First Fleet Journal.

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

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


‘Maximum ceremony’

Thomas Barrett’s execution was first of three (3) malicious acts played out over the following two (2) days.  The thoughts and feelings of all the onlookers can only be imagined.

Aborigines on home ground, silent and unseen, watched the sadistic ritual unfold. Strangers, fear-filled and bewildered, marooned 13,000 miles (21,000 km) from home where nothing but the gallows was familiar. See: Blind Mans Bluff

Battles of American War of Independance

‘I think with perseverance [this country] will answer every purpose proposed by Government, and that this Country will hereafter be a most Valuable acquisition to Great Britain from its situation’. Governor Arthur Phillip to William Petty, 2nd Earl Shelburne, Marquis of Lansdowne, 3 July 1788.  Oxford Book of Australian Letters, ed, Brenda Niall and John Thompson, Oxford University Press, London 1998

France had, following America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776, supported George Washington’s Patriot militia with massive amounts of money, men and munitions.

‘The Declaration was not meant for King George 111. The British monarch had already gotten the message…Instead [it] was written as a call for help from France and Spain’. Larrie D. Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, Intro. American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who saved it. Vintage Press, Penguin Random House. 2016

So much military hard-ware and, naval support flowed to George Washington’s Patriots and, to such an extent, that Britain quite rightly held France responsible for the loss of her ’empire in the west’ –  the colonies of New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia,  Rhode Island,  North and South Carolina, Delaware and Georgia.

The profound humiliation of defeat aroused great passion in every British Royalist.  But post-war (1783) when France revived her ‘enthusiasm for war’ ramped up  ship-building and copper sheathed the hulls of exiting stock for greater speed and manoeuvrability, the deep hatred Britons reserved for the arch-enemy across the Channel, reached fever pitch.

Chespeake:  This was especially so among veterans of the American War, Captain Arthur Phillip RN and many of his fellow Royal Navy Officers.

Particularly galling, even aside from the French  Navy’s successful blockade of the England Channel that had 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.

‘The interventions of the French navy, in the Channel, off Gibraltar, in the West Indies, off Yorktown, had clearly played a considerable part in Britain’s failure to win the war in America.  As for India, it had to remain in a strategical back-water, while Britons had their backs to the wall in so many other vital theatres’. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, 3rd ed. Fontana Press, 1991

Yorktown: In October 1781, largely as a consequence of De Grasse’s action at Chespeake , General Lord Charles Cornwallis hemmed in and starved of reinforcements and heavy artillery surrendered the survivors of his large army to a combined French and American force in October 1781.


1786:  It was time to take for Britain to take India off the back-burner.

‘In need not enlarge on the benefit of stationing a large body of troops in New South Wales when we want to add to the strength of India.’ Anon. to Evan Nepean, Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1

Despite Governor Phillip’s dramatic reaction to the arrival of La Perouse on the 24th of January 1788 the importance of the event and its implications so amply demonstrated by his frantic dash to occupy Norfolk Island and,  the macabre pantomime of life and death, he used as a diversion, have been swept under the carpet,  ignored completely by Australia’s historians.

‘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. ibid.

Australia’s First Peoples were collateral damage in the ‘struggle for overseas bases and colonies’ that saw Britain, due to shifting political alliances, geographacial repositioning  and military dominance,  rise to pre-eminence as; ‘the only real colonial power in the world’.

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

1815 – Waterloo: The Duke of Wellington’s complete and final victory over Emperor Napoleon at Waterloo delivered Britain ‘the Jewel in the Crown’ –  India.


2008 – July, Sydney:  Arguably European Australia’s most iconic artefact the Botany Bay 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.

A plaque on the corner of Essex and Harrington Streets, Sydney marks Thomas Barrett’s fleeting presence here.

Although Barrett left no descendants that may not be true of the man we can speculate was forced to execute his friend.

In February 1788 Barrett’s execution was a diversion; ‘in case an insurrection should take place’.  It served as a template for the death of another convict in December 1790.

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)’. See:  A Tethered Goat – John Mc Intyre


‘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

Verbatim 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.




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