BETRAYED – THOMAS BARRETT – MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

‘The arm of a large tree situated between the Tents of the Men and Women was fixt upon as a Gallowsthe body hung an hour and was then buried in a grave dug very near the Gallows’. Surgeon Bowes Smyth, Journal 1787-1789, Australian Documents Library, Sydney,1979

1788 – 27 February, Sydney Cove: Thomas Barrrett was the first man hanged in European Australia just one (1) month after disembarking in Sydney Cove.

1788 – 27 February, Sydney Cove:  About 5pm on the afternoon of 27 February 1788, from a rope secured to ‘the arm of a large tree’ Thomas Barrett strangled slowly.

At 6 pm his body was cut down and Dr John White, as chief medical officer, almost certainly certified his death. Link: Act 1, From Here To Eternity

‘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 at Botany Bay’. Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia, Library of Australian History.

The silver coloured medallion measured 74mm (3 inches). The obverse depicts Charlotte one of the ‘First Fleet’s six (6) troop transports chartered for the eight (8) month voyage, Portsmouth to Botany Bay.

The reverse has a precise reckoning of the fleet’s voyage of 13,000 miles (21,000 km). Beginning; ” Sailed/the Charlotte of /London from Spit Head the 13 of May 1787. Bound for Botany Bay in the Island of New Holland’…. arrived Botany Bay/the 20 Jany…Diftance [distance] from Great Britain/miles/13106′.

It is believed Thomas Barrett fashioned the medallion from a kidney dish belonging to Dr John White the fleet’s chief medical officer.

The two (2) men must have formed a relationship. Until very recently it appeared highly likely that it was White who supplied Thomas Barrett with all the technical information.

White kept a weather diary and during the voyage took daily readings of temperature and barometer. It is also implied he  calculated the fleet’s position ‘per time-keeper, and lunar Ob[servation]‘.

From where White obtained the most important of this information -latitude and longitude – must now be examined?

There can be no doubt Dr White was a skilled medical administrator. The low mortality on the ‘First Fleet’ is attributed in large part to his dedication to Captain Arthur Phillip’s exacting orders regarding rationing, exercise and attention to cleanliness.

‘The arrival in June 1790 of the Second Fleet tested White and his staff to their utmost. About 500 convicts were landed dying or seriously ill. Despite lack of medicines and hospital accommodation White and his assistants nursed more than half of them back to health’. Rex Rienits, John White, Australian Dictionary of  Biography.

1790 – June, Sydney: And when the second fleet – ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ – arrived in June 1790 the colony was swamped with starving and extremely ill Englishmen. Under White’s direction many lives were saved but even so, 15% of prisoners landed alive died within weeks of arrival.

‘A similar crisis arose [again] with the arrival of the Third Fleet between July and September 1791. At one time about 600 newly-arrived convicts were under medical treatment and incapable of work and in 1792 the appalling total of 436 died’. Rex Rienits. ibid.

See: How the Savagery of Slavery Came To Australia

Thomas Barrett and John White would have spent considerable time in relationship as White supervised his vision for the Botany Bay Medallion.

1788 – 27 February, Sydney: Yet on 27 February as; ‘he [Barrett] expressed not the least signs of fear till he mount’d the ladder & then he turn’d very pale & seemed very much shock’d’. Arthur Bowes Smyth. op.cit.

A dark shadow lies over Dr John White’s judgement and integrity.

1788 – August, Sydney: White fought a duel with William Balmain the colony’s most competent surgeon in August 1788.  Subsequently, whenever Balmain applied for promotion, White bitterly opposed each and every application.

White ‘followed the time-honoured custom of assuming the credit for his subordinates’ discovery’.

Dennis Considen, one such subordinate, was belatedly credited with recognising the efficiency of eucalyptus oil as an antiseptic and discovering uses for its resin-gum. White had initially claimed that credit for himself.

1793 – 7 October, Sydney:  White similarly muddied the waters over provenance of paintings by Thomas Watling.

The young Scotsman charged and found guilty of forging ‘guinea notes on the Bank of Scotland’ had, after an eventful passage that included an escape at Cape Town, fetched up in Sydney in October 1793 and was assigned to Dr John White.

Although Watling regarded himself as a landscape painter his;‘ chief employment for White was to make drawings of birds, animals, and plants’. White denied Watling the right to sign his drawings and paintings.

The Watling Collection, held now in the British Natural History Museum, has never been placed on pubic display. The reason given; of the ‘London collection …only 123 of the 512 drawings [and] five [landscapes] are signed by Watling, and it is doubtful if any of its unsigned landscapes can be attributed to him. Rex and Thea Rienits, Early Artists of Australia. ibid.

It is not too fanciful to suppose on 27 February 1788 Thomas Barrett believed he had tapped into John White’s humanity. How wrong he was. ‘he [Barrrett] had long merited the ignominious death which he was about to suffer’. John White Journal of A Voyage to New South Wales, Oxford City Press, 2011 

‘the body hung for an hour & was then buried in a grave dug very near the Gallows’. Bowes Smyth. ibid.

If Dr. White did not supply the precise ‘time and Luna Ob[servations] from where had they come? See: Lieutenant William Dawes & ‘The Eternal Flame’

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