‘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 both were sentenced to hang. Reprieved and commuted for a life-time of military service in Africa they were 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.

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

1782 – 1 November, Africa: Limpus, with the ‘boys’ Rugless and Woodham, embarked onto Den Keyser a ship chartered by government to transport forty (40) convicts to Goree, Senegal a voyage of (4) weeks. The fort settlement had been seized from the French during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).

1782 – December, Goree: 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, refused permission to land, were carried further along the coast disembarked at Cape Coast Castle; ‘left to fend for themselves’ most died of starvation or disease.

At Goree Limpus found enough work to survive. Woodham and Rugless were taken to their assigned garrison only to find it in complete disarray peopled mostly with enlisted soldiers who themselves had been exiled in lieu of hanging.

A few months earlier, in July 1782, Joseph Wall the sadistic Lieutenant-Governor of Goree, 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 and venereal disease, vengeful natives or at the hands of an insane governor.

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

THOMAS LIMPUS ‘return before expiry of sentence’

1783 -August, England: Limpus was first to leave Goree and by mid August 1783 was back in England but freedom did not last long.

1783 – September, London: He was arrested ‘in the notorious enclave of Seven Dials’ a month later.

1783 – 24 October, Old Bailey: Limpus appeared in the dock of the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey in October, indicted with being at large within the kingdom’.

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

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

1784 – 30 March, Gravesend: Mercury sailed for America at the end of March 1784, among the one hundred and seventy-nine (179) convicts were Thomas Barrett and Charles Kellan.

Kellan was an old hand. A year earlier (August 1783) he had been down this road to America on Swift, another of George Moore’s vessels. He was among prisoners who ‘rose on the [Swift] crew’ and escaped at Rye on the Sussex coast.

All were retaken, eight (8) hanged, the remainder again reprieved death ‘for transportation’ returned to Thames hulks. See: Mutiny on Swift and Mercury

Charles Kellan an educated villain knew, as with the Swift, 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 their labour.

When England’s convicts arrived in America, they were sold along with their labour, to the highest bidder at a ‘regular slave scramble’ in the open market place. 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 Mercury. The weather was against them, some convicts drowned when thrown into choppy seas from commandeered life-boats, a few were rescued by HMS Helena

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

Thomas Limpus was among those who made it onto dry land. With Thomas Barrett and Charles Kellan he was 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, 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

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

1788 – 27/28 January, Sydney: On landing in Sydney Cove Thomas Limpus sought out Woodham and Rugless. The three (3) friends swapped their amazing, albeit atrocious stories, of relentless suffering and vindictive retribution.

SAMUEL WOODHAM – ‘return before expiry’

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

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

JOHN RUGLESS – ‘return before expiry’.

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

1787 – 27th February, Portsmouth: 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’.


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 – Norfolk Island: Limpus was among the evacuees he died on the island in 1801.

SAMUEL WOODHAM – ‘seems to have led a quiet, uneventful life the colony’.

1799, October, Sydney: He remained in Sydney and in October 1799 received a conditional pardon.

1802, Hawkesbury: was granted thirty (30) acres of farming land at Mulgrave Place on the Hawkesbury River and died there in 1802.

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’.

1790 – March, Norfolk Island: In March 1790 John Rugless too was  evacuated to Norfolk Island.

1804 – June: ‘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′

+ 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’.

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 break and enter non-violent crime, stealing clothing and a silver watch from unoccupied premises.

1783 – 10 September, River Thames:  He spent a year on remand indicating evidence against him may have been inconclusive. Nevertheless at Barrett’s next appearance a year later –  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. Some convicts drowned. Surviving escapees were hunted down by beaters with the aid of dogs.

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

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

1787 – 11 March, Portsmouth: Barrett, removed from Dunkirk, 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 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.

Thomas Barrett, unlike most the fleet’s convicts could read, he wrote a fine hand and it seems was never idle.

1787 – 7 August, Brazil: At Rio 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.

1788 – January, Sydney Cove: According to Mollie Gillen Barrett’s ‘ingenuity [was] deplored by surgeon John White’. Coupled with his confidence and irrepressible tenacity that ‘ingenuity’ probably cost Barrett his life.

1788 – 27 February, Sydney Cove: ‘On the most shaky evidence’ at the end of February 1788, just a month after disembarking in Sydney Cove, Thomas Barrett with Henry Lavell, Joseph Hall and John Ryan, hulk friends of long-standing, 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

‘The arm of a large tree was fixed upon as a gallows’.

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

Prayers were said as nooses were 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 belong to Dr John White the fleet’s Chief Medical Officer who, each day during the eight (8) month voyage, recorded the temperature and took barometer readings.

So it seems highly likely White, who had a deep if not obsessive interest in art, supervised the engraving and may even have supplied Barrett some of the medallion’s technical information. See: Betrayed Thomas Barrett                                                                                    

Although Dr White was without doubt an excellent administrator records show he possessed a very nasty streak. He could have pleaded on Barrett’s behalf with a vengeful Governor Phillip, instead his silence played a significant part in the gruesome pantomime that was Barrett’s execution. 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.

Thomas Barrett’s remains lie in an unmarked grave ‘dug very near the gallows’.

2018 – 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. As always the anniversary of his death goes un-remarked.


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