George Barrington

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George Barrington robs Prince Orlov

George Barrington (14 May 1755 – 27 December 1804), an Irish-born pickpocket, popular London socialite, Australian pioneer (following his transportation to Botany Bay), and author. His escapades, arrests, and trials, were widely chronicled in the London press of his day. For over a century following his death, and still perhaps today, he was most celebrated for the line "We left our country for our country's good." The attribution of the line to Barrington is considered apocryphal since the 1911 discovery by Sydney book collector Alfred Lee of the 1802 book in which the line first appeared.[1]

Personal[edit]

Barrington was born at Maynooth, the son of a working silversmith named Waldron, or Captain Barrington, English troop commander.[2]

At some point in the 1785–1787 period he married and the couple had a child, but the names of the wife and child, and their eventual fates, are not known.[3]

While enjoying the beginnings of his prosperity in Australia, Barrington romanced and cohabited with a native woman, Yeariana, who soon left him to return to her family. Barrington said that Yeariana possessed "a form that might serve as a perfect model for the most scrupulous statuary."[4]

Barrington died at Parramatta in 1804.[5]

Career[edit]

Pickpocketing[edit]

In 1771 he robbed his schoolmaster at Dublin and ran away from school, becoming a member of a touring theatrical company under the assumed name of Barrington. At the Limerick races he joined the manager of the company in picking pockets. The manager was detected and sentenced to transportation, and Barrington fled to London, where he assumed clerical dress and continued his pickpocketing. At Covent Garden theatre he robbed the Russian Count Orlov of a snuffbox, said to be worth £30,000. He was detected and arrested, but as Count Orlov declined to prosecute, was discharged, though subsequently he was sentenced to three years hard labour for pocket-picking at Drury Lane theatre.[5]

On his release he was again caught at his old practices and sentenced to five years hard labour, but influence secured his release on the condition that he left England. He accordingly went for a short time to Dublin, and then returned to London, where he was once more detected pocket-picking, and, in 1790, sentenced to seven years transportation.

At Botany Bay[edit]

One account states that on the voyage out to Botany Bay a conspiracy was hatched by the convicts on board to seize the ship. Barrington disclosed the plot to the captain, and the latter, on reaching New South Wales, reported him favourably to the authorities, with the result that in 1792 Barrington obtained a warrant of emancipation (the first issued), becoming subsequently superintendent of convicts and later high constable of Parramatta.[5]

Literary works[edit]

According to his biographer Richard S. Lambert, the first volume of Barrington's memoirs about Australia, "A Voyage to Botany Bay," is the work of Barrington's that is least changed, or wholly invented, by editors and publishers. Lambert goes on to say that the later works published under his name in 1802 and 1810, as well as other works published after his death, are inventions by publishers, incorporating the works of other authors in order to create sales.[6]

It is in fact, in the 1802 volume that the poem with the famous line ascribed to Barrington appears, a 48-line "Prologue" said to have been written for the 1796 opening of a Sydney theatre.[7] In 1905, the Sydney book collector Alfred Lee discovered the 1802 English book "Original Poems and Translations...chiefly by Susanna Watts," which collected poems by Watts and others. The "Prologue" in the book included a pencil notation attributing it to a "Hy. Carter, Esq." The Henry Carter version is in fact, somewhat differently worded than the version ascribed to Barrington, and according to Lambert clearly referred to the 1800 opening of another Sydney theatre. It seemed obvious to Lambert, and perhaps Lee, that Barrington's publishers in 1802 had taken the poem and subtly changed it to make it seem to be about the 1796 theatre opening in which Barrington took part.[8]

Latter-day renown[edit]

Whatever doubts may exist about the authorship of the "Prologue," its most famous line has become an iconic part of Australian culture. (For example, it is quoted in the film Breaker Morant and provides the title of the play Our Country's Good). It begins:

From distant climes, o'er wide-spread seas, we come,
Though not with much éclat or beat of drum,
True patriots all: for, be it understood:
We left our country for our country's good.
—George Barrington, A History of New South Wales

Works[edit]

  • A Voyage to New South Wales. In two volumes, the first of which is "A Voyage to Botany Bay." London, 1795 and 1801.
  • The History of New South Wales. London, 1802 and 1810.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Lambert 1930, pp. 246-247.
  2. ^ "Barrington, George (1755? - 1804)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1. MUP. 1966. pp. 62–63. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  3. ^ Lambert 1930, p. 145.
  4. ^ Lambert 1930, pp. 234-235.
  5. ^ a b c Serle, Percival (1949). "Barrington, George". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  6. ^ Lambert 1930, pp. 244, 252, 257.
  7. ^ Lambert 1930, pp. 244-247
  8. ^ Lambert 1930, pp. 247-248.

References[edit]

  • Box, Sheila. The real George Barrington?: The Adventures of a notorious London Pickpocket, later Head Constable of the Infant Colony of New South Wales. Melbourne, Victoria: Arcadia, 2001.
  • Garvey, Nathan. The Celebrated George Barrington: A Spurious Author, the Book Trade, and Botany Bay. Potts Point, NSW: Hordern House, 2008.
  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Barrington, George". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography which in turn cites:
    • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1-4
    • Lambert, Richard S. Prince of Pickpockets. London: Faber & Faber Limited, 1930.
    • Petherick, E.A. (ed). The Torch and Colonial Book Circular, vol 1,. no 3, 1888
    • Ferguson, J.A. 'Studies in Australian Bibliography', Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 16, part 1, 1930, pp. 51–80
    • Bonwick transcripts, biography (State Library of New South Wales).
  • Lambert, Richard S. Prince of Pickpockets. London: Faber & Faber Limited, 1930.

External links[edit]