Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barrington, George

BARRINGTON, GEORGE (b. 1755), pickpocket and author, was born at Maynooth, county Kildare, Ireland, on 14 May 1755. His father, Henry Waldron, was a working silversmith, and his mother, whose maiden name was Naish, was a mantua maker. At the age of seven young Waldron was sent to a school, kept by one John Donelly at Maynooth, and afterwards a medical man named Driscol took him under his roof for the purpose of educating him. Afterwards Dr. Westropp, a dignitary of the Irish church, placed him at a free grammar school in Dublin, with a view to his entering the university. A quarrel with a schoolfellow, whom he stabbed with a penknife, led to his being flogged, and he immediately afterwards ran away from the school (May 1771), having first stolen some money from the master, and joined a company of strolling players at Drogheda under the assumed name of Barrington. John Price, the manager of the company, prevailed on Barrington to join with him in picking pockets at the Limerick races. Price was detected and sentenced to transportation, and Barrington, in alarm, fled to England. Here he assumed the clerical habit, and pursued his career as a ‘genteel pickpocket’ with varying success. He went to court, and at a levée on the queen's birthday succeeded in robbing a nobleman of a diamond order. At Covent Garden theatre he robbed the Russian prince Orloff of a gold snuffbox set with brilliants, generally supposed to be worth no less than 30,000l. On the latter occasion, however, he was detected and brought before Sir John Fielding at Bow Street; but as Prince Orloff declined to prosecute he was dismissed. At length he was detected in picking the pocket of a low woman at Drury Lane theatre, for which, being indicted and convicted at the Old Bailey, he was sentenced to ballast-heaving, or, in other words, to three years' hard labour on the river Thames on board the hulks at Woolwich (1777). In consequence of his good behaviour he was set at liberty at the end of twelve months, but he was again detected picking pockets almost immediately afterwards, and this time was sentenced to five years' hard labour on the Thames (1778). An influential gentleman, who happened to visit the hulks, obtained Barrington's release, on the condition that he should leave the kingdom. He accordingly repaired to Dublin, where he resumed his evil courses, and after visiting Edinburgh ventured to come back to London. On 15 Sept. 1790 he was tried at the Old Bailey on a charge of picking the pocket of Mr. Henry Hare Townsend, and was sentenced on the 22nd to seven years' transportation. On his several trials he addressed the court with considerable eloquence, and his superior education and gentlemanly deportment procured for him a widespread notoriety. Two accounts of his life and adventures were published at this period, and had an extensive circulation. Soon after George Barrington's conviction, Dr. Shute Barrington [q. v.] was advanced to the rich bishopric of Durham, a circumstance which gave rise to the epigram—

Two namesakes of late, in a different way,
With spirit and zeal did bestir 'em;
The one was transported to Botany Bay,
The other translated to Durham.

George Barrington embarked for Botany Bay, and on the voyage was the means of preventing the success of a formidable conspiracy among the convicts who attempted to seize the ship. For this service he received a pecuniary reward from the captain, who, on arriving at New South Wales, recommended him to the favourable consideration of the governor. He obtained in 1792 the first warrant of emancipation ever issued.

Governor Hunter authorised the opening of a theatre at Sydney. The principal actors were convicts, and the price of admission was meal or rum, taken at the door. The first play represented (16 Jan. 1796) was Dr. Young's tragedy, ‘The Revenge,’ and Barrington wrote the celebrated prologue, beginning—

From distant climes, o'er widespread seas, we come,
Though not with much éclat or beat of drum;
True patriots we, for be it understood,
We left our country for our country's good.
No private views disgraced our generous zeal,
What urged our travels was our country's weal;
And none will doubt, but that our emigration
Has proved most useful to the British nation.

For several years Barrington was superintendent of the convicts. He also held the office of high constable of Paramatta, New South Wales, for a considerable period, and was much esteemed by the governor and the other officials on account of his loyal and orderly conduct. He lived to a very old age and died at Paramatta, but the date of his death does not appear to be recorded.

His works are:

  1. ‘A Voyage to Botany Bay, with a description of the country, manners, customs, religion, &c. of the natives,’ London (1801), 8vo, with a second part entitled ‘A Sequel to Barrington's Voyage to New South Wales, comprising an interesting narrative of the transactions and behaviour of the convicts,’ &c. There is another edition printed at New York, n.d. Other editions are entitled ‘An Account of a Voyage to New South Wales, enriched with beautiful coloured prints, London, 1803, 1810, 8vo, with an engraved portrait of the author prefixed.’
  2. ‘The History of New South Wales, including Botany Bay, Port Jackson, Pamaratta [sic], Sydney, and all its dependancies, from the original discovery of the island,’ &c., London, 1802, 8vo.
  3. ‘The History of New Holland, from its first discovery in 1616 to the present time,’ London, 1808, 8vo; the second edition illustrated with maps.

There also passes under Barrington's name, though he was probably not the author of it, a book called ‘The London Spy, or the Frauds of London detected,’ Falkirk, 1809, 12mo; 4th edition, London, 1805, 12mo.

[Genuine Life and Trial of George Barrington, 1790; Memoirs of George Barrington, 1790; Life and Extraordinary Adventures of George Barrington, Darlington (1795?); Life, Times, and Adventures of George Barrington, London (1820?); Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 294, 3rd ser. iii. 120, iv. 245, xi. 476; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. ed. Bohn; Cat. of Printed Books in Brit. Mus.; Heaton's Australian Dict. of Dates and Men of the Time (1879), ii. 39, 86.]

T. C.