George Barrington, Irish-born pickpocket, popular London socialite, Australian pioneer, and author, is born in Maynooth, County Kildare on May 14, 1755. His father is either a working silversmith named Waldron, or a Captain Barrington, English troop commander.
Barrington’s escapades, arrests, and trials are widely chronicled in the London press of his day. For over a century following his death, and still perhaps today, he is 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 appears.
In 1771 Barrington robs his schoolmaster in Dublin and runs away from school, becoming a member of a touring theatrical company at Drogheda under the assumed name of Barrington. At the Limerick races he joins the manager of the company in picking pockets. The manager is detected and sentenced to penal transportation, and Barrington flees to London, where he assumes clerical dress and continues his pickpocketing. At Covent Garden theatre he robs the Russian Count Orlov of a snuff box, said to be worth £30,000. He is detected and arrested but, as Count Orlov declines to prosecute, is discharged, though subsequently he is sentenced to three years’ hard labour for pocket-picking at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
On his release, Barrington is again caught at his old practices and sentenced to five years’ hard labour, but influence secures his release on the condition that he leave England. He accordingly goes for a short time to Dublin and then returns to London, where he is once more detected pocket-picking, and, in 1790, sentenced to seven years’ penal transportation.
One account states that on the voyage out to Botany Bay a conspiracy is hatched by the convicts on board to seize the ship. Barrington discloses the plot to the captain, and the latter, on reaching New South Wales, reports him favourably to the authorities, with the result that Barrington obtains a warrant of emancipation in 1792, becoming subsequently superintendent of convicts and later high constable of Parramatta.
While enjoying the beginnings of his prosperity in Australia, Barrington romances and cohabits with a native woman, Yeariana, who soon leaves him to return to her family. He says that Yeariana possessed “a form that might serve as a perfect model for the most scrupulous statuary.”
Barrington dies on December 27, 1804 at the age of 49 in Parramatta, New South Wales.
At some point in the 1785–1787 period Barrington marries and the couple has a child, but the names of the wife and child, and their eventual fates, are not known.