The Gentleman-Pickpocket. Several times convicted, Sentenced twice to hard labour on the Thames, and finally, on September 27, 1798, transported to Botany Bay
PERHAPS never splendid talents were more perverted than by that notorious character, so well known as George Barrington. We could scarcely believe that even in the melancholy catalogue of crimes, a man, of excellent education and accomplished manners, could be found descending to the degraded character of a pickpocket.
George Waldron (alias Barrington) was born at a village called Maymooth, in the county of Kildare, Ireland. His father, Henry Waldron, was a working silversmith; and his mother, whose maiden name was Naith, was a mantua-maker, and occasionally a midwife. His parents though not affluent, had him instructed in reading and writing, at an early age; afterwards, through the bounty of a medical gentleman, in the neighbourhood, he was taught common arithmetic, the elements of geography, and English grammar.
When sixteen years of age, he was noticed and patronized by a dignitary in the church of Ireland, who placed him at a free grammar school, and intended him for the university; however, he forfeited this gentleman's favour by his ill conduct at school, having, in a quarrel, stabbed one of his school-fellows with a pen-knife. For this vindictive act he was well flogged; in consequence of which he ran away from school, in 1771, having previously found means to steal ten or twelve guineas from his master, and a gold repeating watch from his master's sister. He walked all night till he arrived at an obscure inn at Drogheda, where he happened to meet and become acquainted with a company of strolling players, whose manager was one John Price, an abandoned character; who having been convicted of a fraud in London, was an involuntary exile in Ireland, until the expiration of the term for which he was sentenced to be transported.
He now engaged our fugitive, who, in consequence, adopted the name of Barrington, as one of his performers, and who, it seems, became the hero of his company. While performing the character of Jaffier, in 'Venice Preserved,' he made a conquest of the tender Belvidera (Miss Egerton) and to the credit of Barrington it must be acknowledged, that he took no mean advantage of her passion, but returned it with perfect sincerity.
The company being now reduced by the expenses of travelling, etc. to extreme indigence, Price, the manager, prevailed upon Barrington to undertake the profession of a pickpocket, which business be commenced in the summer of the year 1771, having then renounced the stage. He soon after lost his faithful Miss Egerton, who was drowned, in the eighteenth year of her age, in crossing the river Boyne, through the culpable negligence of a ferryman.
He then commenced what is called a gentleman pickpocket, by affecting the airs and importance of a man of fashion; but was so much alarmed at the detection and conviction of his preceptor Price (who was sentenced to transportation for seven years) that he hastened to Dublin, where he practised his pilfering art during dark evenings.
At one of the races in the county of Carlow, he was detected picking the pocket of Lord B. but on restoring the property, this nobleman declined any prosecution, and Barrington accordingly left Ireland, and for the first time appeared in England in 1773. On his first visit to Ranelagh with a party, he left his friends, and picked the pockets of the Duke of L. and Sir W. of a considerable sum; and also took from a lady a watch, with all which he got off undiscovered and rejoined his friends.
In 1775, he visited the most celebrated watering places, particularly Brighton, and being supposed a gentleman of fortune and family, was noticed by persons of the first distinction. On his return to London, he formed a connexion with one Lowe, and became a more daring pickpocket. He went to court on the queen's birthday, as a clergyman, and not only picked several pockets, but found means to deprive a nobleman of his diamond order, and retired from the place without suspicion. It is said that this booty was disposed of to a Dutch Jew. Count Orlow, the Russian minister, being in one of the boxes of Drury-lane playhouse, was robbed of a gold snuff-box, set with diamonds, estimated to be worth an immense sum; and one of the count's attendants suspecting Barrington, seized him, and found the snuff-box in his possession. He was examined by Sir John Fielding, but the count, being in a foreign country, was influenced by motives of delicacy to decline a prosecution.
Being soon after in the House of Lords, when an appeal of an interesting nature was to come on, a Mr. G. recognized his person, and applying to the deputy usher of the black rod, he was disgracefully turned out. He now threatened Mr. G. with revenge, upon which a warrant was granted to bind him over to keep the peace; and as he could find no surety, he was obliged to go to Tothill-fields prison-bridewell, where he remained some time.
On being released, he returned to his old profession, and was about three months after convicted of picking the pocket of Mrs. Dudman, at Drury-lane Theatre, and was sentenced to three years hard labour on the Thames.
Hitherto our pickpocket hero had a faithful confederate in the execution of his plans of robbery. This helpmate was a Miss West, of nearly equal notoriety as a sharping courtezan. Barrington being now safely confined on board the hulk at Woolwich, his associate and friend Miss West, was compelled to plan and execute alone: not that she found herself at any mighty loss; but the forcible impression made on her feelings by the loss of so near a favourite, oppressed her spirits, and rendered dormant, for a short time, that inherent vigour for active life, which she had hitherto constantly displayed. To soothe the gloomy hours of captivity as much as possible, she constantly sent Mr. Barrington two guineas per week, and paid him personal visits as often as opportunity would permit.
In one of these excursions she fell into the company of David Brown Dignum, another convict of notoriety, and who having plenty of cash, was selected as a proper object for the display of this lady's talents; and she actually perpetrated the deed in the midst of the seat of punishment, and congratulated herself not a little on the brilliancy of her success, But Barrington, who always strongly supported the common maxim, 'that there is honesty among thieves' compelled her to restore the plunder; though much against her inclination.
This audacious woman was, in all, tried seven times at the Old Bailey; four of which she was acquitted, and found guilty the other three. The last public offence she committed, was on the 14th of February, 1777, when she robbed Gilbert Affleck, Esq. of a watch, chain, and seals, value 8L., and was detected in endeavouring to hand it to an associate, disguised with a black patch over his eyes. She was found guilty by the jury, and, sentenced to three years imprisonment in Newgate. About the expiration of her time, she canght the gaol distemper; and died in a fortnight after her discharge had taken place, thus yielding up her last breath, in perfect conformity with the infamous tenor of her life.
After sustaining something less than a twelvemonth's punishment, Barrington was again set at liberty, in consequence of his good behaviour, through the interference of Messrs. Erskine and Duncan Campbell, the superintendants of the convicts. A few days after his release, he went to St. Sepulchre's church, when Dr. Milne was to preach a charity sermon, for the benefit of the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned. William Payne, a constable, saw him put his hand into a lady's pocket in the south aisle, and presently after followed him out of the church, and took him into custody near the end of Cock-lane, upon Snow-hill. Having taken the prisoner to St. Sepulchre's watch-house, and found a gold watch, and some other articles, in his possession, Payne returned to the church, and spoke to the lady whom he had seen the prisoner attempt to rob; she informed him she had lost nothing, for expecting the church to be much crowded, she had taken the precaution of emptying her pockets before she left her house. Upon Payne's return to the watchhouse, a gentleman advised that the prisoner might be more strictly searched. He was desired to take off his hat, and raising his left arm, he cautiously removed his hat from his head, when a metal watch dropped upon the floor. He was now obliged to pull off the greatest part of his clothes. He wore three pair of breeches, in one of the pockets of which was found a purse, containing thirteen guineas, and a bank-note for 10L. made payable to himself.
In consequence of an advertisement inserted the next day in the newspapers, Mrs. Ironmonger came to Payne's house, and described the watch she had lost; and it proved to be that which had been concealed in Barrington's hair, and dropped on the floor when he took off his hat. She attended the examination of the prisoner, and having sworn that the watch produced by Payne was her property, was bound over to prosecute. Upon his trial, Barrington made a long, an artful, and a plausible defence. He said, that upon leaving the church, he perceived the watch mentioned in the indictment lying upon the ground, and took it up, intending to advertise it the next day; that be was followed to Snow-hill by Payne and another constable, who apprehended him, and had, in all probability seen him take up the watch. "I reflected (said he) that how innocently soever I might have obtained the article in question, yet it might cause some censure; and no one would wonder, considering the unhappy predicament I stood in, [alluding to his former conviction] that I should conceal it as much as possible." The jury having pronounced the prisoner guilty, he addressed the court, earnestly supplicating that he might be permitted to enter into his Majesty's service, and promising to discharge his trust with fidelity and attention; or if he could not be indulged in that request, he wished that his sentence might be banishment for life from his Majesty's dominions.
The court informed him, that by an application to the throne, he might obtain a mitigation of his sentence, if his case, was attended by such circumstances of extenuation as would justify him in humbly petitioning to be considered as an object of the royal favour. He requested that the money and bank-note might be returned. Hereupon the court observed, that, in consequence of his conviction, the property found on him when be was apprehended, became vested in the hands of the sheriffs of the city of London, who had discretionary power either to comply with, or reject his request.
He was again sentenced to labour on the Thames, for the space of five years, on Tuesday the 5th of April, 1778. About the middle of this year, he was accordingly removed to the hulks at Woolwich, where having attracted the notice of a gentleman, who exerted his influence in his favour, he again procured his release, on condition of his leaving England; to this Barrington gladly consented, and was generously supplied with money by this gentleman. He now went to Dublin, where he was soon apprehended for picking the pocket of an Irish nobleman of his gold watch and money, at the theatre, but was acquitted for want of evidence.
Here, however, was his first display of elocution; for having received a serious admonition from the judge, he addressed the court with considerable animation, and enlarged with great ingenuity, upon what he termed the force of prejudice, insinuating that calumny had followed him from England to Ireland.
On his acquittal, however, he deemed it most prudent to leave Dublin; he therefore visited Edinburgh, where being suspected, he was obliged to decamp. He now returned to London, and braving danger, frequented the theatres, opera-house, pantheon, etc. but was at length taken into custody. Having been acquitted for want of evidence for the charge brought against him, he was unexpectedly detained for having returned to England in violation of the condition on which his Majesty was pleased to grant him a remission of his punishment, and was accordingly confined in Newgate, during the remainder of the time that he was originally to have served on the river Thames.
On the expiration of his captivity, he returned to his former practices, but with greater caution. Barrington was detected, in St. Paul's cathedral, picking the pocket of Mrs. Montague, of two guineas and seven shillings: he was taken to the Crown, in St. Paul's Church-yard; where, asking leave of the constable that had him in custody, to go into the yard, he got over the wall into Paternoster-row, and effected an escape.
Soon afterwards he got into company with John Brown, Esq. of Brentford, and while he was in conversation with him, picked his pocket of forty guineas, a gold watch, and seals; with this booty he made shift to live till he was apprehended for robbing Elizabeth Ironmonger.
He was at length apprehended for picking the pocket of Mr. Le Mesurier, at Drury-lane play-house, but effected his escape from the constable; and while the lawyers were outlawing him, and the constables endeavouring to take him, he evaded detection by travelling in various disguises and characters through the northern counties of the kingdom; he visited the great towns as a quack doctor, clergyman, rider, etc. but was at last apprehended in Newcastle upon Tyne, and removed to London by a writ of Habeas Corpus.
He now employed counsel, and had the outlawry against him reversed. He was then tried for robbing Mr. Le Mesurier, and acquitted for the want of a material witness. Even this narrow escape did not intimidate this daring character: he had the effrontery to proceed from prison once more to his native country, Ireland. He soon, however, found Dublin by no means so rich a harvest as London, but he did not quit the former until the officers of justice were again at his heels.
It is now high time to come to the crime for which he was transported; but in so doing, we must, for want of room, pass over his many nimble tricks, and hair-breadth escapes. He was at length indicted for picking the pocket of Henry Hare Townsend, Esq., of a gold watch. The fact was fully proved; but in order to give our readers a specimen of his abilities in pleading, we shall insert the outline of the speech he made in his defence:
'May it please your Lordship, and you, Gentlemen of the Jury, To favour me with your attention for a little time. The situation of every person who has the misfortune to stand here is extremely distressing and awkward; mine is so in a peculiar degree: if I am totally silent, it may be considered perhaps as a proof of guilt, and if I presume to offer those arguments which present themselves to my mind, in my defence, they may not, perhaps, be favoured with that attention which they might deserve; yet I by no means distrust the candour and benevolence of the jury, and therefore I beg leave to proceed to state the circumstances of the case as they occur to me, not doubting but they will meet with some degree of credit, notwithstanding the various reports to my prejudice.
'It appears that Mr. Townsend being at the races at Barnet, was robbed of his watch; and that he turned to me, saying, "Your name is Barrington, and you have taken my watch." I told him he was right as to my name, but he accused me unjustly: however I would go anywhere with him; I was removed from thence to a stand, from whence the races were viewed; it consisted of two booths, and they were separated from each other with only a railing elbow high; and it is a great misfortune to me, gentlemen of the jury, that you were not able to observe the situation of those booths; for if you had, you would have found it nearly impossible that some circumstances which have come from the witnesses could be true; I was close to the railing that separated the two booths, and some person said, "Here is a watch!" This watch Mr. Townsend claimed, and said it was his. I was removed from thence to the Angel at Edmonton, where the examination took place, and I am very sorry to be under the necessity of observing that a very material difference has taken place in the depositions delivered that day before the magistrates in various respects. A witness, the coachman, positively declared that he did not see this watch in my hand, that he did not see me take it from my pocket, that he did not see it drop from the person, but that he saw it on the ground, and he might have gone so far as to say he saw it fall; I took the liberty of asking him one question, Whether he had seen this watch in my hand, or whether he had seen it fall from me? He declared he did not. I then asked him, whether he could take upon himself to swear, from the situation he stood in at the adjoining booth, that this watch might not have dropped from some other person. He declared he could not observe any such thing. Gentlemen, with respect to the evidence of Kendrick, he made the same declaration then. Mr. Townsend has brought me here, under the charge of having committed felony; he has told you, gentlemen of the jury, that he lost a watch out of his pocket, and that pocket is a waistcoat pocket; that he was in a very extraordinary situation; that he was on the race ground, where certainly the greatest decorum is not always observed; and he was also in a situation which exposed him more to the pressure he complained of, than any other person; for instead of his horse being in the possession of his jockey or groom, he attended it himself; and I must beg leave to observe, gentlemen of the jury, that it is a custom where people bet money at races, to wish to see the horse immediately after the heat is over; so that the pressure which Mr. Townsend had, or what he thought he had from me, could not appear very extraordinary; and I am under the necessity of saying, his fancy has rather been improved on the occasion. With respect, gentlemen, to the last witness that has appeared, I will say nothing on the occasion; that will rest entirely upon you. It was a circumstance, however, of a most extraordinary nature, that this person should never come forward till the present moment; and whether the contradictions and strange accounts she has given of herself, are such as to entitle her to any credit, particularly in a situation where the life or liberty of another is at stake; where much pains have been taken to defame, some pains may be surely allowed to abate that defamation. Gentlemen, that it has been the hard lot of some unhappy persons, to have been convicted of crimes they did really not commit, less through evidence than ill-natured report, is doubtless certain: and doubtless there are many respectable persons now in court, fully convinced of the truth of that observation. Such times, it is to be hoped, are past; I dread not such a conviction in my own person; I am well convinced of the noble nature of a British court of justice; the dignified and benign principles of its judges; and the liberal and candid spirit of its jurors.
'Gentlemen, life is the gift of God, and liberty its greatest blessing: the power of disposing of both, or either, is the greatest man can enjoy. It is also advantageous, that, great as that power is, it cannot be better placed than in the hands of an English jury; for they will not exercise it like tyrants, who delight in blood, but like generous and brave men, who delight to spare rather than to destroy! and who, not forgetting they are men themselves, lean, when they can, to the side of compassion. It may be thought, gentlemen of the jury, that I am applying to your passions, and if I had the power to do it, I would not fail to employ it: the passions animate the heart; to the passions we are indebted for the noblest actions; and to the passions we owe our dearest and finest feelings; and when it is considered the mighty power you now possess, whatever leads to a cautious and tender discharge of it, must be thought of great consequence; as long as the passions conduct us on the side of benevolence, they are our best, our safest, and our most friendly guides.
'Gentlemen of the jury, Mr. Townsend has deposed that he lost his watch, but how, I trust, is by no means clear; I trust, gentlemen, you will consider the great, the almost impossibility, that having had the watch in my possession for so long a time, time sufficient to have concealed it in a variety of places, to have conveyed it to town, it should still be in my possession. You have heard from Mr. Townsend that there was an interval, of at least half an hour between the time of losing the watch, and my being taken into custody: there is something, gentlemen, impossible in the circumstance; and, on the other hand, it has sometimes happened, that remorse, a generous remorse, has struck the minds of persons in such a manner, as to have induced them to surrender themselves into the hands of justice, rather than an innocent person should suffer. It is not, therefore, I suppose, improbable, that if Mr. Townsend lost his watch by an act of felony, the person who had the watch in his possession, feeling for the situation of an unhappy man, might be induced to place that watch on the ground. But it is by no means certain how Mr. Townsend lost his watch, whether by an act of felony, or whether by accident, it might have fallen into the hands of some other person, and that person, feeling for my unhappy situation, might have been induced to restore it.
'I humbly hope that the circumstances of the case are such as may induce a scrupulous jury to make a favourable decision; and I am very well convinced that you will not be led by any other circumstances than those of the present case; either from reports or former misfortunes, or by the fear of my falling into similar ones. I am now just thirty-two years of age (shall be so next month); it is nearly half the life of man, it is not worth while being impatient to provide for the other half; so far as to do any thing unworthy.
'Gentlemen, in the course of my life I have suffered much distress, I have felt something of the vicissitudes of fortune, and now from observation, I am convinced, upon the whole, there is no joy but what arises from the practice of virtue, and consists in the felicity of a tranquil mind and a benevolent heart; sources of consolation which the most prosperous circumstances do not always furnish, and which may be felt under the most indigent.
'It will be my study, gentlemen, to possess them; nor will the heaviest affliction of poverty, pain, or disgrace, cause me to part with resolutions founded on the deepest reflection, and which will end but with life; I will perish on the pavement before I will deviate from them. For my own part, whatever your verdict may be, I trust I shall be enabled to meet it with firmness of mind; he indeed has little to fear from death, whose fame is tarnished, and who has endured the ceaseless abuse of unfeeling minds; when heaven accepts contrition, it receives into favour when it pardons: but man, more cruel than his Maker, pursues his offending brother with unrelenting severity, and marks a deviation from rectitude with a never dying infamy, and with unceasing suspicion and reproach, which seem to exclude him from the pale of virtue.
'Gentlemen of the jury, though the thought of death may appal the rich and prosperous, but on the other hand the unfortunate cannot have much to fear from it; yet the tenderness of nature cannot be quite subdued by the utmost degree of human resolution, and I cannot be insensible to the woes which must be felt by an affectionate companion, and an infant offspring, and there is besides, a principle in human nature, stronger even than the fear of death, and which can hardly fall to operate some time or other in life; I mean the desire of good fame, under that laudable influence.
'Gentlemen, if I am acquitted, I will quickly retire to some distant land, where my name and misfortunes will be alike unknown; where harmless manners may shield me from the imputation of guilt, and where prejudice will not be liable to misrepresentation, and I do now assure you, gentlemen of the jury, that I feel a cheering hope, even at this awful moment, that the rest of my life will be so conducted, as to make me as much an object of esteem and applause, as I am now the unhappy object of censure and suspicion.'
The jury, however, instantly found him guilty.
On Wednesday, September 22, 1798, George Barrington was sent to the bar.
Mr. Recorder: George Barrington: the sentence of the Court upon you, is, that you be transported for the term of seven years, to parts beyond the seas, to such place as his Majesty, with the advice of his privy council, shall think fit to declare and appoint.
To which Barrington replied,
'I had a few words to say, why sentence of death should not be passed upon me; I had much to say, though I shall say but little on the occasion. Notwithstanding I have the best opinion of your lordship's candour, and have no wish or pleasure in casting a reflection on any person whatever; but I cannot help observing that it is the strange lot of some persons through life, that with the best wishes, the best endeavours, and the best intentions, they are not able to escape the envenomed tooth of calumny: whatever they say or do is so twisted and perverted from the reality, that they will meet with censures and misfortunes, where perhaps they were entitled to success and praise. The world, my lord, has given me credit for much more abilities than I am conscious of possessing; but the world should also consider that the greatest abilities may be obstructed by the mercenary nature of some unfeeling minds, as to render them entirely useless to the possessor. Where was the generous and powerful man that would come forward and say, "You have some abilities which might be of service to yourself and to others, but you have much to struggle with, I feel for your situation, and will place you in a condition to try the sincerity of your intentions; and as long as you act with diligence and fidelity, you shall not want for countenance and protection?" But, my lord, the die is cast! I am prepared to meet the sentence of the court, with respectful resignation, and the painful lot assigned me, I hope, with becoming resolution.'
Barrington, as he had promised in his last speech, underwent his sentence with submission. His good conduct on his long passage to Botany-bay, had gained the friendship ahd confidence of his officers. He was the means of subduing a mutiny on board, by which he most likely saved many of his fellow-creatures from being massacred.
On his arrival at Port Jackson, he was appointed superintendent of convicts at Paramatta; in which situation his exemplary attention to his duty testified the sincerity of his reformation, and rendered him a useful member of society for the remainder of his life.