It's not very often we find a ceramic link to our earliest origins here in Australia. We are a young country, our European foundations laid with the first colonists in 1788.
So when I found a piece of pottery with a strong Australian link dating to 1790, I was very excited!
I am taking a liberty, in that it is not an Australian made piece, (being made in Staffordshire circa 1790) and we don't know when it came to Australia. The important link is what is depicted in the print that adorns the front.
Titled "Bennington picking the pocket of J Brown Esq.", it opens up a fascinating tale of thievery and plagiarism. It all begins with a certain 'Gentleman' by the name of Bennington, shown below in an oil portrait c.1795, held by the National Gallery of Australia.
George Barrington was not what he seemed. In the illustration on this jug, he is dressed in the best fashions of the 1790’s, using his respectability to quitely slip coins from the gentleman he converses with. He was in fact a notorious pick-pocket, who in 1796 ironically became the Chief Police Constable of Paramatta!
Above: Source of the print is the frontispiece from 'The Memoirs of George Barrington', published by J Bird 1795- note the pick pockets tools below the figures.
His real name was George Waldron, and was born to a well-to-do family in County Kildare, Ireland. He changed his name after an unfortunate incident at school in 1771 forced him to run away: in a fight with a fellow student, the student was stabbed. He became a local pickpocket, but when the gang he worked with was arrested, he slipped away to London.
Here he resumed his ‘career’, and was a natural, earning the title ‘Prince of Pick-pockets’. This was appropriate, considering his methods; dressed in the finest garb, he was once caught in the front boxes (best seats) of Covent Garden theatre, having just pinched a diamond encrusted snuff box from the Russian Prince Orlow said to be worth £30,000!
At his trial, he pleaded his case with such theatrics that the Prince refused to press charges. Caught several times, he used connections and rhetoric each time to great advantage. He was a fine orator, and manipulated the jury and the public with well written letters to the press.
This ended in 1790, when he was caught pinching a gold pocket watch, and while he should have been sent to the vile prison hulks moored in the Thames as he had been previously, he used his skills to ensure sentencing to ‘Transportation to Botany Bay’.
He arrived on the 1791 fleet.
His conduct and charm worked well in Australia, and in 1792, he received the first Warrant of Emancipation ever issued in Australia. Next was a position of great respect, no less than the Superintendent of Convicts - the Chief Constable of Paramatta!
Due to apparent writings about his experience, under titles such as 'Memoirs of George Barrington' and 'A Voyage to New South Wales', his following was huge, the first ‘star’ from Australia. However, he was not the author of the numerous accounts and memoirs published in his name! In an age without copyright, the publishers of the day capitalised on his popular appeal: overnight, multiple editions were created, plagiarizing more mundaine accounts of the new colonies, but expanding and enhancing according to the publishers whim. Some were ‘Memoirs’, others fictional accounts of ‘A Voyage to Botany Bay’, while one work titled “Barrington’s Annals of Suicide, or Horrors of Self-Murder” included the “Dreadful History of Anaboo, a Native of New Holland Who Killed Herself Through Love”, the tale of a tragic liaison between an Aboriginal woman and a convict - all total fabrication!. In the early 19th century, there were more than 80 publications reputing to be by Barrington, all false creations in his name, created to cater for the fascination the public still has for villains.
This interesting piece of early Australian History will be offered in our upcoming Recent Acquisitions exhibition 2012, to be held in Geelong on March 31st- see details at www.moorabool.com