Prison hulks on the River Thames
One of the most famous prisoners on board the hulks was George Barrington (1755-1804). Born in Ireland in 1775 he had arrived in London to study medicine.
Instead, seeking to mix in high society, Barrington turned to pick-pocketing to make ends meet. He had a remarkable career and even stole a jewel-encrusted gold snuffbox, said to have been worth more than £30,000, from the waistcoat pocket of Count Gregory Orloff, former favourite of Catherine the Great.
First time on the hulks
Eventually, Barrington was caught and sentenced to three years 'on board the ballast lighters' at Woolwich. A reporter at the time of his arrest described him thus:
In the town gaols a man with influence or money could keep himself apart at least partially from the sick and poor prisoners.
But on board the hulks, with their single deck for all prisoners, no sort of bribery would work.
Barrington was forced to mix with the 'vulgar' criminals on board the Justitia.
Somehow, he managed to survive and 'in response for his exemplary conduct', and with two thirds of his sentence still unserved, he was released.
Back to his old ways
During this second spell of imprisonment his health declined and he suffered from bouts of severe depression. He tried but failed to escape in 1779 and decided that suicide was his only option.
Barrington stabbed himself with a penknife and although the wound was deep, it was not fatal. Barrington got better, only to be struck down by consumption (tuberculosis).
He recalled that:
To Ireland... and back to England
He returned to England and a life of crime. In 1783 he reappeared at the Old Bailey charged with 'not fulfilling the conditions of His Majesty's pardon'. The Judge threatened to send him back to Woolwich. Barrington pleaded:
The judge took pity on Barrington and allowed him to serve his 11- month sentence at Newgate.
Transport to Australia
A new career
Barrington was released in 1792 because of good conduct. Remarkably, and despite a fondness for rum, he started out on a career in the Australian penal system. When he died in 1804 he was Superintendent of Convicts and High Constable in New South Wales!
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