‘The European colonial expansion between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries led to frontier wars on every continent…As part of this world wide European expansion, the British invaded and settled Australia.’ Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wars, Conflict in the early colony 1788-1817, New South, Sydney, 2018


‘There would be some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days’. Professor Edward Jenks,  cited ,  H.E. Egerton, A Short History of British Colonial History,  Methuen, London 1936


‘In the late eighteenth century it looked like the bad old killing days were returning….I estimate that some 35,000 people were condemned to death in England and Wales between 1770 and 1830. Most were reprieved by the king’s prerogative of mercy and sent to prison hulks or transported to Australia. Professor V.A.C Gatrell, The Hanging Tree, Execution and the English People 1770-1868, 1994.


A hanging was one of the great free spectacles of London. Audiences of up to 100,000 were occasionally claimed in London, and of 30,000 or 40,000 quite often….when famous felons hanged, polite people watched as well as vulgar’. Gatrell. Op. Cit.


‘The death penalty was brought to Australia with the First Fleet’. Mike Richards,The Hanged Man, The Life and Death of Ronald Ryan, 2002.


 LONDON  1868 – Michael Barrett

Middlesex – 1867 December 13:  Shoppers hurrying that Friday afternoon to a near-by market that served the poorest of the poor,  took no notice of a wheelbarrow propped against the outer wall of London’s Clerkenwell Detention Centre.

Packed with gunpowder when ignited it produced an explosion powerful enough to demolish not only a substantial section of the gaol’s exercise yard but many ramshackle slum dwellings opposite.

In Queen Victoria’s Great Britain this was a period of increasing Irish terrorism. And intelligence had played large part in the bombing.

The breach in the wall was timed to coincide when Colonel Richard O’Sullivan-Burke, a ‘Fenien’ insurgent from America and Joseph Casey, would be in the exercise yard.

Flying stone, bricks and debris killed six (6) children playing alongside the wall.

In the crowed street market six (6) people died. As many as a hundred (100) men women and children were injured.

Some so badly they later died.

‘In St. James nearby is a tablet commemorating the victims of the 1867 bomb’. Richard Byrne, Prisons and Punishment of London. 1992


Michael Barrett a young Ulster Fenian who had actually been in Glasgow at the time of the Clerkenwell, served as a target of convenience and like the Manchester three [3] was found guilty on the most shaky evidence’. Thomas Keneally, The Great Shame, A Story of the Irish In The Old World And The New, Random House,1998.

Barrett a young Irishman, although in Scotland at the time of the bombing, was nevertheless charged ‘on the most shaky evidence’ with conspiring to commit the crime.

‘A target of convenience’ he was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

‘Queen Victoria was so outraged that only one man was executed, she “urged that in future, instead of being brought to trial, Irish suspects should be ‘lynch-lawed’ and [hanged] on the spot”. htpp://socialistworker/art/45766 – Clerkenwell explosion

In England hangings were public performances.

‘Eight times a year at Tyburn or Newgate, once or twice a year in most counties, terrified men and women were hanged before large and excited crowds.  Gatrell. op,cit.

‘A foul carnival’ played before rowdy, rag-tag festive holiday crowds out for a good time.


‘Nearly 2,000 local people collected outside Newgate gaol at 11.00 pm for the [Michael Barrett] execution, singing ‘Rule Britannia’, ‘Champagne Charlie’ and ‘Oh, my, I’ve Got to Die’. Keneally. op.cit. 

Newgate – 1868  May 26: They crowded into a large open area fronting Newgate prison to watch ‘a dead man dance’.

Feelings ran high. Many called for blood but not all were convinced of Barrett’s guilt.

‘The bastard pride in the [condemned man’s] animal courage and the brutal delight that he died game made the law and its ministers seem to them [the crowd] the real murderers, and Barrett to be a martyred man.

And indeed this crowd did cry out at Barrett’s executioner….Shame! – Down with him – Bah, bah, murderer bah. Daily News, The Times 27 May 1868, cited V.A.C. Gatrell, The Hanging Tree. ibid.

Michael Barrett’s body hung for an hour before being cut down and buried inside the walls of Newgate.  His hanging was England’s last public execution.

In May 1868 legislation, The Capital Punishment Within Prison Act, came into effect putting an end to the degrading and macabre spectacle of public hangings.

London – 1903:  Newgate Prison was demolished in 1903. Michael Barrett’s remains were re-interred in the City of London Cemetery where a plaque marks his final resting place.


1868 – 9 January, Fremantle, West Australia: Hougoumont the last convict transport berthed in Fremantle on 9 January 1868.

Among Hougoumont’s company of two hundred and eighty-three (283) male convicts were sixty-three (63) Irishmen said to have been implicated in the ‘Clerkenwell ‘ Fenian Conspiracy’. Keneally.  ibid.


‘The death penalty was brought to Australia with the First Fleet’. Mike Richards, The Hanged Man, The Life and Death of Ronald Ryan, 2002.

Australia – January 1787 to January 1868: Thomas Barrett was among first of 163,000 of Britain’s common criminals ‘transported to Australia’ between 1787 and 1868.

Only 25,000 were  women.  One-half of these – 12,500 – went directly to Tasmania.

Zero female convicts and 10,000 male prisoners were transported to West Australia where transportation ceased in 1868. See: G is for Genocide


‘The Way of War is a Way of Deception, When Deploying troops Appear not to be’. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Penguin ed. 2009

Portsmouth – 1787 May 13: The ‘First Fleet’, a large armed convoy of eleven (11) ships commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN, with an overwhelmingly male complement of 1500 souls, one-half convicted criminals, sailed from England bound for Botany Bay to invade the island continent of New Holland.

‘Without distinction’ all ‘ First Fleet’ males, marine and convict alike, were rationed as ‘troops serving in the West Indies’.

Botany Bay – 1788, January 18/20: Aided by certainty, delivered by K-1 a faithful replica of John Harrison’s H-4 chronometer, the world’s first piece of  ‘precision [maritime] timekeeping’ within 36 hours, the entire fleet reached Botany Bay between 18 to 20 January 1788. See: Lieutenant William Dawes The Shock of the New South Wales Corps & ‘The Eternal Flame

Botany Bay wide open, difficult to defend, with limited fresh water was unsuitable for permanent settlement.

The following day  Phillip set out with a scouting party in three (3) small row-boats to explore the surrounding country.

Nine (9) miles (14km) north of Botany Bay they entered a vast harbour [w]here a thousand Ships of the Line may ride in perfect Security’.

Sydney Cove: Phillip named a ‘snug’ deep-water cove, for Lord Sydney the then Home Secretary.

Botany Bay – January 23: The party returned to Botany Bay on the evening of the 23rd.

‘Phillip intended losing no time in relocating the settlement and told the fleet to prepare for departure next morning’. John Moore, First Fleet Marines, 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1987

But none could have conceived the ‘consternation’ and chaos daylight would bring.

1788 – 24 January: ‘All were ready to depart at daybreak on 24 January when, to everyone’s consternation, two [2] French ships were sighted standing off the heads…Phillip was alarmed’. Moore. ibid.


‘If La Perouse had arrived at Botany Bay before Phillip, and had fronted him with a French annexation, the act would have been equivalent to declaration of war on Great Britain’. Professor George Arnold Wood, The Discovery of Australia, 1969

‘As part of this world wide European expansion, the British invaded and settled Australia’.  Gapps. op. cit.

Yet most Australian historians have ignored the strategic implications of the French arrival in 1788. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head – Captain Arthur Phillip & Comte Jean Francois La Perouse

‘New Holland is a good blind, then, when we want to the military strength of India’. Anon to Evan Nepean, Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol.1

Phillip instantly recognised La Boussole with Comte Jean Francoise La Perouse at the helm and astern L’Astrolabe.

HMS Sirius cannon denied the French entry and forced La Perouse back out into a dangerously raging sea.

France: Earlier, in August 1785 Phillip a shadowy figure, had watched these French ships execute a difficult exit from Brest naval base on an extended round-the-world voyage that Phillip knew, at the behest of King Louis XVI, was to include New Holland.  See: Arthur Phillip, The Spy Who Never Came In From The Cold.

Although Phillip had landed at Sydney Cove on the 21st of January he had not raised ‘English Colours’.

‘Raising the flag was one of the acts recognised as an assertion of a prior claim against other colonial powers eyeing off the same land’. Professor Larrisa Behrendt, The Honest History Book, Invasion or Settlement, ed. David Stephens & Alision Brionowski, New South Press, Sydney 2017

If La Perouse was to get to Sydney Cove, as Phillip himself  had done two (2) days earlier, and raised ‘French Colours’ then a ‘state of war’ would exist.

Sydney Cove – January 25: At daybreak next morning  Phillip aboard Supply made ready to sail but rough seas held up departure until after midday.

Not until just on dark and, to his immense relief La Perouse was not there,  did HMS Supply drop anchor in Sydney Cove.

26 January: At first light Phillip landed with a party of marines. A flagstaff was erected, the Union Jack raised, a volley of shots fired and toasts tossed down.

See: Only Men – ? Aside from Seagulls how many white birds were on the ground at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 – None

The remaining English ships, having managed a difficult exit from Botany Bay that put both ships and lives at risk, ‘entered Port Jackson and moved up the harbour to anchor in Sydney Cove by 8 p.m.’ Moore. ibid


Governor Phillip turned his attention to the urgent strategic problems thrown up by the French presence.

The preparation of a functional tent settlement he left to the military, who very reluctantly, agreed to supervise the convicts’ labour.

Phillip sent trusted Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN, the two (2) had served together during the American War of Independence (1775-1783), with Marine Lieutenant William Dawes, the fleet’s scientific officer also a veteran of that conflict, to Botany Bay where La Perouse and his men were now safely at anchor.

After dining with La Perouse on La Boussole, Lieutenant King formed the opinion La Perouse, on leaving Botany Bay, intended to occupy Norfolk Island.

To secure the same to us, and prevent it being occupied by the subjects of any other European power…King as commandant… a surgeon, a midshipman, a sawyer, a weaver, two marines and sixteen convicts of whom six were women [in] HMS Supply  sailed to occupy Norfolk Island. Arthur Phillip cited Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. L.F. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1961

Norfolk Island – 14 February 1788 : Supply’s departure date speaks to the gravity of the situation as Governor Phillip understood it, yet historians have largely ignored the impact of the French presence.

But who could doubt, English men, women and children perched precariously on the rim of the known world, saw the French as a glimmer of hope. Boswell Goes Into Bat for the Botany Bay Escapees

It seems impossible, on the brink of war, to overplay the seriousness of the crisis facing Captain Arthur Phillip RN.


No one in the colony caused Phillip more trouble than Major Ross…the persistent antagonism, both covert and open, which Ross pursued against him’. Moore. ibid. 

That ‘antagonism’ began before the fleet left England.  Long before Sydney Cove was reached the marine commander’s rancour had infected all military ranks. See: Take Two – Rules of Engagement – Governor Phillip & Major Robert Ross

Phillip could not rely on the marines and, if as he feared, elements of the two (2) disaffected groups – military and convict merged – New Holland was at stake.

And for ‘King and Country’ there was a lot at stake. See: Proximity Not Distance Drove Britain’s Invasion of New Holland.

‘It is much to the credit of those in office [Pitt administration] that an empire has been founded in the south, which time will render much superior to that which their predecessors [North Administration] have lost in the west’. Arnon to Evan Nepean, Historical Records of New South Wales.


Sydney Cove – 1788 February 27:  A month after landing and, two (2) weeks after Supply sailed for Norfolk Island, Thomas Barrett in ‘a public display of authority’ became the first Englishman hanged in Australia. See: From Here To Eternity

‘Killing a criminal achieved many ends simply and cheaply…for maximum effect there had to be maximum ceremony…a prolonged public display in which the power of authority and the wretchedness of the captive were acted out in a procession which every citizen might see’. Richard Byrne, Prisons and Punishment of London, Grafton – Harper Collins, London.

‘Maximum ceremony‘ the executions of Thomas Barrett in Sydney February 1788 and Michael Barrett, London May 1868, share common elements.

Charged ‘on most shaky evidence’ both ‘served as a target of convenience’. The offence was committed in company’ their ‘compan[ions]’ escaped death. See: Blind Man’s Bluff

Questions of motive – judicial justice or judicial murder – hang over both executions.

A  plaque at the corner of Harrington and Essex Streets in the Sydney Rocks marks Thomas Barrett’s fleeting presence in and dramatic exit from Australia.


‘There would be some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days’. Professor Edward Jenks,  cited,  H.E. Egerton, A Short History of British Colonial History,  Methuen, London 1936    

For no other reason than Barrett’s execution demonstrates how little ‘kindness’ Britain had for its own people let alone ‘amity and kindness’ for Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples the circumstances of his execution demand investigation.

In 1788 the French presence triggered a cascade of events. Phillip struggled to gain control of a fiendishly difficult situation.

He needed to  fend off his enemies within. A hostile disaffected military and fearful criminals who together greatly out-numbered the two hundred (200) men of the Royal Navy.

Phillip’s solution included the drama of Thomas Barrett’s execution. See: To Kill a Mocking Bird- Thomas Barrett

In December 1790 when faced with starvation, an ‘unsettled’ military situation, only thirty-five (35) Royal Navy personnel to hand and, the arrival of another ship, the Dutch Snow Waaksamheyd, bringing fear of ‘insurrection ‘ and hope of  ‘escape’ Governor Phillip RN again chose diversion;  ‘kill six [6]…bring in the heads of the slain’See: John Mc Intyre- A Tethered Goat

‘The scholar of the expedition…Lieutenant Dawes whose tour of  duty it was to go out with that party refused that duty by letter’. Professor George.Arnold Wood, Journal of Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. X, 1924, Part 1


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