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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

George Barrington

1820
John Chapman

engraving on paper (sheet: 18.4 cm x 11.9 cm, plate-mark: 14.5 cm x 9.2 cm, image: 9.8 cm x 7.5 cm)

George Barrington (1755-1804) was the best-known 'gentleman thief' of late eighteenth-century London. Comparatively well-educated in his native Ireland, Barrington fled from his school after being caught stealing, and stabbing another boy. He joined a travelling theatre troupe in 1771, and learned both acting and pickpocketing techniques from his mentor, John Price. Moving to England in 1773, he began his thieving career in London's theatres and pleasure parks. Although he was arrested fourteen times, his air of gentility conduced to his repeated acquittal, and he served little time in gaol. In 1790, however, he was transported for stealing a watch at a racetrack. About a year after he arrived in the New South Wales, having worked in the police watch at the Government Stores, he received a conditional pardon. In 1796 he was made chief constable at Parramatta; by the time he died he had acquired a house and some property along the Hawkesbury. Barrington was credited with the authorship of 'An Impartial and Circumstantial Narrative of the Present State of Botany Bay, in New South Wales', but the work, according to historian Suzanne Rickard, was a 'plagiarised pastiche', cobbled together by another and published under Barrington's famous name. Nor is there evidence that Barrington wrote any of the many other accounts of the colony with which he was credited, including the famous lines 'true patriots all, for . . . we left our country for our country's good.' He died, purportedly lunatic, thirteen years after arriving in the colony.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2010

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

John Chapman

George Barrington

Subject professions

Law and justice

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

George Barrington, c.1785
George Barrington, c.1785
George Barrington, c.1785
George Barrington, c.1785

Celebrity cutpurse

Magazine article by Grace Carroll, 2010

Grace Carroll discusses the portrait of the late-eighteenth century gentleman pickpocket George Barrington.

Ned Kelly death mask
Ned Kelly death mask
Ned Kelly death mask
Ned Kelly death mask

Sideshow Alley

Infamy, the macabre & the portrait

Previous exhibition, 2015

Death masks, post-mortem drawings and other spooky and disquieting portraits... Come and see how portraits of infamous Australians were used in the 19th century.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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