The Celebrated George Barrington: A Spurious Author; The Book Trade, And Botany Bay
Hordern House, $64 hb, 327 pp
George Barrington was a fascinating man, and Nathan Garvey is his latest ‘victim’. Barrington’s life was a source of almost daily fascination to eighteenth-century contemporaries; some mystery still surrounds him. His birth date remains equivocal – was it 1755 or 1758? Church records don’t survive to help here, but it was probably the former. Were his parents artisans to the Irish gentry – a silversmith and mantua-maker – or less skilled workers? Even his name is a matter of antiquarian enquiry. The fact remains that George Barrington, the gentleman Prince of Pickpockets, well-known convict traveller to Botany Bay and putative author, appeared to the world in various celebrated guises and captured popular attention. He occupies an ambiguous place in the world of crime, history and fiction.
Caught in Barrington’s early thrall were his victims, as well as lawyers, learned judges, court reporters, publishers, common and uncommon readers, and colonial officers, probably in that order. In this engrossing study, converted from a recent doctoral thesis, the author claims to set out new ground. In significant respects this holds true, particularly in the exploration of the field of lesser-known eighteenth-century publishers and the book trade.