Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

George Clarke alias George the Barber


George Clarke led an extraordinary life and in so doing became one of Australia's better known colonial characters.

His account of the Namoi River and his stories of a vast inland sea prompted the acting governor Colonel Patrick Lindesay to send Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell on an expedition into the district in 1831, thereby opening up the area to settlement.

Later he was described by one writer as a remarkable man possessed of great natural talents and cunning. [1] In his time he roamed freely on the vast unsettled Liverpool Plains where few white men had ever been. For three years he lived amongst the Kamilaroi, the native tribe of the Liverpool Plains, learning their ways, living as they did. He took native women for his wives, decorated his body with the same markings and went naked as they did.

For a time he even duped the highest authority in the land and much has been written of him since.


George Clarke was tried at the Shrewsbury Assizes in August 1824. He was found guilty of stealing in a dwelling house and sentenced to transportation for life. From Shrewsbury he was taken to the Justitia Hulk moored in the Thames where he was admitted on the 2nd October 1824. Six weeks later on 15th November, he was transferred to the convict ship Royal Charlotte for transportation to New South Wales.[4] He was 21 years old and had been employed as a hair dresser before his arrest. His rather ordinary description is given in the ship indents - 5ft 7in pale complexion, brown hair and chestnut eyes. His behaviour on the voyage out was recorded in the 'remarks' column as indifferent.[8] There was nothing to indicate the extraordinary life that awaited him.


On arrival in the colony he was sent to Windsor and was later assigned to Benjamin Singleton [7]

Up until this point his experience was similar to thousands of other convicts, an unremarkable life of punishment and deprivation however George Clarke was not destined for a mundane life of hearth and home. He had only just over ten years to live when he arrived in Australia. In these few years he packed a lifetime of adventure, hardship and duplicity.

Cattle Stealing

It was later said of him that he had assumed the cloak and colour of the natives on the Liverpool Plains so that he might approach the dwellings of the colonists and steal with less danger of detection. In conjunction with the aborigines, whom he misled, and several other runaway convicts like himself, he had organised a system of cattle stealing which became an extensive operation on Liverpool Plains.

He became a hunted bushranger.


Through the aid of other natives, who had previously assisted in the detection of bushrangers, he was discovered, and captured by the police - [1] He was taken to Bathurst by the Mounted Police and placed in the lock up, but did not give up on freedom easily.

Escape from Bathurst

On Thursday 8th December 1831, the Sydney Gazette reported the following story

George Clarke, the runaway, some weeks since brought in by Sergeant Wilcox from the American River, who having lived upwards of three years with eight or nine of the wild or mial tribes of Aborigines, and whose reports of the country in which he has dwelt have excited great interest, contrived on the night of the 25th ult. to escape from the cells of Bathurst gaol. He was quickly pursued by the constables, one of whom fell in with him at Wyagdon, sixteen miles from Bathurst, rapidly retracing his steps to his old quarters, and conducted him back to durance. The constable on duty at the time has since been dismissed and his ticket of leave cancelled for neglect. [2]

Major Mitchell

The account which this 'back woodsman' Clarke gives of his mode of life, and other particulars is highly interesting....his chief anxiety is to return to his native tribe and he was desirous of piloting the party, which with Major Mitchell, Lieut. Blackburne and Maule, of the mounted Police, is intended to proceed thither on a tour of inspection, and giving all possible assistance and information. His penchant is not, however, likely to be gratified on this occasion as he was despatched to Sydney on Thursday morning under an escort of the light company of the 39th from whose custody he will not easily escape. A charge of horse stealing preferred by his original master Mr. Benjamin Singleton of St. Patrick's Plains occasions his removal from Bathurst. [2]


The Sydney Gazette reported that George Clarke and Peter Kenny were marched into Sydney town on Saturday 10th December, under the military escort. The former of these is the man who gave himself up at Bathurst representing that while in the bush he discovered a river and other important matters. His breast, arms, and shoulders, have been tattooed by the blacks, among whom he says he lived in great familiarity; round his neck he wears a string of beads made of grass that grows in the direction where he lived; his hair is long and parted in the middle, and he had not washed the stains from his skin; such is his tout ensemble, that few could have distinguished him from an aborigine. He reports himself to have been in the bush over three years and says the blacks treated him very well [2] .

Sentence of Death

They were taken before the Bench on Monday 12 December heavily chained, and were charged with stealing a horse and two head of cattle belonging to Mr. Doyle. [3]

On Thursday 2nd February 1832 George Clarke and Peter Kenny were indicted for a larceny on the goods of Mr. Cox Esq., at Bathurst and for stealing a gelding belonging to Cyrus Matthew Doyle at Liverpool Plains in the previous May (1831). There were several other charges pending which the Solicitor General declined to proceed with. A sentence of Death was then pass on Clarke who was found guilty on both parts and Kenny who was found not guilty of stealing the gelding was remanded.[5]

Norfolk Island

On the 1st March the Sydney Gazette reported - Nine out of the twenty-two unhappy men who were lying in the condemned cells experienced the clemency of His Excellency, their sentences having been commuted to transportation for various periods to Norfolk Island. Among them is George Clarke, alias George the Barber, who professed to have made the discoveries in the interior. He is to be worked in irons at the above settlement for three years. [6]

George Clarke remained at Norfolk Island until 1835 when he was sent to Van Diemen's Land. Here he embarked on a life of crime once again and was apparently executed in that same year.[1]

Notes and Links

1). Select here to find a list of articles about George Clarke at Australia Trove

2). Find our more about the extraordinary life of George Clarke in Clarke of the Kindur by Dean Boyce (Melbourne 1970)

3). Part of the extraordinary tale of convict George Clarke is told in The Temple Anecdotes - Major Mitchell and the bushranger


[1] The gold-finder of Australia: how he went, how he fared, and how he made his ... edited by John Sherer (1853)

[2] Sydney Gazette 8 December 1831

[3] Sydney Herald 19 December 1831

[4] UK Prison Hulk Registers and letter Books, 1802 - 1849 (Ancestry)

[5] Sydney Gazette 4 February 1832

[6] Sydney Gazette 1 March 1832

[7] Sydney Gazette 8 February 1831

[8] AO NSW Bound Indents 1823 - 1826 Fiche No 655