Irishman John White, surgeon-general of the First Fleet, was impressed with the forger Thomas Barrett, who sailed with him in the convict transport Charlotte. On 5 August 1787, as the ship lay at anchor off Rio de Janeiro, Barrett was caught passing forged 'quarter dollars' to local boatmen to pay for food. White was amazed at how Barrett had managed to manufacture these coins without seemingly having had any access to fire or the other equipment necessary for coin-making. Perhaps it was this knowledge of Barrett's skill that led White to commission the convict to engrave a medal celebrating the ship's safe arrival in Botany Bay on 20 January 1788.
The Charlotte medal is regarded as Australia's first colonial work of art. On one side, it depicts the ship resting at anchor in Botany Bay and, on the other, precise details, in terms of latitude and longitude, about the major places they either passed or stopped at during the eight-month voyage.
Barrett did not survive long in the colony. After little more than a month, he was hanged for stealing food, an event recorded by White in his famous Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (1790): 'Barrett was launched into eternity, after having confessed to Rev. Mr Johnson, who attended him'.
Australian National Maritime Museum.