Thomas Barrett is undoubtedly one of the most important and earliest members of the Staithes Group of artists, although fairly little is known of his life. He was born in Nottingham in 1845, a city where he would remain his whole life. He studied at the Nottingham School of Art, and would later return as its Second Master. Here he taught the young Laura and Harold Knight, and presumably John Bowman; it was his instruction to then Laura Johnson to "Go to Staithes! There is nowhere in the world quite like it for painting." that inspired her and her future husband to visit Staithes and become key members of the Group.
Unlike most artists of the Staithes Group, Barrett did not travel abroad (as far as we are aware), but did travel extensively along the coast of England. It seems he was the first of the future members of the Staithes Group to visit the area in 1880, and would later serve as the Staithes Art Club's first Treasurer upon its inception in 1901. He rented a cottage in the village where he would often spend the summer.
Barrett was also a very accomplished etcher and mezzotinter, having been elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in 1887; his etchings and mezzotints are now extremely sought after. He was elected a Member of the Nottingham Society of Artists in 1881, and further exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, Leeds City Art Gallery, and of course the Staithes Art Club. He lived for over 20 years at Sherwood Rise, Nottingham, and died at his home on Wycliffe Street, New Basford, on the 16th February 1924, at the age of seventy nine. He is now represented in Nottingham Castle Museum and Red House Museum, Christchurch, but notably not in the Pannett Gallery Whitby.