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At the beginning of Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street [2007], Benjamin Barker tells Anthony:

"If you hadn't found me, I'd be lost in the ocean still"

What exactly does he mean by that? Where was he between prison and the "ocean"? Was he on a raft? Did he escape prison? How did Anthony "find" him?

  • Gotcha! Done :) – MicroMachine Feb 13 '18 at 21:50
  • I doubt it literally means lost .... the interpretation isn't particularly important for the story, but my interpretation is that after being released from prison or deportation to Australia he is 'lost in the ocean' i.e. overseas from England ... not inclined to return to his former home or life - but that something about his friendship with Anthony prompted his return, perhaps just that Anthony was seeking to travel to London himself. – iandotkelly Feb 13 '18 at 22:46
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    In the Tim Burton version, Barker had been exiled to Australia. Probably he was trying to escape there and get back to England, becoming lost at sea along the way. However, we aren't given this backstory in the film, and it's an element not mentioned in other versions of the story. – Tim Feb 13 '18 at 23:01
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The (meager) evidence

The story gets partially revealed through Mrs Lovett's song "Poor Thing".

(Mrs Lovett)
There was a barber and his wife
And he was beautiful
A proper artist with a knife
But they transported him for life
And he was beautiful

(Mrs Lovett) Barker his name was, Benjamin Barker
(Sweeney) Transported? What was his crime?
(Mrs Lovett) Foolishness

link

And the quote you linked states that he was found on the ocean:

"If you hadn't found me, I'd be lost in the ocean still"


Puzzling the pieces together

  • Benjamin Barker was sentenced as a criminal on bogus charges, by a corrupt judge and beadle.
  • As was customary for the time, criminals would be transported to criminal colonies. This is evidenced by Sweeney's assumption (when he says "Transported? What was his crime?") Most famously, Australia was such a British penal colony, but there are other possibilities too (e.g. the Caribbean). As far as I'm aware, it's never truly specified; though others have claimed in this answer that it was Australia.
  • Being found at sea implies that Benjamin escaped from the penal colony, hoping to make his way back home. This is where Anthony's ship picked him up and rescued him.

Personally, I think this suggests that Benjamin was trapped on a small island. If he were trapped on an island the size of Australia, he'd be more likely to flee away from the prison and find a proper boat to head home on.

Being lost at sea (literally; though Sweeney is indeed implying he was also figuratively lost), in my opinion, suggests that the entire island must have been the prison; which is simply not possible for Australia due to its size.


Update!

I dug a little deeper, hoping to find a small island that was used as a penal colony. From the Wikipedia page on penal colonies:

When that avenue closed in the 1780s after the American Revolution, Britain began using parts of what is now known as Australia as penal settlements. Australian penal colonies included Norfolk Island, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), Queensland and New South Wales.

From the Wikipedia page about Norfolk Island:

Area
• Total
34.6 km2 (13.4 sq mi)

The island is small enough that Benjamin Barker would be unable to flee the prison without fleeing the island; thus suggesting that he'd need to escape by raft.

Note: He could hide out on the island, possibly, but he'd likely have to end up building a raft anyway. The odds of the prison not being in control of the island's harbor are slim to none.

The island served as a convict penal settlement from 6 March 1788 until 5 May 1855

According to IMDB, even though the chronology was intentionally kept vague (IIRC the Tower Bridge, which we see in the intro, wasn't yet built in the 1800s):

The play itself was set around 1846.

Which would make Norfolk Island a viable candidate, both in size and timing of being a penal colony.


Second (and last) update!

I looked up the quote you referenced in the official script, and it reveals slightly more:

I owe you my life, Anthony. If you hadn't spotted me, I would be lost on the ocean still ... Thank you.

This highly suggests that spotting him saved his life. This heavily suggests that he was on a raft, and would have died if no one had found him.

  • Excellent answer. I think Australia is more preferred as the colonies in the Americas were more used in the 18th century than the time the movie is set. By the 1850s even transportation to Australia was beginning to decline. I don't think he needs to be on a small island to be 'lost in the ocean' ... being stranded on a remote coast of Australia in the 1840's, staring at the vast ocean between you and home and revenge can be both literally and figuratively true. – iandotkelly Feb 15 '18 at 16:40
  • @iandotkelly: Your interpretation is not provably wrong, but I do read in Anthony and Sweeney's conversation that he was rescued at sea (it's possible I'm remembering something that is mentioned at another time in the movie that leads me to assume this). Check my updated answer btw, I found a suitable candidate for a small island near Australia that may fit both our expectations :) – Flater Feb 15 '18 at 16:43
  • Excellent research - I wish I could give it another upvote. Unfortunately not provably correct - but for the time and the script it fits the literal and figurative interpretation. – iandotkelly Feb 15 '18 at 16:47
  • @iandotkelly: Another minor update (last one, I promise :)); I think the full quote OP is referring to helps disambiguate: "I owe you my life, Anthony. If you hadn't spotted me, I would be lost on the ocean still ... Thank you." If spotting him saved his life, it stands to reason that he was on a raft with no provisions; as opposed to merely sitting on a coast staring at the ocean. – Flater Feb 15 '18 at 16:55
  • Yeah - I did wonder whether he was lost while returning from somewhere. – iandotkelly Feb 15 '18 at 18:12

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