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Barclay, Nathaniel (1894–1962)

by Ardel Shamsullah

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Nathaniel Barclay (1894-1962), soldier settler and politician, was born on 1 October 1894 at Adavoile, Armagh, Ireland, son of Jonathan Barclay, farmer, and his wife Alice, née Turner. Nat attended the local school until he was 14, then left his family's small, mixed farm to live in Newry where he was apprenticed to a grocer. Emigrating with a brother in 1914 to join their eldest brother in Melbourne, Nat enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 29 December and served with the 5th Battalion at Gallipoli from May 1915. Invalided to Australia in February 1916, he recovered and from December fought in France with the 59th Battalion. He was promoted sergeant in May 1917. Wounded in his right shoulder in September, he was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for 'carrying important messages through heavy fire'. He returned to Australia in 1918 and was discharged on 14 March.

Having been employed as a labourer in Melbourne, Barclay travelled to the Mallee in 1920 to work in contract gangs clearing land for the Red Cliffs soldier-settlement scheme. In July 1922 he was granted a conditional purchase-lease for allotment No.448, a property of sixteen acres (6.5 ha) on the Red Cliffs estate: he planted grape-vines on thirteen acres (5.2 ha) and citrus fruit on one (.4 ha). On 6 December 1924 at St John's Anglican Church, Healesville, Barclay married London-born Daisy Florence Heritage; they were to remain childless. He served as an instructor with the Australian Military Forces in 1940-42. A resourceful woman, Daisy managed the block during his absences. Although not especially productive, their property became a showpiece. In 1954 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip inspected it, to the delight of the Barclays who were fervent royalists.

In 1945 Barclay had gained Country Party endorsement for the Legislative Assembly seat of Mildura after the sitting member A. G. Allnutt was expelled from the party. Barclay was defeated, but narrowly won the seat from Labor in 1947, retained it in 1950, before losing it in 1952. He was again returned to parliament for Mildura in 1955—ironically benefiting from the Cain government's 'two-for-one' electoral redistribution which brought the Country Party strongholds of Ouyen and Robinvale into an expanded Mildura electorate—and held the seat in 1958 and 1961. Barclay took his place on a number of parliamentary bodies, among them the State Development Committee (1950-52 and 1958-62). In 1961 he attended a parliamentary conference in London, visited his birthplace and revisited battlefields in France.

Barclay's electoral campaigns reflected his political concerns. While not averse to raising the communist spectre, his policy speeches and election advertising were overwhelmingly parochial, as were his relatively infrequent and brief parliamentary contributions on such issues as freight costs, transport, education, health and housing in his electorate. He was interested in the administration of soldier-settlement schemes, in which he was well versed through his activities on the Soldier Settlement Classification Committee in 1946-47. As president (1938-41 and 1944-46) of the large Red Cliffs sub-branch of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia (Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's I.L.A. from 1940), he worked for the rehabilitation of local ex-servicemen.

Solidly built, 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, with blue eyes beaming in a broad, smiling face, Barclay was a consummate local member. He won repute as an effective lobbyist by drawing upon a disarming personality, a wealth of influential contacts and a stubborn tenacity. The Sunday evening train to Melbourne was often delayed at Ouyen station while Barclay listened to constituents from the southern part of his electorate. President (1958-59) of the Mildura Shire Council, he was involved in Legacy, sat on the board of the Knox Memorial Presbyterian Church at Red Cliffs, and was a Freemason and a Knight Templar. Survived by his wife, Barclay died of a coronary occlusion on 11 September 1962 in the Freemasons' Hospital, East Melbourne, and was buried in Red Cliffs cemetery. In 1964 the Red Cliffs public gardens were renamed 'Barclay Square'.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Lake, The Limits of Hope (Melb, 1987)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 11 Sept 1962, p 51
  • Sunraysia Daily, 12-14 Sept 1962
  • Crown Lands and Survey files, correspondence no 2341/12 (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ardel Shamsullah, 'Barclay, Nathaniel (1894–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barclay-nathaniel-9426/text16571, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 19 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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