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Barrow, John Henry (1817–1874)

by C. M. Sinclair

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

John Henry Barrow (1817-1874), by unknown photographer, c1873

John Henry Barrow (1817-1874), by unknown photographer, c1873

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B27294

John Henry Barrow (1817-1874), preacher, journalist and politician, was born in England, son of John Barrow. After training at Hackney College, London, he took charge of the Congregational Church at Market Drayton, Shropshire, where he also ran a school. He then had ministries at Leeds, where he published pamphlets on temperance and against apostolic succession, and at Bradford where he also wrote for the liberal Bradford Observer and other journals. He married Sarah Liversage and in 1853 migrated with his family to Adelaide, where he began work in the accounts section of the South Australian Register and soon became leader writer.

In May 1854 Barrow became pastor of an Independent congregation newly formed at Kensington and in April 1856 their Clayton Chapel was opened. His wife died next October. He resigned his ministry in August 1858 when elected for East Torrens to the House of Assembly. He had already left the Register and with a joint-stock company started two new papers: the daily South Australian Advertiser on 12 July and five days later the Weekly Chronicle. Barrow controlled the literary side efficiently but the business management was divided and not a financial success. In August 1862 the morning Advertiser faced competition from the new evening Telegraph. To meet this rivalry Barrow produced the Adelaide Express in November 1863, but within a year his joint-stock company was dissolved and control passed to a syndicate of eight, with Thomas King in control of the business side and Barrow as editor and literary manager. Outspoken editorials and reduced prices soon improved the finances of the Advertiser and Chronicle and in December 1866 the syndicate bought the Telegraph, combining it next month with the Express. In September 1871 the syndicate was dissolved, leaving Barrow and King as sole proprietors.

As an editor Barrow swayed public opinion, but despite his heavy duties did not confine his energies to press work. In the House of Assembly he soon showed that he was honest, fearless and talented. His maiden speech on 1 September 1858 revealed an unusually wide grasp of European problems as well as matters of Australian interest. In 1861-71 he served in the Legislative Council, where zealous conservatives thought him 'a too democratic ingredient'. Always a strong supporter of the Real Property Act, he was appointed in 1861 to the commission of inquiry into its operation. There and on many later select committees he won repute as 'a ruling spirit'. In debates on the Northern Territory land disposals bill in 1863 he fought hard against creating new opportunities for speculators in real estate and successfully proposed amendments designed to preserve level prices for town blocks. In the severe drought of 1864 when George Goyder's lease valuations offended the squatters' party Barrow satirized their complaints in debates and editorials that added to his popularity among townsmen and smallholders. In 1870 Barrow was appointed to represent South Australia at an intercolonial conference in Melbourne. There he pressed for an improved overseas mail service and argued that, if imperial troops were to be withdrawn, Britain must secure for the Australian colonies 'the position of neutral states in the event of war'. Next year he was elected first mayor of the Corporation of Unley. He resigned from the Legislative Council, but was persuaded to stand for Sturt in the House of Assembly elections. Despite deteriorating health and frequent absences he was appointed treasurer in the Ayers ministry in March 1872, and leader of the government in the assembly. In 1873 he attended another intercolonial conference in Sydney and when the ministry fell in July 1873 Barrow went to Victoria to recuperate. He returned and with great physical and mental strain tried to attend to his parliamentary and editorial duties, but at last had to relinquish them. He died on 22 August 1874 of a serous effusion on the brain, survived by his second wife Mary Burden, whom he had married on 15 August 1865, and by three sons and three daughters.

Barrow's twenty Australian years were packed with usefulness and public service. In addition to his work for church, press and parliament he was sometime a member of the Board of Education, the Central Roads Board and the Free Rifle Corps. Though opponents thought him egotistic they had to admire the combination of gifts that made him a leading figure. Resolute and decisive, he was successful in all he tackled. His trade was words and he used them skilfully to persuade and convince, seldom to wound.

Select Bibliography

  • John H. Barrow, M.P.: Notices of his Life, Labors and Death, Compiled from the Press of South Australia, Printed for Private Circulation (Adel, 1874)
  • J. L. Darling, ‘John Henry Barrow of "The Advertiser"’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, vol 66, 1965, pp 81-91
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 24 Aug 1874.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

C. M. Sinclair, 'Barrow, John Henry (1817–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barrow-john-henry-2943/text4265, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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