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Collet Barker (1784–1831)

by J. Bach

This article was published:

Collet Barker (1784-1831), soldier, was born on 31 December 1784 at Hackney, Middlesex, England, son of William Barker and his wife whose father was Samuel Collet. He entered the army in January 1806 as an ensign in the 39th Regiment and was promoted lieutenant in 1809 and captain in 1825. He served in Sicily in 1807-11, and in the Peninsular war and later was stationed in Ireland. He sailed for Australia in 1828. Soon after arrival in Sydney in July he was appointed commandant of the settlement at Fort Wellington on Raffles Bay.

The command of Fort Wellington fell by roster to officers of the 39th Regiment: within a year the first commandant, Captain Smyth, was followed by Lieutenant Sleeman, who was relieved by Barker in September 1828 with a fresh detachment and more convicts. His energy was soon apparent. By cultivating vegetables and fruit and repairing buildings he kept his people in good condition during the wet season. By personal example, and with great courage, he won the confidence of the Aboriginals. He induced some visiting Malays to arrange a trading enterprise, but before they returned he was ordered to close the settlement just when he felt that success was about to be realized.

Barker left Raffles Bay in August 1829 to take command of the penal settlement at King George Sound, which he administered with skill, and where he repeated his former success in conciliating hostile Aboriginals. The settlers at Swan River objected, however, to the presence of convicts in their colony and Governor (Sir) James Stirling was not happy to have within his territory a military post under the command of the governor of New South Wales. In March 1831 the station was closed and Barker sailed with the convicts in the Isabella. On the voyage to Sydney he was asked to determine the outlet of the River Murray. He examined the eastern shore of Gulf St Vincent from Cape Jervis northward, climbed Mount Lofty, found Adelaide's future port and named the near-by Sturt River. From Yankalilla Bay he went overland with a party to Encounter Bay where alone he swam the Murray mouth and was speared to death by Aboriginals on 30 April 1831. His journal of this exploration was not completed and accounts of it by his lieutenant were later to cause much confusion when South Australia was settled.

In 1831 Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling, impressed by Barker's behaviour, had appointed him Resident in the troubled North Island of New Zealand, where the Maori problem would have been a worthy test of his ability.

His death was recognized as a great loss; his friend Charles Sturt compared his character with that of Captain James Cook. A colleague at Raffles Bay described him as 'zealous in discharge of public duties, honourable and just in private life, a lover and follower of science, indefatigable and dauntless in his pursuits, a steady friend and entertaining companion, charitable, kindhearted, disinterested and sincere'. Two memorials bear his name, one at Mount Barker, and the other in St James's Church, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vol 6
  • C. Sturt, Two Expeditions Into the Interior of Southern Australia, vol 2 (Lond, 1834)
  • A. G. Price, ‘The Work of Captain Collet Barker in South Australia’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, vol 26, 1924-25, pp 52-66
  • Collet Barker, journal, 13 Sept 1828–29 Aug 1829 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/204.

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Citation details

J. Bach, 'Barker, Collet (1784–1831)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 December, 1784
London, Middlesex, England


30 April, 1831 (aged 46)
Encounter Bay, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

spear wounds

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Military Service
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