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Frederic Barker (1808–1882)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

Frederic Barker (1808-1882), by John Hubert Newman, 1870s

Frederic Barker (1808-1882), by John Hubert Newman, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22981415

Frederic Barker (1808-1882), bishop, was born on 17 March 1808 at Baslow, Derbyshire, England, the fifth of six sons of Rev. John Barker (1762-1824) and his wife Jane (1768-1838), née Whyte. His paternal ancestors had been landowners and stewards of the Dukes of Devonshire and his grandfather had taken holy orders and become ducal chaplain. Barker was educated at Grantham School and Jesus College, Cambridge (B.A., 1831; M.A., 1839), but scholarship was never his main interest. His purpose was already clear. As a youth he had had marked religious convictions. At Cambridge he came under the influence of Charles Simeon, then in his last and mellowest years as the Evangelical mentor of the University. Barker went down from Cambridge a firm adherent of the Evangelical party in the Church of England. He always remained true to it.

Barker was made deacon on 10 April 1831 by the bishop of Rochester. On 15 April 1832 he was ordained priest by Bishop Sumner of Chester, one of the few Evangelical sympathizers on the English bench, who was always to be Barker's ideal as a bishop. On 11 April 1832 Barker was appointed perpetual curate of Upton by Birkenhead. Late in 1834 he made a tour for the Irish Home Mission Society; he is said to have preached fifty-two sermons in a month. Certainly he gained experience in popular preaching, an understanding of the problems of the Church of Ireland and an enduring detestation of Irish Catholicism.

Offered several parishes in England and Ireland, Barker chose the ecclesiastical district of St Mary, Edge Hill. He was inducted on 23 January 1835 and resigned Upton in 1837. Edge Hill, a Liverpool suburb, was mainly middle-class but with a growing industrial population; the church was new and unattractive and the district lacked many religious facilities. Barker proved a devoted and, in time, a skilful parish minister. He was quick to adopt the methods of his diocesan, Sumner, and he built up a flourishing church. By the end of nineteen years there he had been able to erect one more church and to plan for a second. On 15 October 1840 he had married Jane Sophia, elder daughter and third child of John Harden, amateur artist and a member of an Anglo-Irish landowning family, and Janet (Jessy), daughter of Robert Allan of Edinburgh. Jane was a resolute Evangelical but she introduced Barker to a new intellectual environment, for she was influenced by the literary and artistic associations of her father who, after settling in the Lake District in 1804, had become the friend of Wordsworth and his circle.

At Liverpool Barker was a member, though not a conspicuous one, of a group of clergy, several of them Irish, who were active in the Evangelical cause. They were firm opponents of non-denominational education and, in a city where religious feeling ran high, of Roman Catholicism. Of Barker's publications during this time, several were criticisms of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice. In 1838 he contributed a sermon on 'The Supposed Sacrament of Penance' to a course delivered in St Andrew's, Liverpool, and later printed; he gave another in 1839 in a series On the Rise of the Errors of the Church of Rome (Liverpool, 1840). A third, 'Pharisaism', was one of twenty-two delivered and printed in 1854 in aid of a new church at Cartmel. In that year he published Thirty-six Psalms; with Commentary, and Prayer for Use in Families; it had been composed some years earlier and was incomplete. Pressure of ministerial duties, and a preference for pastoral work to scholarship or academic controversy, restricted Barker's literary output.

In 1853 Barker seemed threatened by continued ill health. Despite his parishioners' efforts to retain him, he accepted the Duke of Devonshire's offer of Baslow, vacant in December by the death of his eldest brother, Anthony Auriol. He was inducted in the little village church in April 1854. Three months later he received the offer of the metropolitan see of Sydney. It had been without a bishop since February 1853, when William Grant Broughton died in London. Attempts to find a successor had failed. Soon after Bishop Selwyn of New Zealand had declined translation, the arrival of Sir George Grey at the Colonial Office turned the search from a High Church to an Evangelical candidate. Prebendary Champneys declined nomination and, on the advice of Archbishop Sumner, Barker was approached. Amid criticism from High Churchmen, he consented with some reluctance, after receiving his physician's assurance 'that he would not find the work so hard as in a town parish like Edge Hill'. His letters patent designated him Bishop of Sydney and metropolitan of Australia; the province no longer included New Zealand. Barker received a D.D. by mandate at Cambridge on 22 November 1854 and was consecrated on St Andrew's Day, 30 November, in Lambeth Parish Church. Champneys preached the sermon. Barker, his wife and several clergy and ordinands sailed from Liverpool in the Mermaid on 28 February 1855. They were welcomed at Melbourne but the absence of Bishop Charles Perry deprived Barker of episcopal advice on current constitutional matters. On 25 May the party reached Sydney, where Barker was enthroned in St Andrew's temporary cathedral on 31 May.

Barker came to Australia in a firm Evangelical spirit. He had no doubt that as chief pastor his task was missionary conversion, not only in newly-developed areas but in the settled districts as well. He preached a simple gospel in a disarmingly simple manner. He was a kindly man who tried hard to restrain an acid humour to which colonial pretensions gave much scope. He was tolerant in personal relations but quite inflexible in public opposition to other schools of churchmanship. He believed the Tractarians to be crypto-Roman Catholics and the older High Churchmen too formal for colonial conditions. His English nickname, 'the High Priest' was as much a comment on his low churchmanship as on his great height, 6 ft 5½ ins (197 cm). A determined traditionalist in church-state relations, he mistrusted the voluntary principle and stood by the legal nexus with the Crown. His prime need was to build up the clerical force. With help of associates at home he recruited a large number of clergymen of his own party from England and Ireland. Together with the men trained at the new Moore Theological College by Barker's friend, Rev. William Hodgson, the importations formed the nucleus of an influential group within the diocese. They found allies among the Calvinist Evangelicals from earlier colonial times and were generally acceptable to lay opinion which, despite Bishop Broughton, regarded the low church as the Anglican norm.

Barker was an efficient administrator, with a policy of church extension based on that of his former diocesan, J. B. Sumner. In the management of parochial and financial affairs and the organizing of diocesan institutions he had few equals. An excellent horseman, he was prepared to take long journeys. After a western tour in 1855 he set himself to put his diocese in order. In addition to Moore College, a school was founded by his wife for the daughters of the clergy; a new site was acquired for Bishopscourt, which was built in 1859; work was resumed on the cathedral; St Paul's College within the university opened its doors. The fortnightly Church of England Chronicle was commenced under episcopal patronage; it drew largely on the English Evangelical press but in its ten years served a local purpose. After a government commission had reported adversely on church schools Barker, who upheld denominational education, began to reorganize them. William Cowper, a representative of the older Evangelical tradition in New South Wales, was made dean and archdeacon in 1858 and given charge of school affairs. Barker also promoted the Sunday School Institute, for he realized that such schools could give the only effective religious instruction in many areas.

Undoubtedly Barker's main early achievement was the formation of the Church Society in May 1856. Based on Bishop William Tyrrell's society in Newcastle and on Sumner's experiments in England, it was a network of parish auxiliaries under central control, designed to raise money locally for general funds, to supplement clergy stipends and to finance church expansion. The promotion of the society and its branches found Barker at his best, firm in management and persuasive with his people. It also helped to organize the laity for eventual participation in church government. The achievement of a constitution for the church in New South Wales had been delayed by Broughton's death, but not before open differences had arisen about its form. Barker was not, and never became, expert on constitutional affairs and relied on the advice of a chosen few, although he did believe that a constitution should be based on legislative enactment. In this, he had the example of Perry, whom he visited in 1857, and at this stage the support of Tyrrell. A diocesan conference in 1858 found opposition from the exponents of a simple enabling statute and from those who wished to limit the episcopal veto. By 1861 parliament, backed by suspicions of Anglican aggrandizement, would consider legislation only on terms that Barker was reluctant to accept. Next year the long-anticipated abolition of state aid for public worship took place, though with safeguards for existing claims. Barker's protests effected better conditions but this move, and the threat to the utility of his letters patent in the Supreme Court's decision in the King case (1861), prompted him to go to England to consult lawyers and bishops.

There in 1862-64 Barker completed the creation of the diocese of Goulburn and, in the face of protests, agreed to the appointment of Mesac Thomas, a fellow-Evangelical, as bishop. A third diocese was formed, largely by Barker's efforts, at Bathurst in 1869. Apart from agreeable family reunions (Barker and his wife had not quite reconciled themselves to living in Sydney) the visit gave certain causes for concern. He was surprised at new developments in science and theology and viewed them with dismay. Legal decisions about church and state in the self-governing colonies disturbed his confidence. He returned to Sydney determined to complete the reorganization of his diocese and to introduce synodal government.

The constitutional debates in New South Wales lasted for two years. In 1866 parliament passed an Act for the management of Church property in accordance with constitutions already agreed on. Barker and Tyrrell had different views of legislative enactment and the powers of a provincial synod: Tyrrell, perhaps, had more thought for the future while Barker was anxious to preserve as much of the state connexion as possible. His policy was not entirely determined by party considerations but rather by a fundamental, if ill-defined, conviction about the role of the church in colonial society. The next step was taken in 1868 when the Australian bishops, assembled in Sydney for the consecration of St Andrew's Cathedral, considered at Barker's invitation the need for a general synod and its duties. Again, Barker did not favour radical measures but his deft chairmanship secured agreement in a situation where the legal position was not entirely clear.

Matters of state continued to obtrude themselves on the ceaseless, and far more congenial, pastoral and visitation work of the bishop and his patronage of societies for moral reform. In 1866 the Public Schools Act abolished the 'dual' system of education and placed all state-aided schools under a single Council of Education. Barker opposed the measure but during its passage secured amendments which made it more acceptable to him. As a Tory he had a low opinion of 'liberal' colonial politicians, some of whom retorted with persistent attacks on episcopal endowments and on the bishop himself, though he was rarely unsuccessful in extracting small but significant concessions from them.

Barker went to England in 1870 to seek advice on the changing legal status of the colonial church and its clergy. He had declined an invitation to the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 and now he wanted counsel on formation of the general synod. An attempt to recruit a bishop for the projected diocese of North Queensland, still under his jurisdiction, was a failure, but he received sufficient legal assurance to summon a meeting when he returned to Sydney in April 1872. A constitution on the lines laid down in 1868 was adopted and in October Barker became metropolitan bishop and later primate of the Church of England in Australia and Tasmania. The new General Synod was not a powerful legislative body but it was a symbol of unity, a useful tribunal and a medium of co-operation. Always mindful of the English connexion Barker wished for little more, and came to regard the creation of General Synod as one of his major achievements.

Barker was now able to concentrate on diocesan affairs: church extension, financial reform and effective working of the local synod. By 1875 his influence in Sydney was at its height and he was generally looked to as Australia's leading Evangelical. But there were signs of change. Ritualism began to make a tentative appearance. Apart from the separation and shortening of services, liturgical alteration was opposed by Barker, who declined to countenance clergy as members of the reformist Church Union. Higher criticism and scientific developments left an imprint on colonial thought, but Barker seldom discussed them. On the other hand, Archbishop Roger Vaughan stimulated controversy with the Roman Catholics, into which Barker entered. In education the Anglican day schools declined steadily, although Barker supported the efforts of (Sir) Alexander Stuart and the Church of England Defence Association to resist political and popular moves to abolish state aid. He worked hard to improve relations with the Council of Education, to stimulate religious instruction in public schools and to enlarge the number of Sunday schools. Barker's main centres of interest were clearly defined and he was unwilling to alter them. The death of his wife at Randwick on 9 March 1876 probably intensified his conservatism.

On 13 March 1877 Barker again sailed for England. He followed up his travels in Queensland by securing the appointment of George Stanton as bishop of the new diocese of North Queensland. He also attended the Lambeth Conference in 1878, but played no important part in its proceedings. He visited the Church Congress and a number of Evangelical conventions; he had become recognized as an exemplar for bishops of that brand. On 22 January 1878 Barker married Mary Jane (1848-1910), elder daughter of Edward Woods, a consultant railway engineer, and Mary, née Goodman.

When Barker returned to Sydney in 1878 he became involved in his last major crisis: the education controversy and the Public Instruction Act of 1880. Sir Henry Parkes's measure obliged Barker once more to defend state aid for his church schools. In many ways, Barker agreed with Parkes's policy of school reform: he had even returned from England a convert to the principle of compulsory education, which Parkes was not, and he saw many defects in the existing schools. But he opposed the proposed abolition of state aid for denominational schools and reaffirmed his belief that 'religious education in our Church of England schools [is] of the greatest value to the child and to the State'. He could not muster the full support of his church for his policy, for despite his vigorous defence of denominational education before the provincial synod in September a significant minority opposed him. In December he organized a large public meeting in favour of his position and in January called the Sydney clergy together. Neither gathering could enlist an adequate following. Barker denied that his stand would strengthen the Roman Catholic schools rather than his own but he had difficulty in making this explanation acceptable. The new Act gave slightly better conditions for religious instruction in public schools than that of 1866 and so mollified much Anglican opinion, as Barker's petition to parliament acknowledged. At the diocesan synod in June 1880 he virtually conceded defeat but pressed for the retention of church schools on a voluntary basis and for a further effort to take full advantage of the special religious instruction clause.

Barker's last work was to assist in the preparation of a bill to provide a general trust of church property. In December 1880 his health broke down and, after a partial recovery, he left for England in March 1881. He spent the summer in the Lake District and wintered in Italy. He died at San Remo on 6 April 1882 and was buried in the churchyard at Baslow. Barker had no children. His second wife died in London on 31 January 1910 and left a benefaction to Moore College in his memory. The Chapter House at St Andrew's Cathedral was designed as a Barker memorial.

A portrait by Richmond is in family possession; other portraits are at the cathedral and Bishopscourt, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • W. M. Cowper (ed), Episcopate of the Right Reverend Frederic Barker, D.D., Bishop of Sydney and Metropolitan Australia: A Memoir (Lond, 1888)
  • W. M. Cowper, Autobiography and Reminiscences (Syd, 1902)
  • M. L. Loane, A Centenary History of Moore Theological College (Syd, 1955)
  • R. Border, Church and State in Australia 1788-1872 (Lond, 1962)
  • K. J. Cable, ‘Mrs Barker and Her Diary’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 54, part 1, Mar 1968, pp 67-105
  • K. J. Cable, The Church of England in N.S.W. and its Policy Towards Education, 1788-1880 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1952)
  • P. D. Davis, Bishop Barker and Education (M.Ed. thesis, University of Sydney, 1963)
  • Votes and Proceedings, Sydney Synod, New South Wales Synod, and General Synod (Sydney Diocesan Registry)
  • Act books, letter-book and registers (Sydney Diocesan Registry) SPG in-letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Frederic Barker journals (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Mrs Barker's diaries and letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Harden-Clay, papers and diaries (privately held)
  • R. A. Barker, History of the Family of Barker of Edensor (manuscript, privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Barker, Frederic (1808–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederic Barker (1808-1882), by John Hubert Newman, 1870s

Frederic Barker (1808-1882), by John Hubert Newman, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22981415

Life Summary [details]


17 March, 1808
Baslow, Derbyshire, England


6 April, 1882 (aged 74)
San Remo, Italy

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