Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Herbert Barker (1880–1965)

by M. E. Zerner

This article was published:

George Herbert Barker (1880-1965), bookseller and naturalist, was born on 21 January 1880 at Hunters Hill, Sydney, son of native-born parents George Robert Barker, a hospital messenger, and his wife Catherine, née McNeil. Educated at Fort Street Model School, in 1897 young George began work at Angus and Robertson's bookshop where he became friendly with James Tyrrell who was to encourage him to set up as a bookseller. In 1907 Barker sailed with his father to Brisbane. They rented space in the Australian Hotel Building in Albert Street for thirty shillings a week and began business with several cases of second-hand books on extended credit from Tyrrell. On 26 April 1911 Barker married Florence Wilhelmina Elphick at All Saints Anglican Church, Tumut, New South Wales; they were to have six children.

Expanding trade necessitated successive relocations of Barker's Book Store to premises in Adelaide Street and finally in Edward Street. A new section dealing with technical books was added and a lending library introduced. The bookshop became pre-eminent in Brisbane, catering particularly to students. A foundation member (1924) and sometime president of the Queensland Booksellers' Association, Barker was also instrumental in forming the Australian Booksellers' Association; as its president (1949-51), he led a group of Australian booksellers to Britain to negotiate trading terms.

While still at school, Barker had belonged to the Australian Flora Society; he became its treasurer and curator of its herbarium. After arriving in Brisbane, he joined the Queensland Naturalists' Club, of which he was a councillor (from 1910) and president (1920-21, 1935-36 and 1947-48). An enthusiastic camper, he was the club's honorary excursions-secretary, as well as treasurer and librarian. 'G.H.B.' donated many natural history books to the Q.N.C.'s library and freely lent even the most expensive books from his personal collection. The study of birds was one of his major interests and his bookshop became a focal point for ornithology in Queensland. He was a member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union for nearly half a century, and secretary (1922-56), treasurer and president (1940-41) of its Queensland branch. Noted for his fluent expression, he contributed papers to the Emu and to the Queensland Naturalist, including two in collaboration with H. G. Barnard.

A member of the Royal Society of Queensland and of the Astronomical Society, Barker was foundation treasurer (1930-46) of the Queensland National Parks Association. Perhaps his greatest passion was for ground orchids: he loved searching for them and was an office-bearer of the Queensland Orchid Society. He was president of the Young Men's Christian Association, Brisbane, a warden at St Alban's Anglican Church, Wilston, and also involved with the Boy Scouts' Association. Leaving the management of his bookshop to his only son, Barker retired in 1954. He died on 25 June 1965 at Windsor and was cremated; his son and three daughters survived him. George Barker Pty Ltd was taken over by Angus & Robertson Ltd in 1973.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Whittell, The Literature of Australian Birds (Perth, 1954)
  • Australian Booksellers Assn, The Early Australian Booksellers (Adel, 1980)
  • Emu (Melbourne), 65, pt 4, Mar 1966, p 314
  • Queensland Naturalist, 18, nos 1-2, June 1966, p 1
  • private information.

Citation details

M. E. Zerner, 'Barker, George Herbert (1880–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 January, 1880
Hunters Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


25 June, 1965 (aged 85)
Windsor, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.