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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barker, John (1815–1891)

by Kathleen Thomson

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

John Barker (1815-1891), pastoralist and public servant, was born on 1 May 1815, eldest son of John Barker, of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, and his wife Mary Anne, née Elridge. After education at Aylesbury Grammar School he studied law and was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1834. In 1840 he deposited £100 with the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission, sailed with his brother Edward in the Marmion and arrived at Port Phillip in August. With Edward he took up the pastoral runs of Barrabang in 1840 and later Cape Schanck, Boneo and Barker's heifer station, all near Westernport.

In 1842 John went to England. In April 1844 he married Susannah, daughter of Richard Hodgkinson, of Morton Grange, Nottingham. In November he returned to Port Phillip with his wife, mother, aunt and brother William. In 1845 he became sole owner of the Barrabang, Cape Schanck and Boneo properties. In December he was appointed a territorial magistrate. He was known for kindliness to his tenants, providing them with land and stock and accepting rent in kind. Low prices and difficulties in finding markets led him to establish a boiling-down works, but his legal knowledge was to alter his career. In August 1849 he was appointed a commissioner under the Disputed Boundaries Act and travelled widely, sometimes taking part in expeditions against bushrangers.

In November 1851 Barker was admitted to the Bar in Victoria, but did not practise, because in October he had been appointed clerk to the new Legislative Council of Victoria. In 1856 he was offered the clerkship of either House of parliament. He chose the assembly and held office in it until 1882 when he became clerk of the parliaments. In his long public career Barker became a specialist in the usages of parliament. Twice he won the special praises of the Victorian parliament for his precision, equanimity and impartiality. After an accident while holidaying on the Cape Schanck property in April 1891 he resigned. He died on 15 November at his home in East Melbourne, survived by his wife and three sons, all of whom were educated at Scotch College and at various times managed the Cape Schanck property.

His portrait in oils by Edward à Beckett was presented to John Barker with an embossed address and silver centrepiece on 12 September 1882. He is also shown in William Strutt's pen and ink sketch of the members of the Legislative Council, 13 November 1851, and this together with a portrait by John Lindt is in the Victorian Parliamentary Library.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 22, 23
  • Garryowen (E. Finn), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne, vol 1 (Melb, 1888)
  • J. L. Forde, The Story of the Bar of Victoria (Melb, 1913)
  • R. V. Billis and A. S. Kenyon, Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip (Melb, 1932)
  • H. Rogers, The Early History of the Mornington Peninsula (Melb, 1960)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1883, 1891
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16, 17 Nov 1891
  • Australasian, 21 Nov 1891.

Citation details

Kathleen Thomson, 'Barker, John (1815–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 19 September 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 3

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