Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Barling (1839–1921)

by Jill Robinson

This article was published:

Joseph Barling (1839-1921), by unknown photographer, 1890s

Joseph Barling (1839-1921), by unknown photographer, 1890s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22946082

Joseph Barling (1839-1921), public servant, was born on 21 April 1839 at Poole, Dorsetshire, England, the eldest son of Joseph Barling, ironmonger and later a grazier of Dunwell, Scone, New South Wales, and his wife Elizabeth, née Bennett. He was educated in Poole and went with his family in the Caduceus to Sydney where he arrived on 5 February 1856. He was first appointed to the New South Wales public service on 10 August 1861 as a clerk in the engineer's branch of the Harbours and River Navigation Department. He served as second clerk in that department in 1863-67, as a clerk in the railways branch in 1867-71, as chief clerk and accountant in the engineer's branch of the harbours and rivers navigation branch of the Public Works Department in 1871-87, and in 1873-74 was also acting accountant for the railways branch.

Barling became chief clerk of the Department of Public Works in 1887 and was appointed its under-secretary on 1 April 1888. There he initiated the first of a series of reorganizations in the departmental structure which led to greater efficiency and economy. Further changes, particularly in 1893-94, reduced the clerical staff and in 1895, after the royal commission on the civil service, the professional staff was reorganized to ensure that their duties were of a truly professional nature. An active under-secretary, Barling was well aware of his responsibility to his minister; he served as vice-chairman of the board for opening tenders for public works from 1889 and as chairman of the board of reference from 1891.

Barling's interest in the methods of running government business had clearly begun before his appointment to the first Public Service Board on 15 January 1896. He was its chairman in 1897, 1898, 1901, 1903 and 1906. In his time the board and its members were well regarded by many prominent politicians. With his colleagues Barling tirelessly and continuously reviewed the activities of all government departments and the positions of individual officers, framed regulations for the conduct of the service, rationalized salaries, appointments and promotions, introduced an examination system and a scheme of increments, placed the Superannuation Fund in a viable position and ensured that women were fairly employed. Regrading and retrenchment inevitably brought adverse public criticism to the board and its members but a sincere attempt was made to attract the best staff to an efficient administration. In 1901 Barling went to England to inquire into the appointment of a commercial agent in London, and for the board inspected the Agent-General's Office. He also served on many royal commissions, notably those investigating the charitable institutions where his directness and persistence were of value.

Throughout his years of service to the government Barling worked with energy and a firm sense of responsibility. From 16 January 1907 he was granted eight months leave before his retirement. He returned to England where he continued to serve New South Wales as a commissioner for the Franco-British Exhibition in 1908 and as a member of the executive committee for the Australian War Contingent in 1916-19. He was honoured by being made an associate of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1891 and awarded the Imperial Service Order in 1905. He also became a member of the British Astronomical Association in 1913. After thirteen years he returned to Australia on 19 April 1920. He died at his home, St Adrians, in Mosman on 21 September 1921 and was buried in the Congregational section of Rookwood cemetery.

In 1868 he had married Margaret Euphemia Vernon; they had one son, James Eric Vernon, who became a medical practitioner, and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Jan 1896, 23 Sept 1921
  • New South Wales Public Service Board minutes, 1896-1907 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Jill Robinson, 'Barling, Joseph (1839–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 19 May 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

Joseph Barling (1839-1921), by unknown photographer, 1890s

Joseph Barling (1839-1921), by unknown photographer, 1890s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22946082

Life Summary [details]


21 April, 1839
Poole, Dorset, England


21 September, 1921 (aged 82)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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