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Herbert Claude Barnard (1890–1957)

by R. J. K. Chapman

This article was published:

Herbert Claude Barnard (1890-1957), by unknown photographer, 1940s

Herbert Claude Barnard (1890-1957), by unknown photographer, 1940s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23193370

Herbert Claude Barnard (1890-1957), politician, was born on 16 October 1890 at Mole Creek, near Deloraine, Tasmania, son of Ernest Walter Barnard, wheelwright, and his wife Charlotte, née Tipper. Educated at Invermay State School, Claude left at the age of 14 to work in a nursery. In 1909 at Launceston he was employed as an engine cleaner in the Tasmanian Government Railways; he later became a fireman, then an engine driver. Raised as a Methodist, on 6 March 1912 in the Baptist Tabernacle, Deloraine, he married a blacksmith's daughter, Martha Melva McKenzie; they lived in Hampden Street, East Launceston, had three sons and a daughter, and Barnard attended the local Baptist chapel.

One of the founders (1920) and State secretary of the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen, he was also president of the Launceston Trades Hall Council. As secretary of the Bass division council of the Australian Labor Party, in the 1931 Federal elections Barnard was unable to find a candidate to stand against James Guy who had defected to the United Australia Party with Joseph Lyons. Barnard drafted himself, but lost. Two years later he became State president of the A.L.P. In 1934 he won Bass by a narrow margin and entered the House of Representatives. Obliged to spend six months at a time in Canberra for parliamentary sittings, he lived with his wife in the Kurrajong Hotel, but remained devoted to his children who reciprocated the affection.

On 3 July 1941 Barnard was appointed to, and in November became chairman of, the joint parliamentary committee on social security. Between 1941 and 1946 the committee tabled nine reports which raised broad principles of social welfare and made recommendations on such matters as unemployment benefits, state housing, national schemes for health and hospital services, maternal and child welfare, old-age, invalid and widows' pensions, planning for postwar reconstruction, and the consolidation of related legislation. The committee was not the sole source of ideas about the future scope of social services, but many of its proposals were incorporated in the extensive legislative programmes undertaken by the governments of John Curtin and Ben Chifley. Although Barnard resigned as chairman in 1944, he remained a committee-member until 1946 and contributed much to the foundations of the Australian welfare state.

In May 1944 he had attended the International Labour Organization conference at Philadelphia, United States of America, where he was chiefly concerned with social security issues. Appointed minister for repatriation in November 1946, he had personal knowledge of the predicament of returned servicemen and war widows: during World War II two of his sons had been wounded; a third was killed in action, leaving a wife and child. Barnard's tenure in what he later called the 'suicide portfolio' was not easy. Incensed at what it perceived as inaction on pension increases, the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia accused him of weakness and incapacity. It was further claimed that Barnard was insensitive to the plight of war widows. His conflicts with the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals provided additional ammunition for the Opposition in parliament. He lost his seat in the 1949 general elections.

A right-wing member of the A.L.P., Barnard came from the traditional trade-union base of his party. His radical view of social justice sprang from his religious convictions; he was not a doctrinaire socialist and took more interest in parochial and personal issues than in ideology. He showed concern for his constituents, carrying a notebook to record the grievances of those he met at public meetings or on regular tours of his electorate. Anomalies in the payment of welfare benefits and in the provision of services to particular localities were rectified as a result of his work as a local member. Among the institutions which benefited from his commitment to social and charitable activities was the Launceston Girls' Home, whose board of management he chaired in 1954-56. Courteous and solicitous, he visited the wards of the Launceston General Hospital on Sunday afternoons. Barnard's loyalty to his party and constituency were rewarded by his election to the Tasmanian House of Assembly in 1950 as a member for Bass, an electorate he was to represent until his death.

A tall man, with a fresh complexion, round face and bald head, Barnard was a teetotaller and an inveterate cigar-smoker. Tasmanians esteemed him for his industry and integrity, and regarded him as a man of the people who was as welcome in the Launceston Working Men's Club as he was in the Memorial Baptist Church, Wellington Street. Survived by his wife and two sons, Barnard died of cancer on 6 December 1957 in Launceston Public Hospital; following a state funeral, he was cremated. His widow was made a life member (1967) of the Labor Party; his son Lance became Federal member for Bass in 1954 and deputy prime minister (1972-74).

Select Bibliography

  • T. H. Kewley, Social Security in Australia, 1900-72 (Syd, 1973)
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 Nov 1942
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 1944, 25 Feb, 18 Dec 1949
  • Herald (Melbourne), 17 July 1947
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 25 Oct 1948
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 Oct 1948
  • Examiner (Launceston), 7 Dec 1957
  • private information.

Citation details

R. J. K. Chapman, 'Barnard, Herbert Claude (1890–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 June 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

Herbert Claude Barnard (1890-1957), by unknown photographer, 1940s

Herbert Claude Barnard (1890-1957), by unknown photographer, 1940s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23193370

Life Summary [details]


16 October, 1890
Mole Creek, Tasmania, Australia


6 December, 1957 (aged 67)
Launceston, Tasmania, 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.