Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Barnard (1809–1897)

by J. R. Morris

This article was published:

James Barnard (1809?-1897), government printer, was born in Hackney, London, the son of John George Barnard of Blackfriars, and was apprenticed in his father's printing firm in 1825. In February 1838 he was appointed the first government printer in Van Diemen's Land by Glenelg, in response to a request from Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin, and with advice from Eyre & Spottiswoode. Barnard spent the next eight months procuring machinery and material for his new office; he married before leaving England and arrived in Hobart Town in the Pyramus with his wife and sister (d.1855) in March 1839.

He made his home at Surrey House, Macquarie Street, in front of the printery where his new equipment was soon installed. Impressed by Barnard's standards, which aimed less 'to surpass colonial printers than not to be excelled by any London productions', Franklin gave him the additional printing of the military and convict departments. An overseer and ten convict workmen were provided and by September 1840 Barnard could claim that his efficient administration had saved the government £1000 in a year. He also sought an increase of salary, arguing that he had more men to supervise and more book-work than he expected. However, his success was not appreciated by private printers, one of whom complained that Barnard's duties should be strictly confined to government work: 'if he can be authorized to put out a scientific journal, he may with impunity put forth a political newspaper'. The fear was groundless; outside his printery, Barnard's lifelong enthusiasm was for science.

He was an original member of Franklin's Tasmanian Society in 1841 and, as well as publishing its Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science, he contributed carefully prepared papers on the statistics of Van Diemen's Land in 1844-46. When it was supplanted by the Royal Society of Tasmania, he continued his statistical observations and produced many other papers on such subjects as the Tasmanian Aboriginals, the growing of beetroot and sugar manufacture, and the acclimatization of esparto grass for paper making. Some of his work on the Aboriginals was reprinted in Transactions of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science (1890). He was also active in other forms of colonial enlightenment. In 1844 he began to press for improvements in the Botanical Gardens and later, as first chairman of the committee for the Queen's Domain, he was responsible for its new roads and plantations. In 1848 he helped to start a public library and museum. His lively interest was maintained; with Dr James Agnew and others, he urged the government to provide an adequate building for the museum, and he helped Dr Joseph Milligan to collect £2000 towards its cost. He also served on the committee that arranged for Tasmanian representation at the London Exhibition in 1851.

A devout Anglican, Barnard served his church faithfully and well, at different times acting as secretary of the colonial branch of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, as warden at St George's, St David's and St John's, as an active member of synod and as trustee of several church properties. His profession of religion was deep and sincere, his faith too sacred for ostentatious display.

Long before he retired from the government printery in 1880, Barnard had won wide esteem far outside Tasmania for his knowledge and integrity. Aged 88, he died at his home in Macquarie Street on 20 April 1897, a model colonist who had proved himself worthy of trust and respect. Two of his sons were medical practitioners in Tasmania and the third became collector of customs in Hobart in 1894.

Select Bibliography

  • Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 1849, 1850, 1852, 1855, 1868, 1869, 1882, 1889, 1895, 1897
  • Church News (Hobart), 1 May 1897
  • Mercury (Hobart), 1 Apr 1897
  • correspondence file under J. Barnard (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

J. R. Morris, 'Barnard, James (1809–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James Barnard, 1894

James Barnard, 1894

Archives Office of Tasmania, NS738

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


20 April, 1897 (aged ~ 88)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


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