Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Mitchell Barr (1836–1920)

by M. K. Lavender

This article was published:

John Mitchell Barr (1836-1920), miner, politician and journalist, was born in Paisley, Scotland, son of David Barr, banker and owner of extensive dye works in Glasgow, and his wife Helen. He arrived in Melbourne in 1853, soon went with a party to the Bendigo goldfields, became a member of the Red Ribbon League and was briefly imprisoned by 'Bendigo Mac' (Lachlan McLachlan). For several years he followed the rushes around Ballarat and Bendigo with varying luck and eventually settled at McCallum's Creek near Maryborough. There he began dairying and ran sheep and cattle but, in spite of good fortune in mining, losses of stock through disease forced him to sell out.

In 1863 Barr exhausted his capital and had to give up mining as his debts increased. He joined the Majorca and Carisbrook Independent as a reporter and then became editor. In 1869-81 he was town clerk and treasurer of the Borough of Majorca and was elected four times to the Maryborough Mining Board and served twice as its chairman. He convened the Victorian Municipal Conference in 1874 and acted as its secretary. He helped to achieve important changes in municipal law and received the thanks of many local government bodies. In 1876 he was secretary of an electoral conference of local bodies which later influenced the redistribution of seats. Barr was also legal manager of several mining companies, had a large business in fire and life insurance and his wife ran a newsagency and bookseller's shop. In 1877 he was returned as a 'Berryite' to the Legislative Assembly for Maryborough and Talbot; he held the seat until 1883 through three elections. In 1878 he was a member of the royal commission on closed roads, attending twenty-five of its forty-nine meetings. In August 1883 he was guest of honour at a dinner at Talbot; the mayor praised his past services and presented him with a cheque for £100 subscribed by his admirers, particularly in the Talbot district.

In 1881 Barr had resigned as town clerk and sold his business at Majorca, receiving several testimonies of esteem when he left the district. He entered a partnership in Williamstown with Alfred Clark and W. M. Clark, member for Footscray, involving joint proprietorship of the Williamstown Advertiser, with Barr as editor, and an auctioneering and estate agency. Such a combination of three members of parliament had much political influence but although successful the partnership was dissolved in 1883. With W. M. Clark, Barr started the Footscray Independent and was its editor; the paper became a 'household word' in that locality and was very popular. Barr then became secretary of the Footscray Building Society for fifteen years, auditor of the City of Footscray for five years, and government municipal auditor. He also contributed to the press many original tales, poems and sketches of life on the goldfields.

In 1863 Barr had married Martha Hidgcock; they had two sons and four daughters. He died on 15 October 1920 at Ballarat aged 84.

Select Bibliography

  • T. W. H. Leavitt (ed), Australian Representative Men (Melb, 1887)
  • H. Michell (ed), Footscray's First Fifty Years (Footscray, 1909)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 Aug 1883, 18 Oct 1920
  • Ballarat Star, 20 Oct 1920.

Citation details

M. K. Lavender, 'Barr, John Mitchell (1836–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 20 July 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

Life Summary [details]


Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland


15 October, 1920 (aged ~ 84)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

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