Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Joseph Barrett (1840–1921)

by A. A. Morrison

This article was published:

John Joseph Barrett (1840-1921), Catholic educationist, was born in Dublin. Educated at the Christian Brothers' school in Limerick under Br B. O'Brien, who had advanced educational ideas, and at the Catholic University in Dublin, then under the influence of John Henry Newman, he was at first destined for the army, but after passing the officers' entrance examination to Sandhurst he suffered much from illness. Touring the Continent to recuperate, he became interested in education, especially in France and Italy, and on his return to Ireland joined the Christian Brothers in 1861. Although mostly in houses of formation he did some teaching in Ireland before he was sent to Melbourne in 1871 in search of better health.

In 1875 he went to Queensland where he set up the first Brothers' school in the colony, St Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace ('Terrace'). At first at the request of Bishop James Quinn, boarders were taken but the main strength of the school remained the day boys. In 1891 Nudgee College was established as the prototype of the Brothers' boarding schools, taking over the Terrace boarders. Dogged by ill health Barrett was forced to return to Melbourne in 1881 where he acted as novice master until 1883, but with this exception he controlled Terrace until 1889. His success was limited by his extreme rigidity and his failure to realize the importance of sport in the Australian outlook. Nevertheless he largely overcame the difficulty produced by the poverty of many Catholic parents and was mainly responsible for the firm establishment of Terrace. There he laid the foundations of the educational system followed and developed by later Brothers, the order now being the largest single organization in Queensland for the training of boys outside the Department of Education.

In 1892 Barrett assisted at the opening of a Brothers' school in Ipswich and in 1894 of another in Rockhampton. Then he joined the staff of Nudgee College where, freed from the responsibility of headmastership, he exercised by his kindly nature, his scholarship and his deeply religious convictions a great influence on the boarders, who came from all parts of Queensland and even from beyond. He died on 15 March 1921 and was buried in Nudgee cemetery. His work was continued and in 1967 Queensland was set up as a separate Province in the Christian Brothers Order.

Select Bibliography

  • P. F. Connole, The Christian Brothers in Secondary Education in Queensland 1875-1965 (M.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1965) and for bibliography.

Citation details

A. A. Morrison, 'Barrett, John Joseph (1840–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 24 June 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]


Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


15 March, 1921 (aged ~ 81)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.