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Alfred Barry (1826–1910)

by K. J. Cable

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Alfred Barry (1826-1910), by Richard Dighton, 1870s

Alfred Barry (1826-1910), by Richard Dighton, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23182419

Alfred Barry (1826-1910), Church of England bishop, was born on 15 January 1826 at Holborn, London, second of the five sons of (Sir) Charles Barry (1795-1860), architect, and his wife Sarah, daughter of Samuel Rowsell, stationer. As a schoolboy Barry showed promise as a scholar. From King's College, London, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1848; M.A., 1851), where his performance as 4th Wrangler (aeq.) and 7th Classic won him a minor fellowship and a Smith's prize. In 1850 he became a major fellow and was made deacon by Bishop Turton of Ely; Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford ordained him priest in 1853. He continued with divinity studies (B.D., 1860; D.D., 1866). Oxford gave him an honorary D.C.L. in 1870 and Durham in 1888.

For many years after 1851 Barry was a schoolmaster; in some respects he preserved a schoolmasterly attitude for the rest of his life. First he was sub-warden of Trinity College, Glenalmond, Perthshire, a school and seminary of the Scottish Episcopal Church patronized by W. E. Gladstone and High Churchmen. As an undergraduate Barry had had some Evangelical sympathies and had taught at the Jesus Lane Sunday School, a training ground for clergymen of that persuasion, but his college had fostered broader opinions. He had also made acquaintance with Tractarian sympathizers, including Arthur Gordon (Lord Stanmore), son of Lord Aberdeen and a friend of Gladstone. This may have disposed Barry to go to Glenalmond. But as shown by his first publication, Introduction to the Study of the Old Testament (London, 1856), he came no further under Oxford Movement influence. The frequent absences of the warden, Charles Wordsworth, and the problems of a new and ambitious institution gave Barry unusual responsibility at Glenalmond but no new spiritual insights. Instead he began to take an interest in biblical criticism and the relation between religion and science in history and philosophical theology. Barry became a Low Churchman of liberal opinions, speculative but orthodox, an expositor rather than a controversialist; he was not a party man and disliked arousing opposition from important people.

Barry left Glenalmond in 1854 to become headmaster of Leeds Grammar School, where he developed his talent for administration. The enrolment was increased and a new building erected in 1859; regular departments were set up and the curriculum was modernized. His work at Leeds secured Barry appointment in 1862 as principal of Cheltenham College. He expanded its activities and its buildings; its imperial and military associations aroused his interest in the colonies; the affiliated girls' school under Dorothea Beale made him an advocate for female education; the vigorous Evangelical character of the Spa's churchmanship gave him first-hand experience of what was then the dominant party in the Church of England. Barry found time to preach and to continue his prolific publications (most of them listed in the British Museum catalogue).

From Cheltenham Barry went to King's College, London, of which he had been a fellow since 1849 and was principal in 1868-83. Under Dr Richard Jelf religious disputes and uncertain relations with other London colleges had weakened King's, though its school department still flourished. Barry set out to restore the college's finances and scholarship and his adroit management was largely successful; theological teaching was reorganized, part-time students were admitted, and in 1881 a separate institution for female students was set up in Kensington. Barry soon gained a reputation for leadership in higher education. He remained in demand as a preacher and lecturer and his Boyle lectures, published in 1877 and 1880, were notable efforts.

Always anxious for preferment Barry became residentiary canon of Worcester in 1871 and of Westminster in 1881; he was honorary chaplain to the Queen in 1875 and chaplain in ordinary in 1879. In 1870 when Archbishop Tait of Canterbury was ill, Gladstone had planned an episcopal reshuffle, with Barry going to Winchester. But Tait recovered and the scheme was dropped. In Disraeli's administration Barry had less chance to be made a bishop in England, although he declined nomination to Calcutta. In 1883 he was considered for Chester but meanwhile he had accepted the bishopric of Sydney.

Sydney had been vacant since Frederic Barker died in April 1882. For the first time the diocese, with the concurrence of the Australian bishops, had the right to select its own bishop; the result was great confusion of procedure and opinion. Finally Bishop Parry of Dover, son of Sir William Edward Parry, was chosen. When he declined, the archbishop of Canterbury and three English bishops were asked to submit three candidates. They would suggest only one, Barry, who was duly elected by concurrent committees of the diocese and the New South Wales and Australian bishops. He was consecrated in Westminster Abbey on 1 January 1884 by the archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the bishops of London, Durham, Lincoln, Rochester, Dover and Bishop Charles Perry. On 24 April he was enthroned in St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, installed as bishop of Sydney and recognized as metropolitan of New South Wales and primate of the Church of England in Australia and Tasmania.

Barry's diocese had become resolutely Evangelical under Barker's episcopate. Although a Low Churchman, Barry cared little for ecclesiastical divisions. In his first sermon in Australia he declared: 'In our own Church, above all, it is shame if we learn not the lesson of her wise comprehensiveness, and recognise the growth of various schools of thought and forms of Christian life as an inseparable consequence of progress and revival'. He was anxious not to alienate the High Churchmen and did little to check ritualist developments in some Sydney parishes; he did, however, prohibit their use by Rev. T. E. Hill, whom he brought out in 1885 to be principal of Moore Theological College. Barry believed that diocesan and party differences and suspicions were weakening the government of the church in Australia and Tasmania. He tried to strengthen the authority of the supradiocesan assemblies and his presidential address to general synod in October 1886 was a powerful plea for more effective unity. But his middle-of-the-road policy was unsuccessful. He tried to make changes too rapidly, knew too little of local conditions and feelings, and his synodal utterances were vitiated by a superior manner which gave some offence.

In diocesan administration Barry was more effective. He secured the passing of the Sydney Bishopric and Church Property Act in 1887 and the Church of England Property Act in 1889; the constitution of the provincial synod was revised and then accepted by Sydney. These measures were not presented to parliament without opposition in the diocesan synod but Barry, with good legal support, managed to prevail over accusations of episcopal high handedness. He overhauled church administration, expanded the secretariat and created a second archdeaconry. He had little time to give to office work but was aware of its importance.

To Barry the cathedral was the focus of diocesan life. He wished, in Dean William Cowper's words, 'to assimilate [the Sydney] Cathedral practice and usages as much as possible to those of English Cathedrals'. Additional choral services were introduced, the musical standard was improved and a choir school was set up in 1885. The Chapter House was built in 1886 as a memorial to Barker. Barry even meditated plans for the enlargement of the cathedral in 1886 but they came to nothing. There was one highly characteristic incident. The design of a handsome new reredos, with the crucifixion as its central panel, aroused violent protest. Barry temporized and was obliged finally to secure its replacement by a carving of the transfiguration.

Barry's principal diocesan concern was for education. His English experience stood him in good stead when he had to face the withdrawal of state aid to denominational schools in 1882. Like his predecessor he determined to retain as many church schools as possible while taking full advantage of the opportunities for religious instruction in the public schools. Above all he realized that the church could play a larger part in secondary and higher education. Barker's faint recognition of the University of Sydney and the affiliated Anglican College of St Paul was turned into vigorous support. Barry was elected to the University Senate in 1886 and used his position as visitor of St Paul's to expand the college. He regretted the separate existence of the university and theological colleges but he brought Moore College from Liverpool to Newtown, adjacent to the university. On the other hand he was unable to replenish Moore's falling enrolment. The King's School, Parramatta, was strengthened and a new grammar school for boys, 'Shore', was founded at North Sydney. The money for these changes was mostly gained by astute juggling of the sum paid on the resumption by the government of the St James's school property.

As a lecturer and public speaker of considerable reputation, Barry was naturally concerned about the main issues of Australian society. Social problems had long engaged his attention and he had published on behalf of the Society for Organising Charitable Relief in 1872. He published some of his sermons in Sydney and gave much thought to the implications of socialism; his Lectures on Christianity and Socialism (London, 1890) were based partly on his Australian observations. He was far from being a Christian Socialist but he patronized men who were, such as Henry Latimer Jackson of St James's, Sydney, and he understood the importance of the movement. Similarly he tried to interpret current trends in biblical criticism in a popular fashion, although his own position was not an advanced one. Barry was a cultivated man and deplored, not always in private, what he considered to be the low intellectual standard of Sydney society and was always ready to suggest improvements. Through his father he had a great interest in architecture. He had written a well-informed biography of his father in 1867 and defended his designs for the Palace of Westminster against the supporters of Augustus Welby Pugin in 1868. In 1881 he edited the architectural lectures of his eldest brother, Edward Middleton. At Sydney he was a critic of local town planning and a judge in the competition for Sir Henry Parkes's ill-fated State House.

Barry's episcopate lasted for only five years and included two long absences from Australia. He attended the Lambeth Conference in 1888 and was prominent in its proceedings. He also spoke at the Manchester Church Congress and gave, said Bishop Magee, 'the best speech … thoughtful and well-balanced. I wished, more than ever, that he had been sent to Chester'. By this time Barry may have thought the same. He had enjoyed his Australian work but had never been at home in the diocese or the colony. Duty required his return to Sydney but he had determined to resign. He did so in May 1889, giving as his principal reason the poor health of his wife.

Back in England Barry became assistant bishop of Rochester in 1889-91 and then deputized for the bishop of Exeter; from 1895 to 1900, while rector of St James's, Piccadilly, he assisted the bishop of London. He remained very active as a preacher, lecturer and author. He addressed the 1890 Church Congress on 'Church and State' and delivered the Bampton lectures in 1892 and the Hulsean in 1894. From 1900 Barry lived mostly at Windsor, where he had become canon of St George's Chapel in 1891. As late as 1908 he published in London Do we Believe? four lectures delivered in St George's. He also served as proctor for the chapter in the lower house of Canterbury Convocation in 1895-1909. He died at Windsor on 1 April 1910 and was buried at Worcester Cathedral. He was survived by his wife Louisa Victoria, daughter of Canon Hughes of Peterborough, whom he had married on 13 August 1851, and by two sons and a daughter.

Portraits of Barry are at the Chapter House and St Paul's College, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • W. M. Cowper, Autobiography and Reminiscences (Syd, 1902)
  • F. J. C. Hearnshaw, The Centenary History of King's College, London, 1828-1928 (Lond, 1929)
  • F. B. Boyce, Fourscore Years and Seven (Syd, 1934)
  • S. M. Johnstone, The Book of St. Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney (Syd, 1937)
  • E. R. Holme, ‘Shore’: The Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Syd, 1951)
  • M. L. Loane, A Centenary History of Moore Theological College (Syd, 1955)
  • J. K. Chapman, The Career of Arthur Hamilton Gordon (Toronto, 1964)
  • ‘Obituary: Bishop Parry’, Times (London), 2 Apr 1910, p 17
  • Church of England records (Sydney Diocesan Registry)
  • Votes and Proceedings, General, Provincial and Diocesan Synods, 1882-89 (Sydney Diocesan Registry).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Barry, Alfred (1826–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 26 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

Alfred Barry (1826-1910), by Richard Dighton, 1870s

Alfred Barry (1826-1910), by Richard Dighton, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23182419

Life Summary [details]


15 January, 1826
London, Middlesex, England


1 April, 1910 (aged 84)
Windsor, Berkshire, England

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