Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Arthur Barry (1850–1911)

by H. P. Heseltine

This article was published:

John Arthur Barry (1850-1911), author and journalist, was born at Torquay, Devon, England. Orphaned young, he persuaded his guardian to apprentice him at 13 to the Orient Steam Navigation Co. He served his time under sail and eventually received his first mate's ticket. In the 1860s he was apparently on the Australia run, and in 1870 followed the gold rush to the Palmer diggings in North Queensland. In the next few years he seems to have engaged in droving, digging, boundary riding and other outback occupations. He returned to the sea about 1877, this time to the coastal trade of eastern Australia, and in steam as well as sail. In 1879 he went back to the land, accepting a position as overseer and station-manager, probably near Scone, New South Wales.

Barry seems to have remained there until 1893, when he returned to England for a holiday. One of the results of his trip was the publication of his first book, Steve Brown's Bunyip, and Other Stories (London, 1893), a collection of pieces which had earlier appeared in English and Australian journals and newspapers. Rudyard Kipling, who had some slight acquaintance with Barry, contributed introductory verses. Having little taste for London life and less for the English winter, Barry returned to Sydney in about six months. After another period of station life, he joined the staff of the Evening News in 1896, and retained a close connexion with it and to a lesser extent with the Australian Town and Country Journal until 1911. He enjoyed yachting and playing chess with his friends. Unmarried, he died of chronic myocarditis at his home at North Sydney on 23 September 1911, aged 61. He was buried in the Anglican section of the Gore Hill cemetery and left an estate valued for probate at £1521 to his friends.

Barry was a prolific if superficial writer. Some of his newspaper series such as 'The city of Sydney' and 'The Fleets of the Golden Fleece' have historical interest. His fiction, both novels and short stories, is in part at least autobiographical, and has two principal subjects: the sea and the Australian outback. His chief works include Luck of the Native-Born (London, 1898), A Son of the Sea (London, 1899), Red Lion and Blue Star, With Other Stories (London, 1902), and South Sea Shipmates (Sydney, 1913) with an unsigned biographical preface. These books are boyishly exciting romances and sometimes explicitly directed towards a juvenile audience. Yet his contemporaries saw him as lacking 'a genius for advertisement' rather than ability; according to the Bulletin, 5 October 1911, 'Faithfulness and honesty were the keynotes of all he wrote, and he shrank from anything that looked like literary log-rolling. He was a man who was entirely lovable—one of those gentle souls who did not know how enemies were made'.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Sept 1911
  • Bulletin, 28 Sept 1911.

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Citation details

H. P. Heseltine, 'Barry, John Arthur (1850–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • L.L.

Torquay, Devon, England


23 September, 1911 (aged ~ 61)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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