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Russell Barton (1830–1916)

by Bede Nairn

This article was published:

Russell Barton (1830-1916), pastoralist, mine-owner and politician, was born at Penge, near London, the eldest of thirteen children of Edmund Russell Barton, grazier, and his wife Sophia, née Russell. In October 1839 he arrived in Adelaide with his family. In 1840-41 he worked on a cattle station and in 1842-45 on a sheep station, when he began as a carrier for the Burra copper mine. At 15 he was overlanding cattle for the mine between Adelaide and New South Wales.

In 1848-51 Barton was self-employed as a carrier and road contractor. In 1851-53 he prospected on the Victorian goldfields, returned to Adelaide, bought 250 acres (101 ha) near the city and on 17 September 1855 married Jane McCulloch Davie. Soon afterwards he lost nearly all his property in a disastrous fire; he then went to Victoria and failed in the promotion of a railway at Bendigo. Back in South Australia he became manager of Tallin station and in 1864 overlanded 10,000 sheep to Tarcoon and Mooculta, two runs which he managed on the Bogan River, New South Wales.

Barton was now able to capitalize on his hard-won experience as a pastoralist. He organized travelling wool-scouring plants and went from station to station in the west of New South Wales. He soon associated fellmongery, butchering and soap-making with his pastoral enterprises. A flood in 1864 followed by a long drought produced severe depression in the pastoral industry; by the diversity of his investments he survived comfortably and in 1868 bought Mooculta. Soon afterwards with his brother William he bought Brindingabba and Willara, on the Cuttaburra and Paroo Rivers.

Barton shared in the widespread mining speculations in the 1870s. He forecast a rich future for copper at Cobar and by 1883 was chairman of the Great Cobar Copper Mining Co. which employed about 1500 in a town that had grown to about 4000 people. Known as the 'Copper King', he was a director of fourteen other mining companies, some at Nymagee and Broken Hill, and was chairman of eleven of them. He later extended his investments to insurance and pastoral finance, and became a director of the Mercantile Mutual Insurance Co., the British and Foreign Insurance Co. and managing director of the Pastoral Finance Association Ltd.

In 1880-86 Barton represented Bourke in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. He was regarded as a Parkes supporter with independent views. An inactive legislator he was known as 'the silent member', though he aroused himself whenever mining, water conservation or pastoral matters were debated. In 1884 he served in a royal commission on the conservation of water. He was a good example of the limited number of colonists who, from humble beginnings and with the aid of toughness, persistence, flexible vision, accumulated experience and much luck, were able to amass fortunes from pastoral and mining pioneering. He died at Five Dock, Sydney, on 30 June 1916, survived by his wife, and by three sons and five daughters of their eleven children. His estate was valued for probate at more than £11,700.

Select Bibliography

  • Bulletin, 27 Oct 1883
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 1916.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Barton, Russell (1830–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 15 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

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