BARRY, Sir Redmond (1813-1880)


BARRY, Sir Redmond (1813-1880)
judge, first chancellor of the university of Melbourne, first president of the trustees of the public library of Victoria
was the third son of Major-general Henry Green Barry and his wife Phoebe, daughter of John Armstrong Drought. He was born at Ballyclough near Glenworth, County Cork, Ireland, in June 1813. At first intended for the army he went to school in England but returned to Ireland to take up the study of law. He graduated B.A. at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1837 and was called to the Irish bar in 1838. He decided to go to Sydney but stayed only a few weeks and in November 1839 went to Melbourne, then only a very small settlement. He soon had a good practice and, a few months after the establishment of a court of requests in 1842, was made commissioner, at a salary of £100 a year. He showed his interest in the cultural life of the community by allowing people interested in literature to use the library at his house in Bourke-street, and he was also one of the founders and the first president of the Mechanics' Institute, afterwards the Athenaeum Library' He was one of the early founders of the Melbourne Hospital and joined in the agitation for the separation of the Port Phillip district from New South Wales. He was appointed solicitor-general in 1851, and in January 1852 became a judge of the supreme court. He had thus reached a distinguished position at the early age of 38, but his most valuable work was yet to come.
It is always difficult to ascertain who began any particular movement and Barry did so much for both the university of Melbourne and the public library of Victoria, that there has been a tendency to think of him as the founder of both of these institutions. In the case of the university the position is quite clear. H. C. E. Childers (q.v.) was undoubtedly the founder, but directly the university bill became law, Lieutenant-governor La Trobe (q.v.) invited Barry to become the first chancellor pro tem, and on 17 May 1853 he was elected to this position by the council of the university and held it until his death. He took the greatest interest in it. The council meetings were generally held at the Judges Chambers where he presided over the deliberations with suave masterfulness. He realized from the beginning that the whole plan of the institution, and especially the buildings and curriculum, must be adequate for present conditions and yet capable of future expansion. The university owed much to his fostering care and when he died there was great difficulty in finding a worthy successor. His work for the public library was if possible even more important and more personal. When the date of opening the library had been fixed the first consignment of books from England had not arrived, and when they did come there was barely three days in which to unpack and arrange them. Barry took off his coat and helped in the good work and kept his assistants toiling until midnight. He visited the library almost daily, drafted the correspondence, and took part in making up the lists of books to be bought. The library became his special hobby; other trustees might neglect their duties and be absent from meetings but he was never absent, and he carried out the necessary business whether a quorum were present or not. His interest was extended to the national gallery and museums which gradually developed from the original institution, and during his visits to Europe and America he lost no opportunity of furthering their welfare. All this was done while he was conscientiously carrying out his duties as a judge of the supreme court. On occasions he was acting chief justice, and in the winter of 1876 he administered the government of Victoria during the absence of the governor and the chief justice. He was created a K.C.M.G. in 1877. He died at Melbourne after a short illness on 23 November 1880. He had never married. His statue stands in front of the public library at Melbourne.
Barry was a man of imposing presence. Though not a great lawyer, he was a sound, patient and courteous judge. He was kindly and charitable, very much the gentleman of the old school, and though no doubt vain and a little pompous, no other Melbourne man of his time did so much for education, literature and art.
E. La T. Armstrong, The Book of the Public Library; Sir Ernest Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne; The Argus, Melbourne, 24 November 1880; The Age, Melbourne, 24 November 1880; Alumni Dublinienses, 1924.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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