State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 73 Autumn 2004


From the Editorial Chair

In The public memory the role of Sir Redmond Barry (1813–1880) in shaping the cultural institutions of colonial Victoria has been overshadowed by his role in the trial of Australia's favourite outlaw. The courtroom exchange between judge and judged has passed into legend; Barry's conduct of the trial has been questioned; and Ned Kelly has become a folk hero. To a famous and influential Australian historian Kelly is ‘a man through whom Australians were helped to discover their national identity’. More than a century later, the public appetite for memorabilia and representations of the law-breaker seems insatiable, and far outstrips any interest in the man who administered the law.
In his lifetime, however, Redmond Barry was admired as a man ‘whose pleasure lies in promoting the intellectual good of his countrymen’ (in the words of the Melbourne Argus in 1863). It seems fitting that a journal emanating from Barry's favourite institution should take the opportunity of the 150th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stones of the University of Melbourne and the Library to focus on this aspect of his public life. In doing so we hope to enlarge the public's view of a man who had a widespread influence on the early cultural and intellectual life of the colony.
Barry being by profession a lawyer and one of first appointees to the Victorian Supreme Court, his career is naturally of interest to the legal fraternity. Generous support from the Victoria Law Foundation has enabled us to illustrate the text in this issue of the journal more fully than we should otherwise have been able to do, including the illuminated address presented to Barry by members of the Bar in 1876. That beautiful document is an indication of the esteem in which he was held by his fellow-lawyers in his own time. From the perspective of the present, the recently retired Chief Justice, John H. Phillips, gives his judgment on the performance of one of his predecessors on the bench.
Individual judges have, from time to time, taken leading roles in cultural activities, but Barry is unique in what his biographer, Ann Galbally, in her article, calls his ‘passion’ for ‘cultural patronage’. She demonstrates how this found expression in collecting policies - the collecting of busts of famous men, for instance — which, however odd they may seem to-day, were grounded in established ideas about the importance of heritage in the life of a nation. His own bust by Charles Summers, now in the red rotunda of the Cowen Gallery, was presented by his admirers to the Library as long ago as 1862. Heroic rather than realistic in its rendering of Barry's appearance, it is a noble representation of ‘the Maecenas of Victoria’ rather than the actual flesh-and-blood Redmond Barry. As Ann Galbally points out, in his zeal for the cultural advancement of the colony Barry undertook an enormous amount of unpaid work over more than thirty years. The projects discussed here - the University, the Library, and various colonial exhibitions - were his major interests outside the law, but there were many others.
At the University of Melbourne, of which he was the first Chancellor, Barry was far from being an uncontroversial figurehead. R.J.W. Selleck, author of The Shop, examines Barry's attitudes and policies as the institution evolved in a period when governments allowed universities real autonomy and the chancellor was the chief executive officer, even to the extent of ordering books for the university library.
It was, however, what Wallace Kirsop calls ‘his stewardship of the Melbourne Public Library’ which most engaged Barry. Wallace Kirsop's sympathetic study of the library principles that Barry espoused provides a context for some examples of Barry's practices in the State Library. A sampling of Barry's letters to his fellow-Trustee, H.C.E., Childers, transcribed and annotated by Sandra Burt, provides compelling evidence of the thoroughness and energy with which he carried out his responsibilities towards the institutions which he headed. Further evidence of his ‘hands-on’ approach is provided in the notes by Brian Hubber, Richard Overell and Christine Downer on Barry's diverse activities within the Library. It is sometimes said that Barry left his mark on the Library, and Kenneth Park shows that this was literally true in a way that readers of this journal may find a little disturbing.
Barry's desire to have his coat of arms on the building is unlikely to command any more sympathy now than it did in 1871 when he was mocked by the Melbourne Punch. More in tune with our own time is his sense of obligation towards the Aborigines, and his efforts to have Aboriginal exhibits at the 1866 Intercolonial Exhibition, which are traced by Des Cowley. Few Rare Book librarians can have had the extraordinary experience that Des Cowley had some years ago when he discovered in the basement almost 1,000 copies of the ‘rare’ pamphlet on Aboriginal dialects that Barry commissioned for the exhibition. Perhaps more than anything else in this Redmond Barry Number, Des Cowley's article underlines the extraordinary range of Barry's interests.
In editing this issue I have been fortunate to have for co-editor Shane Carmody who, as Director of Collections and Services at the State Library, is in charge of the process of collection-building which Barry began 150 years ago. Of Irish descent and trained as an historian, he has long been fascinated by the Irish histories that have formed Australia, and in his contribution brings that interest to bear on the ‘famous conversation in the courtroom’ between Barry and Kelly.
John Barnes