For those of us who live in or visit Melbourne, we often see statues and grand public buildings that, if we pause to ponder, activate a sense of awe and pride. Awe for the fact that such magnificent architectural achievements were built over 150 years ago and have stood the test of time, and pride because we as Australian Victorians have inherited a great legacy from our ancestors.
The University of Melbourne and the State Library of Victoria, for instance, were built in 1853 and 1856 respectively. Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe, Sir Charles Hotham and Mr Justice Redmond Barry were all civically ambitious men who played their parts in founding these great institutions.
Redmond Barry in particular was instrumental in creating the state Library of Victoria which is precisely why Victoria has recognised his service by erecting a statue of him at the entrance of the library itself.
Redmond Barry was born on 7 June 1813 in Ballyclough, Ireland. He studied at Trinity College in Dublin and obtained an Arts degree. After his father’s death he sailed to Sydney, capital of the British colony of New South Wales. In April 1837 he managed to secure a position with the New South Wales Bar. On 13 November 1839 he moved to Melbourne and, after the creation of the colony of Victoria in 1851, he became its first Solicitor General. A year later (1852) he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria.
The song, “God bless Australia” by Jack O-Hagan, gives reference to the fathers who “pioneered our heritage”. Redmond Barry was one of these “fathers”. As previously mentioned he was instrumental in establishing various institutions.
He encouraged the state government at the time to invest money on public works, especially in the field of education. Apart from the University of Melbourne and the State Library of Victoria, Barry also presided over the creation of the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1848.
He was Melbourne University’s first chancellor and served as the President of the trustees of the State Library. He organised for the Governor at the time, Sir Charles Hotham, to lay the foundation stones at the University of Melbourne, Melbourne Public Library and the Sunbury Industrial School in 1854 – all on the same day.
Barry had a very progressive and “hands-on” approach when it came to the establishment of the State Library of Victoria. He advocated for extended library hours as he recognised that books and reading were crucial to his own development. Thus he facilitated the exposure of these resources to the broader public and this was an objectively positive outcome since an educated public makes for a great country.
When it came to unveiling the State Library itself, Barry planned and organised the event to the detail, even shelving books himself and writing book selection and acquisition procedures.
Redmond Barry administered law and order in various famous Australian court cases such as the case of the 13 miners from Eureka who were all acquitted from treason charges by the Supreme Court.
A little known court case was one related to Ned Kelly’s mother in October of 1878 at Beechworth Court. Ellen Kelly was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment by Barry after she attempted to murder police constable Alexander Fitzpatrick.
Constable Fitzpatrick was poised to arrest one of Ellen’s sons, Dan but Ellen, wielding a spade and with the help of Ned, attempted to kill Fitzpatrick who subsequently pressed charges for attempted murder. In court, Barry stated, “If your son Ned were here I would make an example of him for the whole of Australia: I would give him fifteen years”.
In 1880 Barry finally sentenced Ned Kelly to death by hanging after the outlaw killed three Victorian constables. At the trial, Barry is quoted to have said, “May God have mercy on your soul”, to which Ned replied, “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go”. Just twelve days later on 23 November 1880, Redmond Barry passed away from what doctors described as “congestion of the lungs and a carbuncle in the neck”.
The State Library of Victoria not only has a statue of Redmond Barry but also has named a reading room in his honour. The University of Melbourne has named a building after Barry and a plaque marking Sir Redmond Barry’s residence exists near the corner of Josephine Avenue and High Street Road in Mount Waverly, Melbourne.
Redmond Barry’s exploits in life and contributions to our nation have directly influenced the culture of Australia, particularly in Victoria. He stressed the need to pioneer a heritage which had, at its foundation, the rule of law and the promulgation of knowledge.