Category Archives: New Year

‘Redmond Barry: An Anglo-Irish Australian’ by Ann Galbally


1995, 228 p.

As a Melburnian, it’s difficult to get past the image of Redmond Barry as a strong, imperious philanthropist.  He is still very much a visible presence:  a large statue of him rears up in front of the State Library (one of his projects); his name adorns prominent buildings at the University of Melbourne (another of his projects), and of course his reputation has been forever intertwined with that of Ned Kelly, whom he sentenced to death.  This is the stuff of myth-making: the pompous Supreme Court judge cursed by the fearless bushranger “I will see you there when I go” (or words to that effect), only to die 12 days later of “congestion of the lungs and a carbuncle in the neck”.  [ Can you die of carbuncle? Dear Lord, if I should die, please let it NOT be of a carbuncle!]

Ann Galbally’s biography covers, of course, his whole life but my interest is mainly on his early years in Port Phillip and his relationship with Judge Willis.  Barry was born into the Anglo-Irish ascendancy.  The peace that followed the Napoleonic Wars cruelled his chances for a military career, so he entered the law instead only to find the Bar crowded with other young men who had made the same vocational choice.   When his father died in 1838, he emigrated to Sydney where there was less competition.


On the journey out, he embarked on a relationship with a Mrs Scott- and worse still, continued it when he reached Sydney.  News of the affair reached the ears of Governor Gipps, and he was awarded few government briefs as a result.  He continued to suffer from disapprobation even after leaving Sydney for the small town of Melbourne because, although he socialized and got on well with Superintendent La Trobe, the more prominent legal positions were in the gift of Gipps rather than La Trobe.   His unorthodox relationships with married women seem to be an ongoing theme: in 1846 he took up with a Mrs Louisa Barrow, with whom he had four children, in a  public, lifelong relationship that was never regularized by marriage.

Barry was only 26 when he arrived in Melbourne, and Galbally paints an engaging picture of Barry socializing with the other predominantly-Irish members of the Bar:  his good friends Sewell, Foster and Stawell and fellow Trinity-college and King’s Inn  graduates Brewster and Croke.  Although a member of the Melbourne Club and welcomed to all the vice-regal social occasions, he had little capital behind him and thus was not caught up in the land speculation of the early 1840s and  “perhaps for this reason his managed to maintain civilized relations with Willis for longer than most of the legal fraternity” (Galbally p. 49).

Not that Barry found Willis easy.  His diary records a succession of entries where he “argued with Willis“, “fought with Willis” or had a “blow-up with Willis who threatened to suspend me“.  He greeted the news of Willis’ suspension with relief  “Supreme Court Willis suspended + removed, Te Deum Laudamus” (24 June 1843).

In spite of this, Barry did not seem to have been exposed to the same personal insults or attacks that other barristers and officers of the court suffered.  Willis seemed to greet his appointment as the Commissioner for the Court of Requests in January 1843 with genuine approval, and at times their sparring in court (complete with historical allusions and Latin jests)  seemed to be equally relished by them both.   Although Barry had a reputation as a bit of a dandy who wore an old-fashioned Beau Brummel style suit, obviously Judge Willis did not take exception to this as much as he did the trimmed moustaches of Edward Sewell, Barry’s friend and erstwhile housemate.


Unlike Judge Willis, Barry was noted for his “dignified deportment and invincible politeness” (Garryowen p. 867). Galbally captures this quality well.   Against such a man, Willis’ own failings of temper and demeanour would have been even more marked.


Ann Galbally  Redmond Barry: An Anglo-Irish Australian

Barry, Sir Redmond, Australian Dictionary of Biography (online)

Happy New Year!


Well, New Years Eve in Melbourne came and went, as it always does, last night.  Many police in the city, and just a handful of arrests apparently.

(Update: Well, more than a handful.  The Age today reports that there were 1147 arrests across the state, double that of New Years Eve 2007 when there were 511 arrests.  “The tougher stance produced ‘the quietest New Year’s Eve on record’, with no repeat of the riots that marred past New Year’s Eves at Rye and St. Kilda.”  136 people were taken off the street for offensive behaviour, indecent language and minor assaults, and 485 motorists were booked for a range of traffic offences, well up on 248 last year).

What about in Port Phillip in 1841?  Here we are, in the Port Phillip Gazette of 1/1/41 in the Police Intelligence column- where else?

POLICE INTELLIGENCE. William Porter, Charles Aldgate, David Holmes, John Walsh, John Percival, Charles Major and Richard Bennet were driven into the box like a flock of sheep, having been found suffering from the effects of the season.

Bench: Well, what have you to say?

Chorus: Christmas, Your Honor, Christmas!

Bench: Silence! We neither countenance nor approve of drunkenness, but making a little allowance for the season, we discharge you all

Chorus: Thank you, Your Honor: hurrah! a merry Christmas and a happy new year!!

The Port Phillip Patriot was a little less charitable about the lads hauled in a couple of days later:

The first day of the year 1841 must evidently have been auspicious to the publicans of Melbourne if we may judge from the number of persons, amounting to twelve who made their appearance at the bar of the Police Office on Saturday morning.  Nor was the offence confined to the male kind solely, one female being charged for the fifth time.  If we may judge from appearances, we should say that the potations of many were not pacifically concluded, the physiognomies of many bearing sanguine and sable traces of having done battle ( Patriot 4/1/41)

Given that Christmas seemed such a fizzer, I thought I’d look up to see if New Year was celebrated with any more gusto.  I checked out the chapter on Christmas in Ken Inglis’ Australian Colonists (1974) to see if my hunch about the relatively low-key, domestic nature of Christmas was sound.  He took a wider chronological sweep than I did and so includes information from later in the century (as well as the sources I found) but he  did note the prominence of New Year. He speculated whether it was the influence of the Scots and their emphasis on hogmanay but was aware of the relatively low proportion of Scots in Australia generally. However, there were proportionally more Scots in Port Phillip (40%)  than elsewhere in New South Wales (30%)  so perhaps that explains why the extended pieces I found on Christmas came from Sydney and South Australia respectively, rather than Port Phillip.

Inglis writes of Australia as a whole:

Here as at home the new year was welcomed with church bells, and people resolved to do and be better for the next twelve months.  Governors held levees, citizens played or watched games, went for picnics, listened to bands.  From the first years of the settlement it was customary for men to stay in towns, to stay out late carousing and larking, lighting bonfires and fireworks.  (p. 113)

The Port Phillip Gazette celebrated New Year by presenting its town subscribers with “an engraving by our late talented and eccentric friend John Adamson” which although falling short in conveying the size of Melbourne, “will help to convey to distant friends the position, appearance and style of the town of Melbourne.”  I think you can see the engraving here. All three papers made much of the coming of 1842,  far more than they did in 1843 when the depression was obviously biting and press columns were preoccupied with elections and politics.  All three papers in 1841/2  indulged in a bit of backward-gazing self-congratulations and worthy and jovial exhortations for the coming year, but there was none of this the following year.

So, what was there to do on New Years Eve and the following New Years Day in that party-year 1842?  On New Years Eve, you could have gone to a concert at the Pavilion

The concert held on Saturday evening last to welcome in the new year, was numerously attended and came off with considerable eclat. Although, as might have been anticipated at the season of  general jubilee, a number of rather suspicious characters were loitering about the Pavilion, many of whom endeavoured to obtain admittance, yet they were very properly excluded, and in consequence, if those favored with an entre were not all of the upper ranks of society they were respectable and conducted themselves with the greatest propriety.  The evening’s entertainment was, upon the whole, little, if any thing inferior to any similar display in the colonies and if equal attention for the future be paid to the general arrangements by the Manager, and the performers exert themselves in an equally laudable manner for the gentrification of the audience, the Pavilion will soon be a most fashionable place of resort as it is as yet the only one of rational amusement.  The “star” Miss Sinclair, fully realized the most sanguine anticipations, she has an excellent command of a good voice, and with a little more practice her success as a vocalist is certain.  Her “Kate Kearney” was sung with a spirit and national feeling which told she was at home in giving effect to an Irish air.  Miss Lucas’ “Meet me by moonlight” was good, but it was evident she labored under the effects of a bad cold; but although in consequence she had been previously recommended to resign her part, she preferred making her appearance to disappointing her previous admirers. Master Eyles’ performance was generally good, but the concluding part of the “Bay of Biscay” was excellent and promised well for future fame.  Mr Miller, as a comic singer, would not disgrace the provincial boards of the first class in Britain, and was no better received than he deserved.  In all his actions he was happy, but particularly in “Biddy the Basket Woman”.  To supply the hiatus in the performance caused by the necessary retirement of Miss Lucas, an amateur entertained the audience with a variety of dances, expert gesticulations &c. and deservedly stands a favourite.  Port Phillip Herald 4 Jan 1842

The next day, you might have attended a cricket match where “a party of civilians were duly stumped out by their opponents the government officials”. But it sounds as if THE place to be was Williams Town beach, attracting crowds from Melbourne arriving by steamer with bands playing, and spilling onto the beach to enjoy sail boat races, whale boat races, sack races, footraces,  shimmying up a greasy pole, blindfold wheelbarrow races and a greasy pig chase.


At 1.30 a free lunch was served for 200-300 people- sheep, beef, cabbage- (mmm, mmm) accompanied by the popping of corks and music.  The crowds had all melted away by 6.00 when the town worthies had their own, more select gathering of fifteen gentlemen who sat down for a much more dignified dinner.

Of course, if you were of a more spiritual bent, you could have attended the opening of the Independent Chapel on Eastern Hill- a building that could accommodate 500-600 people, splendidly lit with chandeliers.

And so, “Thus ended the amusements of a New Years Day in Australia Felix”


Ken Inglis  Australian Colonists

A. G. L. Shaw The Port Phillip District.