State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 26 December 1980


Portraits Of Redmond Barry In The Library's Collections

Portraits of Sir Redmond Barry in the Library's collections range from newspaper caricatures to an almost twice lifesize bronze statue which stands in front of the Library's main portico looking up Swanston Street towards the University. Most represent him as a ceremonial figure in the last fifteen years of his life when he had already become one of the colony's leading citizens. Barry's achievements in the judiciary and as a moving force in the development of the Melbourne Public Library and the University are too well known to need further repetition.
There is no pictorial record of the almost penniless young Irish barrister who arrived in the colony in 1839, or of the rising judicial star. “Sagittarius”, writing in the Weekly Times, tells us that “His gravity of deportment even then exceded his years”.1 Barry's dress and demeanour remained a continuing source of entertainment to journalists during the sixties and seventies and his gravity is reflected in all of the extant portraits.
Two photographic portraits portray Barry as a private citizen. The earlier, a carte-de-visite2 (Plate 1) produced by an unnamed artist shows an impeccably dressed Barry wearing frock coat and gloves, holding in his right hand a top hat and cane. It is inscribed in an unknown hand, “Sir Redmond Barry; Chief Justice of Victoria”, and dated 1866.
Comparison with other dated portraits suggest that the photograh was taken earlier and it may precede 1860. Because at that time there were relatively few photographers working in Melbourne it is tempting to guess that it may have been the work of Barnett Johnstone, the photographer commissioned by Barry to photograph the interior of the Public Library in 1858. Johnstone has recorded Barry's personal interest in the project in a note on the back of the resulting print.3 A second cabinet photograph portrays a much older Barry, seated and holding a pince nez.
A fine cabinet portrait (Plate 2) from the mid sixties by photographer Thomas Foster Chuck (arr. 1863 d. 1898) shows an imposing Barry enthroned on his chair, magnificent in the regalia of Chancellor of the University, a post he held from 1853 until his death in 1880. A similar but slightly later cabinet portrait is the work of Johnstone and O'Shannessy.
About 1870 Barry sat again for Thomas Chuck, this time for the photographer's major work, the huge composite portrait, The explorers and early colonists of Victoria, described by John Cato as “Victoria's Debrett”.4 When Chuck had arrived in the colony in 1863 most of the pioneers were ageing but still alive. Between 1870 and the end of 1872 he photographed every man of importance who had landed in the colony before 1843 and one important newcomer, the Bishop of Melbourne who did not arrive until 1857. Chuck made a quarter plate print of each subject. In a few cases he was forced to use existing deguerrotypes and he photographed from paintings of Governor La Trobe and Sir Thomas Mitchell. A notable absentee is John Batman who had died without leaving a portrait.
The completed mosaic, almost six feet high, contains seven hundred and thirty six portraits. It was presented to the Library by the photographer. Barry, along with La Trobe, the Bishop, the Speaker, Sir Francis Murphy and fellow judges Stawell, Williams and Pohlman, is assigned a prominent place. He is wearing judicial robes.
The venture was a commercial success for Chuck who copyrighted the mosaic and sold 15” x 12” prints, copied from the original at one guinea each. Individual cartes-de-visite were also produced which must surely have been popular, not only with the subjects’ families but with members of the public who collected cartes-de-visite in albums in the way a later generation collected postcards.5 F. W. Haddon, editor of the Age. collected thirteen albums between 1864 and 1898. One of these, now part of the Picture Collection, contains a carte-de-visite of Barry (Plate 3) identical to the portrait on the composite picture. Evidently Chuck sold enough to copyright

2. Thomas Chuck's portrait of Sir Redmond Barry in the regalia of Chancellor of Melbourne University, c. 1865.

studies as the Copyright Collection contains a very similar carte-de-visite depicting a seated Barry.
Chuck's success inspired a host of imitators who recorded most of the pioneers throughout Australia. Indeed, the concept of the composite portrait spread to other groups of all kinds from sporting bodies to members of Parliament. Chuck himself produced, in 1894, a mosaic of the Supreme Court Bench in Victoria between its inception in 1852 and 1894. It contains a third portrait of Barry in his legal robes, presumably taken at the same time as his other two studies.
Each shows a severe and formal Barry, conscious of his status as a public figure. In the legal portraits he has assumed an owl-like appearance that seems fitting to his role as a prime force behind the colony's intellectual development.
A warmer Barry appears in the two oil paintings in the collection. The first, the work of artist John Botterill (arr. 1853 d. 1881) depicts Sir Redmond as Chancellor. Although it is undated, his apppearance suggests that it was painted in the mid 1850's. While it, too, is a formal portrait, it lacks the severity of the photographs. It shows Barry as a much younger man and its warm tones add a vitality lacking in the photographs.
The second portrait (Plate 4), painted in about 1875, is a tantalising work. It is unfinished, in fact hardly more than a brush drawing. There are no records to indicate who painted it, or how it came into the Library's possession. Neither has it yet been possible to attribute it to any artist on stylistic grounds. The basic brushwork does not resemble pencil or ink drawings of any known artist of the time. However, it is the most appealing of all the Library's portraits of Barry, showing him as he must have been in life, a wise and human father figure, perhaps somewhat rigid, with an immense dignity and pride.
The marble bust of Barry, now housed in the State Library foyer, was commissioned for the National Gallery by a group of subscribers in 1860. Exhibited in the Intercolonial Exhibition in 1866, it was transferred to the Library in 1943. It is the work of Charles Summers (1825–1878), the leading sculptor of his day who completed and cast the mammoth Burke and Wills memorial, now, it is hoped, finally at rest in the City Square. He was represented in the National Gallery in the late nineteenth century by twenty one pieces. The bust bears little resemblance to Barry as depicted in photographs and paintings. His round Irish face with heavy lidded eyes and cleft chin has been transformed into a suave idealised mask. Ironically, although the work is based on the ancient Roman portrait tradition transmitted through Renaissance Italy, it lacks all the individualism of Roman portraiture.
A plaster medallion by Summers’ pupil, Margaret Thomas, although similarly bland, is recognisable as Barry.
Barry's place in the affections of the community was such that it was suggested, even during his lifetime, that some public memorial to him would be fitting. In 1877, a committee of prominent citizens, led by Barry's successful rival for the post of Chief Justice twenty years before, Sir William Stawell, was formed to raise subscriptions and arrange for the construction of a statue. It was to be a decade before the project was completed and in the meantime, Barry, after sentencing Ned Kelly to death in 1880, had died the same year.
The commission was awarded to James Gilbert, a sculptor who worked in a studio off Collins Street. No record of other work undertaken by him has been found. However, photographs by Nicholas Caire of two plaster studies made by Gilbert were copyrighted in 1883 by Thomas Loader, treasurer of the fund raising committee for the project.
The first, a bust of Barry, is, like the earlier work of Summers, an idealised portrait which does not closely resemble Barry as depicted in photographs. The second forshadows the completed statue, creating the “dignified and commanding” attitude admired by the Illustrated Australian News (see reference below). The figure is poorly proportioned and the modelling crude. The details of the costume are accentuated, the drapery hangs in a clumsy manner and the face, which has been modelled differently from the bust, is flaccid.
In September 1885, Gilbert died unexpectedly of influenza, leaving an unfinished lifesize model. The work was completed within six months by Percival Ball (1844–1900), a sculptor newly arrived from London. It is difficult to assess the extent of his work on the project because, although it was of short

3. The portrait of Sir Redmond Barry used in Thomas Chuck's composite portrait “The explorers and early settlers of Victoria”. 1872.

duration, he may have been responsible for the considerably more refined surface modelling of the finished work. Furthermore, the face has been completely remodelled, evidently from photographs now in the possession of the Library.
Because the foundry which Summers had set up for the casting of Burke and Wills was now dismantled the model had to be shipped to London to be cast in the Masefield foundry. It was described in the Illustrated Australian News, “The statue is of heroic size, being 10’ high and the deceased judge is represented in his Chancellor's robes, with the order of . St. Michael and St. George and other insignia. The attitude is dignified and commanding and the costume has allowed the sculptor to modify the bald and unsatisfactory appearance which the back of a colossal statue usually presents, by an arrangement of the pleats of the mantle and the introduction of a pattern on its surface”.6
The bronze cast was finally erected, at a total cost of £3,000, outside the Library on 2 July 1887. The Illustrated Australian News proclaimed enthusiastically that it was “claimed to be the finest specimen of bronze casting which has ever reached the colony. It may be mentioned that it is the first statue cast in one piece that has been procured for Victoria”7 After seven weeks wreathed in sailcloth, the statue was finally unveiled by the Governor, Sir Henry Loch, on 23 August. The weather was fine and a huge crowd assembled to witness the event recorded in detail in the Age8 and photographed by Pierce (Plate 5).
Twelve newspaper caricatures have been located, all except one in Melbourne Punch. The exception (Plate 6), published in the Weekly Times in 1873, the work of an unidentified artist, shows Barry, “wise and upright judge”, in immaculate but outdated dress, almost identical to that of the earliest carte-de-visite, about fifteen years before. The accompanying article, written by “Sagittarius”, states in heavily ironic tone, “Together with his predeliction for choice raiment, his honour has developed a taste for elegant language and his judgements are as wonderful as his shirt fronts”9 The caricature is a fine one.
Barry's attire and “elegant language” was similarly the butt for the caricaturists, particularly Tom Carrington (1843–1918) who drew them after 1866 for the Melbourne Punch. It appears that the judge's stovepipe hat aroused a certain merriment. One Punch drawing, during Barry's second trip abroad in 1876, entitled “En Route to Philadelphia” shows Sir Rubicond in his stovepipe hat talking to a Yankee. It reads, in part,
“Yankee: I guess you're travelling on business.
Sir Rubicond: (assuming the Lord Ellenborough look) Your presumption, Sir, is correct.
Yankee: In the hat line?”10
An earlier cartoon professes astonishment at Barry's ability to wear more than one hat at a time. It portrays Barry in army uniform as a circus rider galloping around the ring with academic and judicial robes (and hats) flying off him as he rides. The caption reads.
“… from the Great Exhibition Victoria's Equest-Trian performance Captain — Justice — Chancellor — Commissioner Barry in the celebrated transformation act”11
Most of the Punch cartoons are clearly affectionate. There are several other references to quick changing. The only really critical cartoon refers to the question of admission of women to the university. It shows Barry leaning out of a university window talking to two women,
“Ladies (who have passed the matriculation examination) — Pray, Sir Redmond, why are we not to be admitted?
Sir Redmond — Ask me not why ladies. We have no reason. We won't admit you because — because — we won't — there”12
The most entertaining of all the Punch cartoons is Carrington's drawing of 1871 and its text. It is a burlesque on the Royal Arms and refers to Barry's desire to have his arms placed on the Library building. Barry's face is in the shield; the lion and unicorn are walking away. The motto is “Dieu et mon Barry” The accompanying text reads:
“It has puzzled everyone to know why Sir Redmond Barry would insist on sticking his coat of arms up in front of the Public Library; but if rumour may be credited.

4. An unfinished oil painting of Sir Remond Barry by an unknown artist.

it is affirmed that His Honour proposes to leave the Bench and take to the Bar, it being reported that he is so delighted with the Amended Publicans’ Act as to have applied for a licence for the Public Library, to be known henceforth by the sign of the Barry Arms …”13
None of the caricature portraits in Punch are of any particular interest. Without exception, they are crude but recognisable ciphers of Barry, quite lacking in the malice directed at others such as the ageing John Fawkner. The accompanying texts are most gentle.
However, with the exception of the unfinished oil painting, none of the portraits of Barry in the Library's collections tell us very much about the man. They are more a product of attitudes to Barry.
The caricatures reflect the tolerant amusement of journalists towards his eccentricities of dress and speech, while the extant cartes-de-visite, cabinet portraits and composites show the public interest in the ceremonial figure. The community's respect and affection for the seeming colossus who stood amongst it is shown in the construction of the massive statue to honour him which was planned, though not completed, during his lifetime.


Weekly Times. 25 October 1873. p. 8.


Cartes-de-visite are quarter plate (i.e. 41/2” x 2 1/2”) albumen prints made from a wet-plate negative. The format was introduced in about 1850 and remained in frequent use for thirty years until the growth in popularity of a larger format, 6 1/2” x 4 1/2”. Introduced in 1866. the “cabinet portrait” had virtually superseded the carte-de-visite by 1880.


Print and note are reproduced in La Trobe Library Journal, vol. 2, no. 7. p. 61.


John Cato. The story of the camera in Australia. Melbourne, Georgian House. 1955. p. 61.


Illustrated in La Trobe Library Journal. vol. 1. no. 1, p. 8.


Illustrated Australian News. 3 February 1886. p. 9.


Ibid. 20 August 1887. p. 19.


Age. 24 August 1887. p. 147.


Weekly Times. 25 October 1873. p. 8.


Melbourne Punch. 10 August 1876. p. 54.


Ibid. 23 April 1863. p. 309.


Ibid. 14 December 1871. p. 109.


Ibid. 12 January 1871. p. 12.