This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir Redmond Barry. Barry is best known as the Victorian Supreme Court judge who presided over the trial of Ned Kelly. Unlike Kelly who has been romanticised through paintings, movies and even street art, Barry’s colourful story has faded with the passing of time. Barry was an avid book collector and patron of reading, the arts and education. Barry had a significant role shaping many of the cultural and social institutions that make Melbourne the city it is today. He was a founder of the Melbourne Mechanics Institute (now the Athanaeum), the Melbourne Public Library (now the State Library of Victoria) and its Art Gallery, the Supreme Court Library, and was a founder and the first Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. His ideas and energy turned “a weak struggling settlement … [into]…a bright and brilliant colony” (Edmund Finn).
In his days as a Barrister, Barry represented indigenous people on a probono basis. He believed in the rehabilitation of criminals. These were surprisingly liberal attitudes for the times. He also challenged some of the moral codes of the day by having a long-term mistress and by having an open affair with a married women on-board his voyage to Australia from London.
The Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) and the Supreme Court of Victoria are currently showing a joint exhibition to celebrate Barry’s bicentennial. It’s an interesting insight into Barry and his role in shaping Melbourne. Perhaps one day we’ll see some street art depicting him too.