Sir Redmond Barry: visionary or scoundrel?

At Victoria Law Foundation, we think that every Victorian should have the right to access information and education – and so we’re celebrating the life of one of Melbourne’s founders, who famously thought just the same! This week it’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir Redmond Barry, the brilliant and charismatic Irish lawyer who arrived in Melbourne in 1839, and founded both State Library of Victoria and the University of Melbourne. You might know of Sir Redmond Barry as the Supreme Court judge who ordered the execution of Ned Kelly – but there’s a lot more to the story of this memorable Melbourne character than this.


Sir Redmond Barry, University of Melbourne
University of Melbourne Photographs

Sir Redmond was so keen to for everyone to be able to access books and information that he opened his own collection of books and journals to everyone: in the 1840s, you could just knock on the door of his cottage, at 97 Bourke Street, and spend some time in his personal library of over 3000 books.  He founded the State Library of Victoria in the same spirit, arguing that that everyone should be able to access information about the law – or any other branch of learning they chose. He insisted that ‘persons of both sexes and all notions about fourteen years of age’ must be ‘admitted free without letter of recommendation, guarantee, payment, signature or address, or ticket of admission’.

Sir Redmond certainly raised some colonial eye-brows, both with his liberal views on access to education, and also with his lively private life (on journey from London to Sydney, he was confined to his cabin for carrying on an affair with a married lady passenger; in Melbourne, he had a well-known and long-lived affair with Mrs Louisa Barrow, for whom he built a house in Brunswick Street).

In the words of the Melbourne Argus, in 1880, we’re grateful that Sir Redmond took the ‘splendid opportunity for the founding of two such noble institutions as the Melbourne University and the Free Public Library’, and we’re looking forward to the events at the State Library this week that celebrate this ‘genial host’, ‘entertaining companion’, and founder of Melbourne’s great tradition of providing public access to quality information and education.

Sir Redmond Barry

And by the way, we think Sir Redmond would have been proud to wear the Victoria Law Foundation’s Law Week sash last year!

Visit for a list of the various talks and events celebrating the Sir Redmond Barry Bicentennial at the State Library, the University of Melbourne, the Supreme Court Library and the Old Melbourne Goal.


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