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Smith-Barry, Henry Charles (c. 1842–1928)

by Julian Alexander Stuart

from Worker

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

Qld shearers strike leaders, 1893 [Smith-Barry is far left, top row]

Qld shearers strike leaders, 1893 [Smith-Barry is far left, top row]

State Library of Qld, 64845

When we hear of the death of a young man our sorrow is greater than when we hear of the passing of one who, "by reason of great strength," has lived the Psalmist's allotted span of three scores and ten, and the keenness of our regret in [Henry Charles] Smith-Barry's case is tempered by the knowledge of the fulness of years to which he had reached.

I always regarded Smith-Barry as "one of us," from choice and not from necessity. Very few knew (for he never mentioned it) that he need never have humped his swag or trodden the rough road, had he cared to do otherwise. Family connections and high influence would have smoothed the way if he had cared to forego his sturdy democracy but he belonged to the people, and the primrose path had no allurements for him if it meant the loss of his independence.

I can speak of him in the eighties, when we were in Western Queensland together. He was never an orator, but few men were better known or better liked there. He wielded a graceful pen, and very often the bush ideas expressed, crudely and forcibly, by the men in the sheds and huts were knocked into shape and polished up. Everything that came from his pen was well worth reading, and this meant much to the workers, who at that time were waking to know that they had aspirations which were seeking a voice with which to articulate— before the days of the Labor Press.

Education was not so general or widespread then as it nowadays, and the sound schooling he had received in his youth was an asset of which he made good use in the interests of those with whom he worked.

He was the oldest, and I was the youngest, of the mob arrested in 1891. There were 22 all told, and on one occasion (from Barcaldine to Rockhampton) we were handcuffed together on the 'dog-chain'. The man next to us on the chain was McLeod, who had bayonetted a member of the Queensland Defence Force at Fairbairn's Barcaldine station. The jury found that he was demented when he did it. So he was sent to the Hospital for Insane instead of being hanged.

At St. Helena, Barry struck bad health, and endured a martyrdom before the authorities woke up and had him transferred to Boggo Road, where he could receive proper medical attention. There was no doctor on the island, but one from Brisbane used to pay weekly visits, and sick men suffered accordingly.

A man who had been to school with Barry was telling me about him when we heard of his death.

'I lost sight of him when I joined the navy,' he said. 'I served my time, on the Victory, Nelson's old ship, when she was turned into a training ship. I went through the Maori war, and when it was over I drifted to Queensland, which was a lot different those days from what it is now. In the '70's I shore for fifteen bob a hundred. Tradesmen got 7s. 6d. a day, and I did axework on a Government job for 4s. 8d. a day. I —worked on the Barcoo and on the Paroo with Barry. If anybody had told me those times that l would live to see the price they are getting now and the way everything has gone up, I would not have believed it.' 

After he had completed his sentence, Smith-Barry joined the New Australia movement and had about a year's experience in Paraguay, returning to Queensland disappointed and disillusioned, to make a fresh start in life, always a more difficult task when one has got past middle age.

Though he really belonged to the mid-Victorian era, the old Veteran kept well abreast of the times, and in intellectual development was bright and brisk and modern. I learnt much from him, and knew him well enough to apply Swinburne's lines to him now that he is gone:

Time takes them home that we loved, fair names and famous,
To the soft, long sleep; to the broad, sweet bosom of death;
But the flower of their souls he shall take not away to shame us,
Nor the lips lack song forever that now lack breath.
For with us shall the music and perfume that die not dwell,
Though the dead to our dead bid welcome, and we farewell.

It has been said of someone else, but may also be said of our old friend, 'He died leaving not a penny in the world and not an enemy'.

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Citation details

Julian Alexander Stuart, 'Smith-Barry, Henry Charles (c. 1842–1928)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-barry-henry-charles-32313/text40012, accessed 8 August 2022.

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