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Sir Redmond Barry: a bicentennial celebration

May 2013

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The lens of history magnifies some figures more intensely than others.

Ned Kelly is a significant presence in the narrative of Victoria’s past while the judge who sentenced him to death, Sir Redmond Barry, is a less prominent character.

Yet in his day, Barry was at the forefront of social, cultural and philanthropic activity in Melbourne. Arriving here in 1839, Barry (7 June 1813 – 23 November 1880) hailed from County Cork in Ireland. Barry initially practised as a barrister, sometimes representing indigenous clients for free. He later served as a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria, an institution he was pivotal in establishing, along with the Court’s iconic library.

A keen reader and advocate of education, Barry donated his personal book collection to create Australia’s first public library, now the State Library of Victoria. As the first Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, in his quarter century tenure Barry stamped his personality on all aspects of the early University from the curriculum to its infrastructure.

As a founder of these and many other important public institutions in Victoria, Barry helped shape the state’s cultural, educational and legal landscape. His legacy continues today.

In celebration of Barry’s bicentenary, the Supreme Court, State Library and University of Melbourne are joining together to host a series of commemorative events. Prominent Victorians from the fields of law, history and academia will lead the celebrations and present a diverse range of perspectives and insights to illuminate Barry’s character and his impact on Victoria’s cultural evolution.

Panel discussions, a symposium, exhibitions and a heritage walking tour will bring Barry’s legacy and personality to life. His more controversial and colourful traits won’t be overlooked.

On Thursday June 6 the State Library will celebrate Sir Redmond Barry’s life and legacy with a lively discussion – Sir Redmond Barry: visionary or scoundrel. ABC Radio National presenter Damien Carrick will lead a panel with County Court Judge John Smallwood of the Koori Court, historian and author Robyn Annear, and Melbourne Barrister and author Ken Oldis as they examine Barry’s paradoxical life.

A free symposium at the University’s Baillieu Library on June 7 at 1.30pm will delve into the University’s past and present and bring Sir Redmond Barry’s character to life. Speakers include The Honourable Chief Justice Marilyn Warren AC of the Supreme Court of Victoria, cultural historian Laureate Professor Stuart Macintyre, and legal historian Dr John Waugh.

The Baillieu Library display Evidence of a fruitful life runs from June 4 – 10 and will explore Sir Redmond Barry’s role in the founding of the University and the great influence he was to exert over its development during his quarter century tenure as Chancellor.

A bicentennial walk will take place on June 7 at 9.30am – 12.30pm led by heritage tour guide Isobel Simpson, taking in a number of Sir Redmond Barry sites around Melbourne.

Sir Redmond Barry’s impact as a foundation judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria is commemorated in the Redmond Barry Bicentennial Exhibition on display until June 11.

This free exhibition in the Supreme Court Library tells the story of former Supreme Court Judge Sir Redmond Barry’s pivotal role in Victoria’s legal history and his contribution to Victorian society and culture.

Visitors can also view the Court Book that notes the Ned Kelly verdict and sentence.
Perhaps Barry will emerge from history’s shadows to be seen in the full light of his life’s achievements, and not just for his association with Ned Kelly.


Events run from May 14 this year until February 2014.

For details and ticketing visit




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