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BARR, ROBERT, schoolteacher and public servant; b. 29 Dec. 1831 in Leeds, England, third son of John Barr and Elizabeth Wilkinson Tarbotton; m. 29 July 1852 Harriet Mallinson, and they had a daughter and a son; d. 24 or 25 May 1897 near Bradford, England.

The son of a master printer in Leeds, Robert Barr became a “school assistant” in William Kay’s “commercial day academy.” On 6 Aug. 1851 he was elected second master of the Leeds Moral and Industrial Training School for orphans and deserted children, and by November he had assumed charge of the school. He gave, according to Samuel Smiles of the Leeds National Railway, “every satisfaction” to the board of guardians until he expressed “his anxiety to marry the Governess of the same Establishment.” As permission to do so was refused by the board, he applied in 1852 for the post of “Teacher at Vancouver’s Island” offered by Kenneth McKenzie*, who had recently been appointed bailiff of what was to be Craigflower Farm near Esquimalt. Chosen from 75 applicants in early July, Barr at once resigned his Leeds position, married the governess, and with her joined McKenzie’s group of settlers bound for Vancouver Island, which it reached on 16 Jan. 1853.

In making Barr’s appointment, McKenzie had consulted with the London committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, since the schoolteacher’s salary of £50 a year was to be paid from the trust fund established by the HBC in 1849, under a British government grant, for all public purposes in the colony. When Barr arrived, Governor James Douglas*, who administered the fund, promptly commandeered his services for the colonial school he had opened at Fort Victoria (Victoria) the previous year under Charles Bailey. McKenzie’s people were left without a teacher for almost two years. Privately the HBC directors sympathized with McKenzie but Douglas was within his rights, and Barr’s practical background was to prove useful to the governor, who was determined to expand common school education in the colony.

On 31 March 1853 the Vancouver Island Council appointed John Tod* and Barr to oversee the erection of a schoolhouse on a ten-acre government reserve in the town of Victoria about a mile from the fort. By the end of the summer the building was so far advanced that Douglas could transfer Bailey to open a much-needed school in Nanaimo. In October the governor was able to report that, although “the internal arrangements [were] not yet completed,” Barr was living on the premises of the Victoria school and had “33 Pupils, who [were] making satisfactory progress.”

Three years later this number had been reduced by half, with a corresponding decrease in the income from student fees that supplemented Barr’s salary. An official report presented on 30 Nov. 1856 by the Reverend Edward Cridge* recorded only 17 pupils, all boys, of whom nine were boarders. The school was no longer popular with the HBC employees, “chiefly on the alleged grounds of the irregularity of the Master’s attendance,” which Cridge attributed in part at least “to the necessary absence of the Master on other duties.”

Barr had indeed been involved in various community matters, such as the Patriotic Fund, for dependants of the British casualties of the Crimean War, and the Nightingale Fund. More important, when Governor Douglas opened the first Vancouver Island House of Assembly on 12 Aug. 1856, Barr had been appointed clerk pro tempore. He was later said by the house to have performed his duties “in the most exemplary manner.”

The five-year contract Barr had signed with the HBC was due to expire in August 1857, and by late 1856 he had decided to resign his appointments and return to England. During his four years in the colony his financial affairs had not prospered, his wife’s health was not always good, and now he had two children to consider. Teachers were in such short supply that Douglas hoped to keep him on, and thought that Barr might well “alter his mind” before his transportation arrived. But on 4 March 1857 Barr and his family sailed for London, and by the end of July he was back in Leeds, where his stepmother was carrying on a printing business. Subsequently Barr took over the firm for a short time, but about 1861 he moved to the neighbouring town of Bradford and resumed his first profession. In 1865 he opened Clarendon Academy there and served as its principal for more than 20 years. It appears that towards the end of his life Barr became an alcoholic. He had no regular work, and in 1896 he spent six months in a home for inebriates in London. On 25 May 1897 his body was found in the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Shipley, near Bradford. Witnesses at the inquest reported that he had been “very much the worse for the drink” for several days previously; there was no evidence of foul play and “no evidence which proved conclusively that he had committed suicide.” His funeral was arranged by old boys of Clarendon Academy.

Dorothy Blakey Smith

Bradford Central Library, Local Studies Dept. (Bradford, Eng.), C. A. Federer coll., Clarendon Academy pamphlets. PABC, A/C/20/Vi2–4, 7; Add. mss 2431, box 1, files 5, 35; box 3, files 21, 25; box 6, files 1–12; C/AA/10.4/l. PAM, HBCA, A.5/21: f.90; A.10/42: f.102; A.11/76a: f.375; C.1/977: f.3d. St Peter-at-Leeds Church (Leeds, Eng.), Reg. of marriages, 3 May 1826. The annals and history of Leeds, and other places in the county of York, from the earliest period to the present time, comp. John Mayhall (Leeds, 1860). M. C. Ella, “The diary of Martha Cheney Ella, 1853–56,” ed. J. K. Nesbitt, BCHQ, 13 (1949): 91–112, 257–70. Robert Melrose, “The diary of Robert Melrose,” ed. W. K. Lamb, BCHQ, 7 (1943): 119–34, 199–218, 283–95. Vancouver Island, Council, Minutes . . . commencing August 30th, 1851, and terminating with the prorogation of the House of Assembly, February 6th, 1861 (Victoria, 1918); House of Assembly, Minutes . . . August 12th, 1856, to September 25th, 1858 (Victoria, 1918). Bradford Daily Telegraph, 28 May 1897. Bradford Observer, 28–29 May 1897. Daily Colonist (Victoria), 16–17 June 1897. Leeds Mercury, 9 Aug., 25 Oct. 1851 (supp.); 5 June 1852. D. C. Davidson, “The war scare of 1854,” BCHQ, 5 (1941): 248–52. D. L. MacLaurin, “Education before the gold rush,” BCHQ, 2 (1938): 247–63.

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Dorothy Blakey Smith, “BARR, ROBERT (1831-97),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barr_robert_1831_97_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barr_robert_1831_97_12E.html
Author of Article: Dorothy Blakey Smith
Title of Article: BARR, ROBERT (1831-97)
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: October 1, 2014