Ship Captains: San Francisco 1800s
William Jackson Barry
Barry's early life is poorly documented; however, his own published writing sheds considerable light on his later world journeys, if one can believe the writings of a world-class raconteur. Disagreement exists as to where Barry or Berry was born (and there seems to be some doubt as to his correct surname, although his own published work indicates that it is Barry). One account indicates that he was born in Dublin in or about 1819, and went to London at an early age. However, later in life, when he was interviewing Arthur Orton, the Tichborne claimant, he told the authorities that he was born in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire.
He arrived in Sydney, Australia in 1828 possibly as a juvenile convict aboard the Red River. He was assigned as a servant to one Smith, a butcher in George Street. At that time Barry was known as Sydney Nobby.
After his sentence expired, Barry was generally believed to have joined Jackey Jackey s bushranger gang, to have taken part in the gang s depredations in New South Wales, and to have been present when a Bank of New South Wales building was undermined and the safe robbed. Later, Barry served as Jimmy Ducks on a whaling voyage.
Barry moved constantly from place to place, enthusiastically following opportunity, following a life of adventure and speculation, making and losing several large fortunes. He crossed Australia as a drover, coach driver, cattle trader, butcher and possibly bushranger, and sailed on whaling and trading ships throughout Australasia. In Calcutta, in 1840,
Captain Barry traveled to Sydney, new South Wales, to Adelaide, suffered a wreck off Norfolk Island, had traded with naked savages, survived a hurricane, went north in 1840 where he joined the navy and served on gunboats in Burma, China and among the Malays cruising and trading. He returned to New Zealand, and married Hannah French, the daughter of a whaling friend, in Western Australia. Hannah died within a few years, while giving birth to their only child, a daughter, who was given into foster care.
In 1849, when the rush from Sydney took place, Barry sailed for California in the Eleanor Lancaster, one of the first ships to leave for America s gold fields.
After his time in California, Captain Barry returned to Sydney and there prospected for gold, then to Melbourne, New Zealand, where he worked at whaling and at the fish trade. He tried duck shooting and pig hunting. More gold prospecting, thence, to Queenstown, was elected the first Mayor of Cromwell in 1866.
He again fell into debt, then made 400 percent profit in selling soft goods to ladies, reinvented himself in a scientific lecturer, went back into money, traveled to the North Pole, decided to write and went again prospecting.
In September 1869, he rediscovered the Carrick gold reef and produced a spate of publicity which started what is described as the quartz reef mania in Cromwell. Barry and his party formed the Royal Standard Syndicate after which Barry appeared to lose interest. This was possibly because of the success of his first lecture on Forty Years of Colonial Experience , which he delivered in Cromwell on December 7, 1870. For the next few years he continued moving about restlessly, lecturing in many places and acting as auctioneer and carcass butcher. The lectures were not a financial success.In 1873, he returned to Queenstown to run the Prince of Wales Hotel. During his lecture tour in Australia, Barry
Barry's second marriage had been to Adelia Buckley, in Shasta, California, in 1852 or 1853. They had six children before her death in Queenstown on 3 December 1873.
Even in later years, Barry did not settle. He lectured in Marlborough in 1883 on Kings and Chiefs I Have Met and Cannibals I Have Seen, and was again involved in trouble when the charge was made that his material came out of a book by Archibald Forbes. At 79 he brought out a new book, entitled Past and Present, and Men of the Times, and petitioned the Government to grant him a pension in consideration of his services to the colony. He paid a last trip to Sydney, remaining there until August 1905.
He died in Sunnyside Mental Asylum, Christchurch, on 23 April 1907. (A second resource indicates that he died 24 April 1907.)
In the vast collection held by The J. Porter Shaw Maritime Library, Fort Mason, San Francisco is a red, hand-tooled leather bound volume of Up and Down: Or, Fifty Years' Colonial Experiences in Australia, California, New Zealand, India, China, and the South Pacific; Being the Life History of Capt. W. J. Barry. WRITTEN BY HIMSELF, 1878, with portrait of author, and other illustrations. Published in London by Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, Crown Building, 188 Fleet Street, 1879.
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