BARNEY, George (1792-1862)


BARNEY, George (1792-1862)
engineer, lieutenant-governor of Gladstone colony
was born in London on 19 May 1792 and entered the army at 16. He served in the Peninsular war and for many years in the West Indies. He was a captain in the royal engineers when Governor Bourke (q.v.), in July 1834, asked that a civil engineer should be sent to Sydney to take charge of the construction of a large circular wharf and other public works. Captain Barney was selected in response to this request, and came to Sydney about the beginning of 1836 in command of a branch of the ordinance, with instructions that he was also to take charge of and superintend the buildings belonging to the military, and convict departments. Bourke stated in February 1836 that Barney was engaged in removing obstructions to the navigation of the Parramatta River, and asked that leave might be granted him to undertake the duty of colonial engineer at a salary of £500 a year and travelling charges. This was granted in September 1837, and in 1838 Barney brought forward a scheme for the sale of the barracks in Sydney, as the land was now valuable, the proceeds to be used for new buildings at Sydney and Newcastle. In 1839 he prepared a report on the defence of the harbours in the colony and made various recommendations. The English authorities, however, declined to consider the question until they had received plans and estimates of the proposed work. Governor Gipps (q.v.) supported Barney and with the aid of convict labour the preparing of the ground for the guns was begun in 1840. In January 1843 Gipps spoke very highly of Barney, but stated he had so many other duties it was scarcely possible for him to give the required attention to his colonial appointment. Barney returned to England in 1844 and in May 1846, now a lieutenant-colonel, was appointed "lieutenant-governor of North Australia". In 1822 J T Bigge (q.v.) had recommended the establishment of a convict settlement at Port Curtis on the east coast of Queensland. The project had been more than once revived, and as some difficulty was being experienced in finding work for time-expired convicts in Tasmania, it was now decided to try the experiment of sending them to a new area and giving them land and a certain amount of government help. Lord Stanley and W. E. Gladstone, successive secretaries of state for the colonies, had fathered the project, and Gladstone had selected Barney as a man used to authority and with previous Australian experience. He arrived in Sydney on 15 September 1846, quickly surveyed the coast in a small steamer, and decided that Port Curtis was the most suitable place for a settlement. Returning to Sydney a barque, the Lord Auckland, was chartered, and on 8 January 1847 sailed with Barney and his family, various officials, and a small military force. The party arrived at an unfavourable period and there was much discomfort from the extreme heat. In the meantime there had been a change of ministries in England, Earl Grey had succeeded Gladstone, and had promptly vetoed the whole project. News of this reached Barney on 15 April 1847 and the party returned to Sydney. Barney was criticized in some quarters, but the Gladstone colony was never given a chance to succeed. In later years the thriving town of Gladstone was established on the site, and the harbour is one of the finest in Australia. Barney was afterwards appointed successively chief commissioner of crown lands, and surveyor-general of New South Wales. He died at Sydney on 16 April 1862.
J. F. Hogan, The Gladstone Colony; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XVII to XXII, XXV, XXVI; F. W. 8. Cumbrae-Stewart, Journal, The Historical Society of Queensland, vol. I, pp. 365-77, vol. II, p. 175; The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 April 1862.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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