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BARNES, RICHARD, businessman and politician; b. 15 March 1805 in St John’s, second son of William Barnes, merchant, and Hannah Butler; m. there 16 Dec. 1840 Eunice Alice Morris, and they had one daughter, who died in infancy, and one son; d. 3 Sept. 1846 in St John’s.

At a period when most of Newfoundland’s governing élite were British or Irish immigrants, Richard Barnes was acutely conscious of being native-born. His mother’s family had established itself at Port de Grave in the late 1600s and his paternal grandfather, who according to family tradition came from Waterford (Republic of Ireland), had migrated in the 1760s to St John’s, where he became a blockmaker. After rudimentary schooling, Barnes entered his father’s shipping and carpentry business, later known as J. B. Barnes and Company. Eventually he was made a partner. He continued his education by extensive reading, and in 1835 was a founder of the St John’s Reading Room and Library, serving as treasurer and secretary at various times until his death.

A founder of the Natives’ Society in 1840, Barnes became actively involved in politics, for the society was intended to be not only a charitable organization but also a new political party, designed to protect and promote the interests of the native-born regardless of whether they were Irish or English, Catholic or Protestant. It was heralded by the editor of the Newfoundland Patriot, Robert John Parsons*, as a junction of liberal and mercantile interests. At its first meeting Barnes presented, for the society’s proposed flag, an emblematic design surrounded by roses, thistles, and shamrocks, with the motto Union and Philanthropy – a forerunner of the famed “Pink white and green.” The “fair native-born daughter of Terra Nova” whom he thanked for executing the design was probably his cousin and future wife, the daughter of Rachel Butler and Rutton Morris, a former minister of the Congregational Church in St John’s. Barnes was himself a Congregationalist.

In the elections called in 1842, following the suspension of representative government the previous year, Barnes’s main attraction for the electorate of Trinity Bay was his championship of the native-born. He took his seat in the Amalgamated Legislature the following January. However, his reputation as “the Native Member par excellence” suffered almost immediately when he voted with the Conservatives to oppose the appointment of a native-born candidate as clerk of the house, and a resolution condemning his action was passed by the Natives’ Society. Believing that it was a lack of autonomy on the part of the members that had caused the loss of the constitution, Barnes continued to assert his own independence, opposing the appointment of a private secretary for Governor Sir John Harvey*, the granting of additional funds for expenses incurred at Government House, and the payment of elected members.

Shortly after objecting that the £350 salary for the governor’s secretary would educate the children of one district for a year, Barnes introduced an education bill which would replace the public school system established by the Education Act of 1836 [see Charles Dalton*]. This system had been suspended after sectarian difficulties had rendered it unworkable. Barnes proposed that the responsibility for elementary schools be divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants and that each group receive equal funding. Catholic and Protestant school boards were to be appointed for each of the nine electoral districts, the majority of members on the Protestant board coming from the predominating denomination in the district. The total annual grant for elementary schools was increased from £2,100 to £5,000. The bill, passed in 1843 with a minimum of debate, established the legislative basis for a denominational system of education in the colony.

Praised by both sides of the house for his preparation of the bill and his guidance of it through the legislature, Barnes was accounted one of the most popular members by the close of the session. Already appointed a governor of the Savings Bank and secretary of the Protestant school board in St John’s, in June 1843 he was elected president of the Natives’ Society, which he had hitherto served as treasurer. During his two-year term of office, the building of a Natives’ Hall began.

Believing the legislature should address the question of form of government, Barnes early in 1844 introduced a bill to amend the constitution imposed in 1841. Though basically it contained provision for a return to the constitution of 1832, one modification provided for an assembly of 25 members elected from 24 districts. His division and rearrangement of districts, supposedly on the basis of population distribution, aroused the anger of the Catholic Liberals who claimed that the new electoral districts were designed to diminish their influence and to create a Protestant ascendancy. Barnes, accused in the Amalgamated Legislature of being a sectarian bigot and a mercantile pawn, and also of having placed the religious bodies in hostile array by his education measure, protested that no sectarian motive was intended and that had the country been populated by Turks he would have proposed the same divisions. Attempts by the Liberals to delay the second reading failed, but only after seven divisions. Parsons, Barnes’s colleague in the Natives’ Society, was the only Protestant to vote with the Liberals. The lengthy and acrimonious debate ended when Barnes withdrew his bill, on learning from council members that Harvey was willing to transmit it, with some changes, to Colonial Secretary Lord Stanley for his consideration. Though the debate on the constitution resumed in 1846, Barnes’s bill was the Amalgamated Legislature’s only serious attempt at constitutional reform.

At a Natives’ Society meeting on 15 July 1845, Barnes referred to a “preference, alike impolitic and unjust,” shown in government appointments to those whose claims to consideration were “much less prominent than those of the Natives before whom they were preferred,” and he urged the society to assert a more independent existence as a political party. In an era dominated by sectarian politics, however, the Natives’ Society proved ineffectual as a rival to the Liberals and Conservatives. It suffered two blows in September 1846: the premature death of Barnes at the age of 41 and the collapse of its not yet completed hall. Ambrose Shea*, president of the society, eulogized Richard Barnes as “the best loved of this Society” and “the first to proclaim the rights of his countrymen.” In 1878 a monument to his memory was erected by the Natives’ Society in the graveyard of the Anglican cathedral.

Pamela Bruce

Cathedral of St John the Baptist (Anglican) (St John’s), Reg. of burials, 1845–46. Centre for Nfld. Studies, Memorial Univ. of Nfld. Library (St John’s), Biog. information on Richard Barnes. MHA, Barnes name file. PANL, P8/A/11. PRO, CO 194/120. St Thomas Parish (Anglican) Church (St John’s), Reg. of marriages (copies at PANL). Nfld., General Assembly, Journal, 1843–46. Courier (St John’s), 5 Sept. 1846. Newfoundlander, 25 May 1843; 8 Feb., 10–11, 18 April, 15 Aug. 1844; 24 July 1845. Newfoundland Patriot, 15 Sept., 1 Oct. 1840. Patriot & Terra Nova Herald, 18 Jan. 1843. Public Ledger, 4 Feb., 30 June 1840. Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser, 21 Feb., 10 Oct. 1843. Times and General Commercial Gazette (St John’s), 9 Sept. 1846. W. M. Barnes, Rolling home; when ships were ships and not tin pots (London, 1931). [M. J. Bruce, named] Sister Mary Teresina, “The first forty years of educational legislation in Newfoundland” (ma thesis, Univ. of Ottawa, 1956). Garfield Fizzard, “The Amalgamated Assembly of Newfoundland, 1841–1847” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Nfld., 1963). Gunn, Political hist. of Nfld., 94–96. F. W. Rowe, The development of education in Newfoundland (Toronto, 1964). A. M. Butler, “The family of Butler in the New-Founde-Lande,” Nfld. Quarterly, 72 (1975–76), no.1: 32–35.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Pamela Bruce, “BARNES, RICHARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 20, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barnes_richard_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barnes_richard_7E.html
Author of Article: Pamela Bruce
Title of Article: BARNES, RICHARD
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: October 20, 2014