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Barrett, Sir James William (1862–1945)

Sir James William Barrett, c1939

Sir James William Barrett, c1939

University of Melbourne Archives, UMA/I/2867

Sir James Barrett, than whom no man in Australia, perhaps, shouldered more responsible positions in cultural and humanitarian movements, died at his home, Palmyra, Lansell Rd, Toorak, yesterday morning. His manifold activities embraced also a busy professional life. He had celebrated his 83rd birthday on February 27.

Although his health had been failing in recent months, he carried out his many public duties almost to the last. He had been away from his Collins St rooms since before Easter, but his devotion to the welfare of the Victorian Bush Nursing Association, of which he was hon secretary, was so profound that he came into the city to attend a meeting of its central council on Tuesday. He became ill on Wednesday night.

No man in Victoria held more public positions than he; few men anywhere covered so wide a field of public activity. His diversity and erudition were amazing. He was chairman or president of numerous organisations, vice-president of some, and honorary secretary of others. He was the author of several books; he had a distinguished war record, and he was an eminent ophthalmic physician and surgeon.

Of his many public services he will be remembered best probably for his work for the Bush Nursing Association, of which he was one of the founders; for his zealous advocacy of town planning and more public parks and children's playgrounds; and for his long and honourable association with the University of Melbourne.

Sir James William Barrett, KBE, CB, CMG, MD, MS, PRCS, FRACS, LL.D, CMZS, son of Dr James Barrett, of South Melbourne, was born on February 27, 1862, and was educated at the University of Melbourne and King's College, London. He was appointed honorary assistant surgeon at the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in 1888, and in 1893 he became honorary surgeon at that institution, retaining the position until 1913, when he became ophthalmologist to the Melbourne Hospital. During the last war he served abroad, mainly in Egypt, where he held high executive offices with the Australian, British, and Egyptian medical services, first with the honorary rank of major, and later as lieut-colonel. Toward the end of the war he was appointed president of a board dealing with arrangements for Turkish sick and wounded prisoners. He was mentioned in despatches in 1916 and 1918, awarded the Order of the Nile in 1916, and KBE and CB in 1918.

Following were Sir James Barrett's public activities since the last war period:

Chancellor, University of Melbourne (1935-39), Vice-Chancellor (1931-34).

Presidencies: BMA (1935-36), Town and Country Planning Association, Playgrounds Association, Decimal Association, Proportional Representation Society, Japan Society, Royal Empire Society, Australian Association for Fighting VD, Royal Life Saving Society, Victorian Listeners' League, Magna Carta Association.

Chairmanships: National Parks Committee, Committee Neglected Children's Depot (Victorian Government), Board of Management; Lady Northcote Permanent Orchestra Trust Fund, Committee Returned Soldiers' Military Band, Historical Memorials Committee, Combined Empire Societies.

Vice-presidencies: - Health Association of Australasia (Victorian branch), Wyperfeld National Park.

Memberships: Melbourne University Council, Advisory Committee of Botanic Gardens, Advisory Committee Regarding Medical Inspection of Schools, Council of the Workers' Education Association, Committee of Repatriation Department Concerning Education of Deceased Soldiers' Children, Council of the League of Nations Union, Bass Park Committee. He was one of the founders of the Marshall Hall Orchestra.

He had been a member of the council and lecturer on the special senses at Melbourne University, consulting oculist to the Australian Navy, consulting surgeon to the Eye and Ear Hospital and oculist to the Marine Board of Victoria, the Repatriation Hospital and the Royal Victorian Institution for the Blind.

Sir James Barrett was the author of Twin Ideals (1918), The AAMC in Egypt (1918) (with Lieut P. E. Deane), War Work of the YMCA (1919) A Vision of the Possible (1919), The Diary of an Australian Soldier (1920) and Save Australia. Sir James Barrett was twice married. His first wife, a daughter of the late Mr. Charles Rennick, died in 1939. His second wife, who survives him, was Miss Monica Heinze, daughter of Mr and Mrs Benjamin Heinze, of Heidelberg, and a sister of Prof Bernard Heinze. There were five children of the first marriage Miss Cara Barrett, Mr James Noel Barrett, of Narrabri, NSW; Mrs John Canning, of New Zealand; Mrs B. Henry Marks, of Suva, Fiji; and Mr Keith Barrett, who was killed in the last war.

He is also survived by three brothers - Dr Edgar Barrett, of Melbourne; Mr Joseph Barrett, of Trafalgar; and Mr Charles Barrett, of Brisbane.

The funeral will leave Palmyra at 10.15am today for the Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton. The service at the grave will be conducted by the Rev Dr A. Law, vicar of St John's Church of England, Toorak.

The cortege will pass through the University grounds. Members of the University Council, the staffs, and students will assemble at the gates of the cemetery and join in the funeral procession to the grave. Funeral arrangements are being made by A. A. Sleight Pty Ltd.

Mr. Justice Lowe, Chancellor of the University, said that Sir James Barrett had been one of the most distinguished citizens of his generation. No one in the last 40 years had exercised a greater influence on the work of the University. He had first become a member of the University Council in January, 1901. His interest had ranged over every university subject, and most of the additions to the curriculum in the last 40 years had been due, either directly or indirectly, to his efforts.

Mr Dunstan said that Sir James Barrett had been one of the most, public-spirited citizens Victoria had ever known. His work for many institutions and his outstanding organising ability would long be remembered.

Dr John Dale, Victorian branch president of the British Medical Association, said that Sir James Barrett was a unique personality, with an astounding range of activities. His death would be regretted in medical circles all over the world.

Sir Thomas Nettlefold, Lord Mayor, said that Sir James Barrett's public service to the city and state would long be remembered by thousands of appreciative citizens.

"I associate the Government of Malta with the numerous expressions of sorrow and regret at the death of Sir James Barrett," said Mr F. J. Corder, Acting Commissioner for Malta. "His knowledge of Empire affairs and his appreciation of Imperial problems put him in sympathy with the Maltese community in Australia, and its members are grateful to him for his many public references to their country."

The committee of the Forum of National Affairs has decided, in view of the death of Sir James Barrett, president of the forum, to cancel the forum meeting, which was to have been held in Kelvin Hall on Monday evening. A special general meeting will be held on April 12 at 105 Collins St.

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Citation details

'Barrett, Sir James William (1862–1945)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/barrett-sir-james-william-64/text64, accessed 24 August 2017.

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