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Barry, John Arthur (1850–1911)

The late John Arthur Barry was well known to Queenslander readers, although many of them would not recognise him by that name. Under the nom de plume of "L.L." Mr. Barry contributed to our Christmas numbers years ago some of the best short stories ever published in this journal. With a charming literary style he combined a facility of composition that made one feel that his was a master pen. In an appreciative notice a writer in the Sydney Mail says:— 

John Arthur Barry spoke in prose. Of all his delightful stories, the collection published under the title of Steve Brown's Bunyip will live longest in memory. But it was not of the bush only he wrote. A roving, seafaring life, which started when he was only 13 years of age, and lasted for many years, led him into many adventures, the most stirring being a fighting expedition in Mexico. With, many of his sea yarns Australians are already acquainted, but the Englishman knows J. A. Barry better through Blackwood's, Windsor, and other magazines. He came, on his mother's side, from a literary family, for one of her sisters, Dinah Maria Mulock (Mrs. G. L. Craik) has made her name famous in British literature by the many novels she wrote, of which John Halifax, Gentleman, The Ogilvies, Olive, and Agatha's Husband, still retain the affection of thousands of readers. Another sister, Mrs. Hooper, was also a writer of novels, but not of the same calibre as Mrs Craik. Another connection was Charles Longman, the well-known publisher, and Wynn Hooper, financial commissioner of The Times.

Barry's acquaintance with Australia began in 1870, first as a digger in the north of Queensland, afterwards as drover, boundary-rider, and sheep overseer in New South Wales. It was in the quietude of the bush that most of his best stories were written, and although the comfortable quarters of the homestead were open to him, he preferred the silent hut, where he lived a hermit's life. The loneliness of it was only brought home to him when the station where he was employed changed ownership, and he decided to give city life a trial. Plenty of literary work kept back his longings for the bush, but the turmoil of the city was not to his liking, and his health proving indifferent, he decided to revisit the place where he was born, Torquay, in Devonshire, and the many friends and relatives he had not seen for 24 years. He took with him the manuscripts of many stories, - with the view of having them published in London, and arrived there in the early part of 1883. There he became acquainted with many whose names are as well-known in Australia as in Great Britain, and the following extracts from a long letter writer received from him will show how he fared there :—

Of all my earliest literary and artistic friends, Charles Keene was the oldest. But he has gone, and so have others I miss. My aunt, Mrs. G. L. Craik (of John Halifax, Gentleman, fame), died six years ago, and her sister, Mrs. Hooper, is now very old. I have met Maurice MacMillan and Charles Longman (both publishers) at many dinner parties. They tell me that Australian stories are at a discount, and so is everything Australian. Mrs. Lockwood Kipling is staying at my aunt's, and I met her son Rudyard, also Burne Jones, his uncle. ‘Ruddy' has given me great encouragement to write, and will write one of his charming poems—an introductory one— for my first collection of stories (Steve Brown's Bunyip) .... yesterday I lunched at the Reform Club with Justin McCarthy and Wynn Hooper, and am going this week to see old Justin McCarthy, and be introduced to Mrs. Campbell Praed. I have been two or three times to Sir Edwin Arnold's place, and enjoyed his conversation greatly. I have met no end of literary swells, and although I have got little good out of them, they are very nice, and I like to talk with them. I am contributing articles and stories to the Globe and Graphic. The only Australian who has got the run of the papers here is Hornung, and the Australian book most widely read is Rolf Bolderwood's Robbery Under Arms, but this is the only work he is known by in England."

Barry found the price paid for stories in English magazines a wretched one, with this exception of Blackwood's. The story accepted by it evoked considerable notice, and before he left England he had contracted with the owners of Windsor to contribute 12 stories at a price far beyond that given by it to their usual contributors. The bush saw him no more after his return to Sydney, except for an occasional fleeting visit, and he settled down to newspaper life as a leader writer. In disposition he was charming. He was not married.

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'Barry, John Arthur (1850–1911)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/barry-john-arthur-68/text68, accessed 1 November 2014.

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