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Barton, William Giles (1795–1881)

Eighteenth century men are getting scarcer and scarcer amongst us, and apart from that, while Government debentures, bank and insurance shares, are matters so well known, the death of the pioneer stock and share broker of Australia forms an event worthy of note. The subject of this notice, William Barton, Esq., was born in London 7th June, 1795, and was educated at Christ's Hospital, better known then as the "Blue Coat School."

In 1810 he entered the office of an old share broking firm, Messrs. Barwis and Co., the senior partner of which, born in 1740, adhered still in 1810 to the cocked hat, powdered pigtail, knee breeches, and silver buckles of George the Second's days. In 1827 Mr. Barton (through the influence of his brother, a partner of Mr. Crawford, M.P. for London) received the appointment of accountant and secretary to the Australian Agricultural Company at Port Stephens, New South Wales, arriving in Sydney in the days when the Circular Quay site was a sandy beach and Hunter-street a cottage garden, watered by the unpolluted Tank stream. The means of communication between London and Sydney was then by small 200-ton barques, which also carried out stud stock for the A. A. Company. Mr. Oxley, the old Surveyor-General of New South Wales (who explored the Lachlan in 1817), died soon after Mr. Barton's arrival, and attending the funeral was one of his first reminiscences after landing. Residents in Sydney fifty years ago will remember Mr. Barton's action at law against Sir Edward Parry, the commissioner of the A. A. Company, in which he recovered a verdict, and his disagreement with whom caused his retirement from the company's employ. The quarrel excited much public attention in England at the time (1832), the John Bull, Spectator, and other English journals of the date warmly espousing the secretary's cause against the commissioner. Mr. Barton was the first, and for many years the only, sharebroker in Sydney (or, indeed, south of the line), and he was instrumental in forming some of the leading Sydney banks, insurance, and other companies during the last thirty years. His firm was successively William Barton, Barton and Son, Barton and Melhado, the business now being in the hands of Melhado and Curtis. In 1873 he retired to Brisbane in this colony, of which he was formerly a magistrate, and the climate of which he preferred to Sydney, whither he however returned in 1878. He was hale and hearty to this date, and had steered cleared of paralysis, gout, and other evils that beset the old; but, losing his eyesight soon after, his active spirit gave way under the loss, and he died on the 6th instant, unimpaired in mental vigour, at the residence of his youngest son, Edmund Barton (the member for Wellington, in New South Wales), and was interred in the Camperdown Cemetery in Sydney, at the spot where it looks out on the Lane Cove and Parramatta River country to the north. He leaves a numerous family, married and settled in London, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. Before concluding this notice we would express regret that these ever-parting links with the bygone were not, more of them, writing men to hand down the better traditions of our early colonial days, and so we hope to be excused for rescuing one of them from oblivion.

Many people will remember Tawell, the little Quaker, who was hanged in England for the murder, by strychnine, of a servant girl near Windsor. Tawell formerly lived in Sydney, carried on a large business there, and resided in a cottage in Macquarie-street north. Tawell wishing to return to England, realised all his property except some £7000 worth of bills, and he asked Mr. Barton (then a broker in Macquarie Place) to get them discounted for him, offering him the usual commission of 1 per cent. Mr. Barton took them to several bill-brokers, and as there were good names (such as Richard Jones and William Walker) on some of them, one discounter offered a cheque for £5000 for the lot. This, being the best tender, was reported to Tawell (then a highly respected and respectable man), and he said to Mr. Barton, "Friend, the offer is not enough. I was prepared to lose 20 or 25 per cent on the bills to get away quickly, but that is too much to spare." The securities were returned, and Mr. Barton was surprised to receive a visit, some days later, from Tawell, who said, "Friend, I have been thinking that thou didst thy best in that affair; that it was not thy fault, but my convenience, that I did not elect to take the highest offer thou didst elicit, so here is thy commission on the best tender," and Tawell laid a cheque for £50 on the desk and walked out. This true story is interesting as showing what depths of good and evil there are in most human natures, for a more unostentatious act of pure honesty and rectitude was scarcely ever recorded, and yet this man committed atrocious murder under subsequent temptation, No man knows his own heart till he is tried.

Mr. Barton, like Charles Lamb, was in 1825 a clerk in the East India House before he left England, and also in the firm of Stephen Thornton and Co., Russia merchants, of old Broad-street, of which Tooke was a member. "Servant girlism" was rife in Sydney fifty years ago. In 1830 Mr, Barton had occasion to visit England on business connected with the A. A. Company, and at that time there was only one hackney carriage in Sydney, and this had been secured by his wife's nursemaid for her own luggage, and as the ship was just sailing, Mr. Barton had to employ a dray for his; but Sydney and its hackney vehicles have increased somewhat since then. The subject of this notice was essentially one of the old school, with a strong element of the eighteenth century "backbone" of Palmerston's era in his character; he was the trusted agent and investor for many of our leading colonists, past and present; and when Sydney, like New York, is old enough to look back to its early "knickerbocker" days, with some degree of reverence, the name of William Barton (1795- 1881) will be enrolled amongst its patriarchs attaining the same age as Thomas Carlyle.

Original publication

Citation details

'Barton, William Giles (1795–1881)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/barton-william-giles-18412/text30067, accessed 21 November 2017.

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