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William Barnet (1834–1895)

William Barnet, n.d. photographer unknown

William Barnet, n.d. photographer unknown

Bunyip (Gawler), 15 March 1895, p 1 S

The late Mr. William Barnet was the third son of the late Mr. William Barnet, sen., who died at Gawler East in 1889, at the advanced age of 90 years. He was born in Kinross, Kinrosshire, Scotland, in 1834, and was there fore in his 61st year when he died. The late Mr. Barnet was brought up to the occupation of a printer and served his apprenticeship as a compositor in his native town, where his elder brother, Mr. George Barnet, now conducts the Kinrosshire Advertiser. The two brothers also gained valuable experience in a large establishment in Edinburgh. Mr. and Mrs. Barnet, sen., two sons, and one daughter (who afterwards became Mrs. James Fotheringham), left Scotland and came to South Australia in 1852, soon afterwards settling on the Murray. The late Mr. William Barnet arrived two years later and joined his parents on the river. The vessel which brought him was the Theodore, which, also had on board the first locomotive and rails for the South Australian Government. These were used in the construction and working of the line between Adelaide and Port Adelaide. It is noteworthy that the town which he ultimately settled in turned out the first locomotive made in South Australia. In 1857 he came to Gawler, and as there seemed to be a good opening he decided to start a printing establishment. It was in this year that the Colonial Athens was first connected with the city by telegraph; the northern railway was opened as far as Gawler; the Gawler Institute was founded; the town was formed into a municipality; and the first banking establishment was opened. The year that the Bunyip printing establishment was instituted was therefore one of the most eventful in the town's history. Mr. Barnet received a good measure of support and several interesting publications were issued from his office before the Bunyip was first published in September, 1863.

Amongst these was a general and commercial directory for Gawler and surrounding districts, comprising correct lists of the corporation, churches and chapels, public buildings and societies in Gawler; also, the district councils of Barossa East and West, Mudla Wirra, Munno Para East, and West, Mount Crawford, &c; to which is added a short sketch of the rise and progress of Gawler; and a mass of local information, with an almanack for 1861. As is already indicated this was published in 1861, and at this distance of time the volume is specially interesting. The sketch of the rise and progress of Gawler was from the able pen of the late Dr. Nott, and is a concise, authentic, and very readable account of the history of the town from the laying out of the Gawler special survey in 1839 until the stirring times of 1860. The directory and the names of the officials of the various societies in the town at that time have almost a pathetic interest. With the exception of the Rev. Canon Coombs, the Hon. James Martin, Messrs. John Jones, H. E. Bright, B. E. Deland, and a few others, all whose names there appear have left us, most of them to join the great majority.

The Bunyip was first issued as the organ of the renowned Gawler Humbug Society, in September, 1863. The pungency of its articles compelled attention, and even the London Weekly Times referred to the paper in terms of high eulogy. The first number contained the following paragraph : — "We desire it to be the vehicle for fun, humour, and satire. When our fun degenerates into license, our humour into vulgarity, or our satire into scurrility, we trust our readers will give us the plainest indication they can of their disapproval by ceasing to buy our paper." But notwithstanding this declaration, a portion of the contents of the first issue was construed into something offensive and a libel action resulted, in which the proprietor had a verdict of 1s. returned against him. The history of the Bunyip, especially in later years, is well-known, and it is therefore unnecessary to refer to it at greater length.

The late Mr. Barnet had the true journalistic instinct well developed, and while he was not insensible to the blessings of a good credit balance and a well-nourished cash-box, he experienced keener pleasure and pride when he received evidences of the high opinion in which the Bunyip is held, and of appreciation of his efforts to make it a first-class provincial journal. His ideal was high, and although there were many difficulties in the way of its attainment — difficulties which the ordinary reader is totally unacquainted with — the late Mr. Barnet adapted himself to circumstances and did the best he could. What that best was, is now seen in the Bunyip of to-day. We are not indulging in loose boasting when we say that no provincial town in the colony has its local affairs so fully and faithfully recorded as Gawler, and until quite recently in no other provincial town could its local newspaper be purchased for the popular penny. As a rule, newspapers — especially the local journal — are like prophets, "not without honour save in their own country." Such, however, is not the case with regard to the Bunyip. The appreciative testimonies from local residents in addition to those from outside sources, quite apart from the practical evidence in the form of large and increasing circulation, were very gratifying to Mr. Barnet.

As might be expected from his long residence in the town and his close intimacy with its affairs, the late gentleman was a great authority on various events which have marked the history of Gawler — in fact he was a sort of historical compendium. This in itself was of great advantage in the conduct of the paper. Although he held aloof from all public offices Mr. Barnet was in some respects as much a public man as anyone, and his assistance in the promotion of any proposal was always regarded as a valuable element.

In the earlier years of his residence here he was able to take a more active interest in the societies he was connected with than latterly, and his name appears several times in the history of 1861 already alluded to. With the late Mr. Burton, the Hon. James Martin, Messrs. B. E. Deland, W.R. Lewis, and G. Roediger, the late Mr. Barnet was a private in the Gawler Rifles, No. 1, captained by Mr. F. F. Turner. This was 35 years ago and Mr. T. O. Jones was a Sergeant. Mr. Barnet was subsequently appointed Lieutenant. In the same year the late Mr. Barnet was honorary secretary of the Lodge of Fidelity, Freemasons. The late gentleman joined the lodge in September, 1858, his friend Mr. Burton, connecting himself with it a few months later. It was during Mr. Barnet's term of office that the Masons took an interesting part in a ceremony at St. George's Church, viz., the fixing of the keystone of the arch. There was the usual procession of members in regalia, and the stone was fixed by the Hon. James Martin, who was then W.M. of the Lodge of Fidelity. This took place on May 20, 1861. It was just previous to this time, too, that the late gentleman became a member of Court Bushman's Pride, A.O.F., and at the time of his death he was one of its oldest members. It was the custom in those days to have an assessor for each ward of the municipality and Mr. Barnet was appointed in that capacity for South Ward. Since those times Mr. Barnet has assisted the town of his adoption in many ways. He occupied positions on numerous committees and was ever anxious for the prosperity and good name of the town. By his death the Colonial Athens has lost one of its most interesting and best respected identities.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • funeral, South Australian Register (Adelaide), 27 February 1895, p 6

Citation details

'Barnet, William (1834–1895)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

William Barnet, n.d. photographer unknown

William Barnet, n.d. photographer unknown

Bunyip (Gawler), 15 March 1895, p 1 S

Life Summary [details]


8 June, 1834
Kinross, Scotland


25 February, 1895 (aged 60)
Gawler, South Australia, Australia

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