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Joseph Barker (1835-1924)

Biography from Ladysmith History website, reproduced with thanks

The story of Joseph Barker and Ladysmith

An Anglican archdeacon, Joseph Barker was the son of John Perkins Barker and educated first at the Kidderminster Diocesan School and then had private tuition at St Mary’s National School. After completing his education he acted, for a short time, as master at the latter school.

There is no doubt that Joseph Barker possessed all the Victorian requirements for a bold and steadfast personality. He exhibited those qualities that people admired. He was conscientious, persevering and resolute, good-looking, tall and athletic. Like most Englishmen of the period, he had been taught from infancy to regard the Bible as the literal word of God, and to view Christian rules and traditions as right and morally binding.

He was born in Worcester on the 23rd October 1834, his father, John Perkins Barker, was the squire of Wribbenhall, Worcestershire. John was better known for his love of hunting, shooting and fishing, and for his skills in horse breeding and his masterly horsemanship, than for his interest in books or religion. The problems of the world and the British Empire did not overly disturb the even tenor of John Barker’s country life. Nonetheless, following the dictates of his social standing, his fatherly interest saw to it that his son received the best education possible and that he was obedient to the doctrines and dogma of the established Church of England.

Joseph was educated first at Kidderminster Diocesan School and then by private tuition at St Mary’s National School, where he acted for a time as a master. In 1853, aged nineteen, he was appointed to a teaching post at St Mary’s. Tall, with wavy dark hair, wide intelligent eyes and a pleasant manner, he soon attracted the attention of another attractive young teacher, Elizabeth Annie White. Joseph had taken to attending the Aborigine Society’s lectures, whose members had done so much towards abolishing slavery. On one particular evening the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel held the floor of the Aborigine Society’s meeting. The young couple had found their vocation and, wasting no time they signed up under the Rev Robert Gray to initiate evangelical work for the Anglican Church in Natal.

On the 13th August 1853, after an uneventful voyage, the Barkers arrived in Durban. As the rowing boats ferrying the passengers from the ship approached the bay-shore, half-naked savages pranced through the water holding out their hands in welcome. “Stand up Madame!” a sailor commanded Annie. Obediently she stood, not knowing what to expect. Two Zulus climbed onto the boat, grasped their hands together, and suddenly swung their arms under the astonished woman’s well skirted behind, with much enjoyment and an energetic yell of: “Bampagamisa bamphonsa emanzini!”, they picked her up and threw her in the water then, unceremoniously lifted her up between them and carried her above the shallow water and then gently put her down, feet first on the dry sand. This was also the year of the founding of the Anglican diocese in Natal and over the coming years Joseph Barker would often attend or preach at services in this church.

The missionaries were then given instructions to proceed for some months to ‘the wilds of the Umkomanzi’ as Joseph termed it, some thirty miles south of Durban. One can imagine the nightmarish experience of journeying to such a wild remote area where they made contact for the first time with the primitive tribesmen of this untamed region and began their first attempts to learn their complex language.

Bishop Colenso arrived in Pietermaritzburg in 1854 on a preliminary visit and put Joseph Barker in charge of a school for boys in Pietermaritzburg. At the same time Joseph began studying for the ministry. By May 1855, when Bishop Colenso’s main party of missionaries arrived in Pietermaritzburg, Barker already had a flourishing “middle-class church school” going. A few months later Mrs Woodrowe, who had started the Anglican orphanage, married Reverend Robbie Robertson and they were relocated to the coast so the Barkers were then given the additional responsibility of looking after the orphanage.

By February 1856, Joseph had been licensed as a catechist in Pietermaritzburg and Bishop Colenso then decided to send him to Ladysmith as both catechist and schoolmaster to work amongst the Africans in the region. When the Barkers moved to Ladysmith in June 1856, the town consisted of about a dozen houses and one or two stores. The following month the Resident Magistrate, T T Kelly, wrote to the Colonial Secretary for advice on how to assist Barker in his missionary work, requesting authority to make it obligatory for the native children to attend school. However the Lieutenant Governor did not favour any such compulsion. As a result Joseph turned his attention to the white settlers, building them a church and establishing a Church of England school.

He soon achieved much success among the Europeans, but unfortunately it was at the expense of the Presbyterian minister, the Rev Charles Scott. Although Barker was not at that time an ordained minister, his arrival in Ladysmith upset Scott’s tenure of office as minister and schoolmaster in the village. Since 1855 Scott had received an annual government grant of £55 (later increased to £70) dependant on the local population contributing a like amount. With the advent of Barker however, sectarianism came to the fore. The Anglicans, who were in the majority, objected to having to contribute to Scott’s £70 salary, since they would no be longer be attending his services. In October 1856, a representative gathering of Ladysmith householders requested that the salary paid Scott from the treasury, should be continued but that it be paid to him as a teacher only. It would seem that Scott’s grant was eventually stopped, because by the latter half of 1857 he had left Ladysmith. From the Education establishments listed in the Natal Blue Books, one reads that what had been a ‘free school’ under Rev Scott in 1856, had in 1857 become a ‘Church of England school’ under Joseph Barker.

In December 1857 Barker was ordained Deacon in Pietermaritzburg and admitted to priest’s orders on 23 March 1862, also in Pietermaritzburg. Barker had remained in Ladysmith until the end of 1860 however a clue to a possible contributory factor to his departure can be found in an entry in the diary of Humphrey Evans Knight, dated 3 June 1860. Knight records forwarding the subscription list for Barker as minister of Ladysmith, and notes that the sum for the previous year had been 33 pounds. He calculated that the 1860 total would be less as one resident had died, and he and another had left the town. It was not uncommon however for him to ride from Ladysmith all the way down to the capital to take services there. On these long rides through the rolling Natal countryside described earlier, he no doubt had plenty of time to think about the lengthy sermons he evidently became renowned for! On leaving Ladysmith the whole family then moved to Umzinto on the South Coast where they remained for twenty-seven years, before Joseph re-located back to Ladysmith as vicar in 1887.

In the meantime his vocation as a vicar did not in any way preclude him from matching my other great grandparents in the number of children he proceeded to sire. His family married into some were well-known personalities of their era, and many remain well-known in Natal to the present day. Joseph altogether had a dozen children, eight from his first wife Annie, and four from his second wife, Isabella Sarah Fannin.

  • Lilian Julia Mary, born in Pietermaritzburg 10 February 1854, who married none other than the flamboyant Charles Partridge Reynolds who featured as one the later settlers at Umzinto and the development of Lynton Hall at Umdoni Park.
  • Rosa Evangeline born in Pietermaritzburg 20 May 1855 married Hubert Arbuthnot, elder son of Joseph’s former benefactors, James and Jane Arbuthnot.
  • Dora Emma born in Pietermaritzburg 15 June 1857 married George Frederick Tatham.
  • William Walwyn, their first son, was born in Ladysmith on 12 June 1859 and married Emily Knox, daughter of the ebullient Charles Knox. Walwyn was one of the few Natal Carbineers who escaped from the massacre of Isandhlwana on January 22 1879. He was recommended for the Victoria Cross
  • Annie Louisa born in Umzinto 2 September 1861 and married Rev Ainslie Talon then, upon his death, Walter Henry Cobley.
  • Blanche Florence born in Umzinto on 30 November 1863 married St George Arbuthnot.
  • Gertrude Maud born in Umzinto on 3 February 1866 married Clarence Montgomery.
  • Edith Amy born in Umzinto on 13 March 1868 and never married.

After Edith Amy was born in 1868, Annie was far from well and then pleurisy laid her low. Uncomplaining as always she carried on as usual with her teaching, looking after her little ones and raising funds for the new church at the Umzinto. Sadly she got no better and, as she became weaker, she wrote to Dora to come home. Lillian, her eldest girl, was far away at school in Port Elizabeth and Dora herself was not able to get home until after Christmas. But Annie was never to see the opening of St Patrick’s on Ascension Day, May 6th 1869. The years of work and struggle had taken their toll. Ill for so long with pleurisy and utterly worn out, she died on 4th May 1869 at the early age of thirty-nine, just two days before the opening of the new St Patricks Church at Umzinto.

Joseph Barker, deeply distressed at the loss of his devoted and hard-working young wife, and left with no fewer than eight children to care for, was none-the-less not long in gaining the affection of Isabella Sarah Fannin and after a quick romance that no doubt attracted the intense interest of his parishioners, they were married the following year in Pietermaritzburg on 6th September 1870. Joseph was certainly not finished with the growth of his family as he produced four more children with Sarah.

  • Olive Agnes was born 1st August 1876 and married to Howard John Hatchwell.
  • Lancelot Eustace born on 26th July 1878, however he was to die in the Siege of Ladysmith at the early age of twenty-one during the incumbency of his father there.

In 1887 he went to Ladysmith after being promoted canon and then archdeacon. It was during the South African war of 1899-1901 that his name became known beyond the confines of Natal. When the civilian population was ordered to leave, in anticipation of the siege, nothing would induce the Archdeacon, as he then was, to go. His place was in Ladysmith he said, sharing the privations and dangers of the siege. His devoted wife remained with him. His vicarage, which stood very near the church, was in the line of fire of the Boer guns and the church porch was hit. On another occasion a 96 lb shell burst very near the vicarage, Mrs Barker narrowly escaping death. The only people who were quite unmoved by the incident were the Archdeacon and Mrs Barker. Nothing would induce them to leave the vicarage for safer quarters for it might have been a bad example.


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