The Corkman who sent Ned Kelly to the gallows

Few contributed more to the intellectual life of Melbourne than Sir Redmond Barry

Sir Redmond Barry achieved a degree of notoriety for sending Australian bush ranger Ned Kelly to the gallows. Kelly's reputed last words, "Ah well I suppose it has come to this", were directed at the judgment and have been much quoted, but there was much more to Barry than a reputation as a "hanging judge". Barry was instrumental in the development of Melbourne as a city with institutions that reflected its growing ambition.

Redmond Barry was born in Ballyclough, Co Cork, in 1813. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1837 and was admitted to the Irish Bar in 1838. He became friends with Isaac Butt of the Irish Home Rule movement. However, work and income were in short supply and like many others in his position, he decided to emigrate.

He arrived in Sydney on September 1st 1839 with a cloud of scandal surrounding him after conducting an affair with a married woman on the voyage. That hampered his employment prospects, so he set off for the new settlement on Port Philip Bay (named Melbourne from 1837), which became his home. He worked as a lawyer and established a reputation as fair-minded and unprejudiced. Barry became the unofficial standing counsel for aboriginal people and retained that interest throughout his life.

The year 1851 was very significant for Victoria as it achieved separation from New South Wales and gold was discovered there, leading to an influx of prospectors and others drawn by the lure of riches to be won. There was a need for public officials in the fledgling colony and Barry was appointed its first solicitor-general. Soon after, he was elevated to the new bench of the Supreme Court of Victoria.


Barry became active in very many aspects of public life in Melbourne, including Irish famine relief. His greatest achievement was the foundation of the University of Melbourne and he became its first chancellor, in 1853, a position he retained throughout his life. In addition, he was instrumental in the creation of what are now the State Library of Victoria and the National Gallery of Victoria. No one contributed more to the intellectual life of Melbourne than Barry.

As a judge he was regarded as harsh but fair, which were necessary traits in the administration of law in the often chaotic new colony. Following the uprising of the miners in the Victorian goldfields, Barry presided over the trials of most of the Eureka rebels in 1855. All the accused were acquitted, including Peter Lalor, who went on to a distinguished parliamentary career.

Barry’s most famous trial was that of Ned Kelly, in 1880. He had already had experience of the Kellys at the trial of Kelly’s mother and several others on charges of aiding and abetting attempted murder, heard at the courthouse at Beechworth in Victoria in 1878. Kelly himself was frequently in trouble with the law, usually for horse stealing.

It was the murder of three policemen, who made up a search party trying to locate Kelly, that brought him before Sir Redmond Barry, as he now was. The case revolved around a group of Irish people - an Irish judge, the son of a Tipperary man, Ned Kelly, who had been transported to Van Diemen's Land, and three dead policemen, all with Irish roots. Kelly was found guilty by the jury and Barry's verdict was inevitable. He was taken to Melbourne Gaol and was hanged on November 11th, 1880.

Barry was suffering from diabetes and a lung condition. Twelve days after the execution of Ned Kelly, he succumbed and died at his home in East Melbourne. He was buried in the Melbourne General cemetery. He never married, but from 1846 he and Louisa Barrow became partners, with four children. She was eventually buried beside him.

Sir Redmond Barry made a singular contribution to Melbourne that is remembered to this day. He was indeed an extraordinary emigrant .

This Extraordinary Emigrants article was written by Dr J Patrick Greene, CEO and museum director of EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin’s Docklands, an interactive museum that tells the story of how the Irish shaped and influenced the world