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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barr, Andrew (1855–1939)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Andrew Barr (1855-1939), farmer, inventor and dreamer, was born on 12 July 1855 at Halfmerkland Farm, Scorrieholm, Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, son of Robert Barr, leasehold farmer, and his wife Isabella, née Wilson. Leaving school at 13, he worked as a farmhand until the family migrated to South Australia. A staunch Presbyterian, Andrew married a Congregationalist, Rosetta Almedia Gilbert, on 27 September 1877 at Pinkerton Downs; of their fourteen children, eight survived infancy. Barr worked as a woodcutter and farmhand before acquiring Balaklava farm at Wild Horse Plains. In 1880 he won a prize for his improvements to the stump-jump disc plough invented by Richard Bowyer Smith and his brother Clarence. Barr prospered until struck in the 1890s by drought and by the bankruptcy of James Martin, agent for his plough. Reduced to living in a tent at Mount Remarkable, in 1897 the family sailed for Western Australia, while two sons overlanded stock and machinery.

Next year, when the sixty-acre (24 ha) wheat crop on his original selection at Doodlakine failed, Barr moved towards Mindabooka and pioneered the Bruce Rock district. He built a homestead of local stone and mud mortar near a spring on a 2034-acre (823.2-ha) leasehold at Quorncutting. His isolated family lived rough, often eating kangaroo and wallaby. An occasional Bible-reading with distant neighbours was the main social activity. Following the stillbirth of her fourteenth child, Rosetta died of septicaemia in June 1901. She was buried at Nunagin Rock. Delegating specific indoor and outside duties to each child, Barr continued to gather sandalwood, grow wheat and raise sheep and cattle. He exhibited at the first Doodlakine cattle sale in 1911. Yet he was also occupied in what must have seemed to his hard-working daughters to be 'idle thoughts and vain endeavours'.

In June 1903 Barr sent a working model of an aeronautical appliance, designed 'to convey people in the air as on a ship at sea', to the Department of Defence. The aluminium apparatus supported by steel bearings would feature inverted wings to prevent air rush. He volunteered to build a prototype within three months for £6 a week with a final payment of one million pounds. The specifications were rejected by Major General Sir Edward Hutton and Sir John Forrest, minister for defence. Undaunted, he formed the Barr flying machine syndicate with the investor W. E. Hearman, and mining entrepreneur T. H. Brimage. Together in London they experienced strong competition and rejection from the Imperial government. At home E. G. 'Dryblower' Murphy lampooned him as 'Poor busted Barr of Doodlekine'. Barr married Anna Dickie Smith Thomson, nursing matron, on 26 August 1904 at St George's Church, Bloomsbury, London, and returned to Western Australia.

His inventions patented between 1901 and 1933 included an improved method of conveying passengers over rough country, a power digging-machine, a mechanism for destroying wire entanglements (offered to the War Office in 1915), a solar machine, a mallee eradicator and an improved stump-jump eradicator. Although used by farmers, none of Barr's inventions brought him wealth. A tall, straight man, wearing heavy moustaches, he was an entertaining raconteur and excelled at draughts and bridge. He died on 9 February 1939 at Bendering and was buried at Kondinin with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • E. G. Murphy, Jarrahland Jingles (Perth, 1908)
  • H. Clift, A Clouded Vision (Lesmurdie, 1994)
  • Rock Review, no 494, 30 June 1988
  • Tarmac Topics (Perth), vol 7, no 4, 1993
  • Merredin Mercury, 23 Feb 1939
  • West Australian, 3, 4 June 1903
  • Western Mail (Perth), 8 June 1922, 9 July 1931, 29 July 1937, 19 July 1951, 5 April 2003
  • Sunday Times, 17, 28 Nov 1929, 19 Nov 1936, 7 Sept 1944
  • Barr papers, MN 1533 ACC 4817A (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Barr, Andrew (1855–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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