Barker, Collet (DNB00)

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BARKER, COLLET (1784–1831), Australian explorer, obtained a commission as captain in the 39th regiment, and served with that regiment in the Peninsular war; subsequently he was stationed in Ireland, till in 1828 he sailed for Australia, where, immediately on his arrival, he was appointed commandant of Raffles Bay, a small colony on the north coast. The colonial government was anxious to establish some settlements on this coast, in the hope of opening a trade with the natives of the Indian Archipelago through the medium of the Malays, and in 1824 settlers were sent to Melville Island, and in 1827 to Raffles Bay. The settlements did not prosper; Melville Island was abandoned in 1829, and when Barker arrived at Raffles Bay he found the settlers full of complaints of the hostility of the natives and of the unhealthiness of the climate. Scurvy was very prevalent, but Barker, by planting trees and vegetables, restored the health of the community, and his just treatment of the natives speedily removed their hostility. In the face of all opposition he insisted on forbearance and humanity on the part of the settlers, and by trusting himself alone into the hands of the natives and giving them other proofs of his justice and good feeling, he became possessed of great influence among them. Unfortunately, before the news of his success could reach the colonial government, the abandonment of the settlement was ordered, and Barker was appointed to the settlement at King George's Sound, on the south-west coast. Before leaving the district of Raffles Bay he explored the neighbourhood of Port Essington, and on his way to his new command he touched at the Swan River settlement and investigated the country near it. In April 1831 Governor Darling requested Barker to search for a communication between Lake Alexandrina and St. Vincent's Gulf. Captain Sturt had descended the Murray River and discovered the lake, but had not discovered its communication with the sea. Barker started on this expedition with a fellow explorer, Mr. Kent, and a few soldiers. He ascended Mount Lofty, descried the range to the east, named after him Mount Barker, and saw the plains upon which Adelaide, Norwood, and Kensington now stand. On 21 April, with Mr. Kent and two soldiers, he came to the outlet he was in search of, and, since none of the others could swim, he swam across alone to make some observations. But while separated from his companions he encountered some natives who speared him in revenge for ill treatment suffered at the hands of whites. Barker was an able officer and ‘a lover and follower of science,’ but he deserves chiefly to be remembered for his patient humanity towards the natives and its complete success. Captain Sturt, in an eloquent eulogium of his brother officer, says of him that ‘in disposition as in the close of his life he was in many respects similar to Captain Cook:’ like Captain Cook he suffered for the sins of others.

[Wilson's Narrative of a Voyage round the World; Sturt's Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia, vol. ii., 1833; Lang's Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales; Heaton's Australian Dictionary of Dates; private information.]

R. B.