Sir John Barrow, 1st Baronet

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This article is about the English statesman Sir John Barrow. For other uses, see John Barrow (disambiguation).
Sir John Barrow
Sir John Barrow, 1st Bt 1849 RGNb10408769.01.tif
Born John Barrow
(1764-06-19)June 19, 1764
Dragley Beck, parish of Ulverston
Died November 23, 1848(1848-11-23) (aged 84)
Nationality English
Known for statesman, writer
Spouse(s) Anna Maria Truter

Sir John Barrow, 1st Baronet, FRS, FRGS (19 June 1764 – 23 November 1848) was an English statesman and writer.


Barrow was born the son of Roger Barrow in the village of Dragley Beck, in the parish of Ulverston, then in Lancashire, now in Cumbria. He started in life as superintending clerk of an iron foundry at Liverpool and afterwards, in his twenties, taught mathematics at a private school in Greenwich.[1]

He taught mathematics to the son of Sir George Leonard Staunton; through Staunton's interest, he was attached on the first British embassy to China from 1792–94 as comptroller of the household to Lord Macartney. He soon acquired a good knowledge of the Chinese language, on which he subsequently contributed articles to the Quarterly Review; and the account of the embassy published by Sir George Staunton records many of Barrow's valuable contributions to literature and science connected with China.[1]

Barrow ceased to be officially connected with Chinese affairs after the return of the embassy in 1794, but he always took much interest in them, and on critical occasions was frequently consulted by the British government.[1]

Sir John Barrow, 1st Bt, by John Jackson
The Castle at Cape Town in about 1800, painted by John Barrow

In 1797, he accompanied Lord Macartney as private secretary in his important and delicate mission to settle the government of the newly acquired colony of the Cape of Good Hope. Barrow was entrusted with the task of reconciling the Boer settlers and the native Black population and of reporting on the country in the interior. In the course of the trip, he visited all parts of the colony; when he returned, he was appointed auditor-general of public accounts. He then decided to settle in South Africa, married, and bought a house in 1800 in Cape Town. However, the surrender of the colony at the peace of Amiens (1802) upset this plan. Barrow returned to England in 1804 and was appointed Second Secretary to the Admiralty by Viscount Melville, a post which he held for forty years,[1] (apart from a short period in 1806-07 when there was a Whig government in power).[2]

Lord Grey took office as Prime Minister in 1830, and Barrow was especially requested to remain in his post, starting the principle that senior civil servants stay in office on change of government and serve in a non-partisan manner. Indeed, it was during his occupancy of the post that it was renamed Permanent Secretary.[citation needed]

Barrow enjoyed the esteem and confidence of all the eleven chief lords who successively presided at the Admiralty board during that period, and more especially of King William IV while lord high admiral, who honoured him with tokens of his personal regard.[1]

During his travels through South Africa, Barrow compiled copious notes and sketches of the countryside that he was traversing. The outcome of his journeys was a map which, despite its numerous errors, was the first published modern map of the southern parts of the Cape Colony.[3] William John Burchell (1781–1863) was particularly scathing: "As to the miserable thing called a map, which has been prefixed to Mr. Barrow’s quarto, I perfectly agree with Professor Lichtenstein, that it is so defective that it can seldom be found of any use."

In his position at the Admiralty, Barrow was a great promoter of Arctic voyages of discovery, including those of John Ross, William Edward Parry, James Clark Ross, and John Franklin. The Barrow Strait in the Canadian Arctic as well as Point Barrow and the city of Barrow in Alaska are named after him. He is reputed to have been the initial proposer of St Helena as the new place of exile for Napoleon Bonaparte following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.[citation needed]

Barrow was a fellow of the Royal Society and received the degree of LL.D from the University of Edinburgh in 1821. A baronetcy was conferred on him by Sir Robert Peel in 1835.[4] He was also a member of the Raleigh Club, a forerunner of the Royal Geographical Society.[1]

Barrow retired from public life in 1845 and devoted himself to writing a history of the modern Arctic voyages of discovery (1846), as well as his autobiography, published in 1847.[1] He died suddenly on 23 November 1848.[1] The Sir John Barrow monument was built in his honour on Hoad Hill overlooking his home town of Ulverston, though locally it is more commonly called Hoad Monument.[5] Mount Barrow and Barrow Island in Australia are believed to have been named for him.[6]

Private life[edit]

Barrow married Anna Maria Truter (1777–1857) in South Africa on 26 August 1799.[7] A botanical artist from the Cape, she bore him four sons and two daughters, one of whom, Johanna, married Robert Batty.[8]


  • Barrow's Boys - Fergus Fleming (1998) "For 30 years beginning 1816, the British Admiralty's John Barrow and his elite team charted large areas of the Arctic, discovered the North Magnetic Pole, were the first to see volcanoes in the Antarctic, crossed the Sahara to find Timbuktu and the mouth of the Niger - John Ross, John Franklin, William Edward Parry and others." [9]

Besides the numerous articles in the Quarterly Review already mentioned, Barrow published among other works:[1]

  • Travels into the Interior of South Africa (1806); online
  • Life of Lord Macartney (1807),
  • Life of Lord Anson (1839),
  • Life of Lord Howe (1838).

He was also the author of several valuable contributions to the seventh edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Other works included:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Anonymous 1911.
  2. ^ Fergus Fleming. Barrow's Boys (Kindle Edition). Kindle Location 242-252
  3. ^ Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa vol 2 (1970)
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 19241. p. 284. 17 February 1835.
  5. ^ "The Sir John Barrow Monument". Ulverston Town Council. Retrieved 23 December 2015. 
  6. ^ Prettyman, Ernest. "Index to Tasmanian Place Names". Tasmanian Archives Online. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  7. ^ "Rootsweb: South-Africa-L Re: Truter". Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  8. ^ South African Botanical Art - Marion Arnold (Fernwood Press 2001)
  9. ^ Bibliopolis
  10. ^ "Author Query for 'Barrow'". International Plant Names Index. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
(of Ulverstone)
Succeeded by
Sir George Barrow, 2nd Baronet