BARKER, Dr Alfred Charles
Pioneer medical practitioner, amateur photographer.
A new biography of Barker, Alfred Charles appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Alfred Charles Barker was born in London in 1819, the son of Joseph Gibbs Barker, of Birmingham. He was educated privately in Hereford and later at King's College, London, where he qualified as a surgeon. He practised for about eight years in various parts of England, but he had early developed an interest in New Zealand and, as one of the original land purchasers under the Canterbury settlement scheme, he arrived off Sumner in December 1850 in the ship Charlotte Jane. He left his family at an hotel at Sumner and pushed on to Christchurch where for a time he lived in a shelter compounded of mud and ship's sails. The garden of his first permanent home, however, extended from the Square to the lower end of Worcester Street. Though he was a member of the council of the Society of Land Purchasers from 1852 to 1854, his practice left little time for politics. As one of the very few practitioners serving the whole of the Canterbury Plains, he travelled great distances and was constantly on the move. In 1855, however, he found himself a not very willing member of the Canterbury Provincial Council. He had little taste for politics, though he held many strong opinions on early development and policy. When his wife died in Christchurch in 1858, Barker, though still a young man, decided to retire. He had already left the Provincial Council in 1857 after what he termed two fruitless years, and now decided to devote his time and energies to his hobbies, which were legion.
Dr Barker's tastes had always been studious and scientific. He was keenly interested in geology, botany, and zoology, and after his arrival in New Zealand had maintained a constant correspondence with Owen, Huxley, and Darwin. Darwinism was one of his particular interests, and he contributed some notable papers on the subject to the Canterbury Philosophical Institute. He was a skilful sketcher and an enthusiastic amateur photographer, and specimens of his work, some of which are of real historical value, are to be seen in the Christ-church Museum. Indicative of the breadth of his scientific studies was his interest in aeronautics. Thirty-one years before the Wright Brothers made their first successful flight in America, Barker had dabbled in flying, and as early as 1872, had propounded some definite views on the subject, accompaning them with a diagram of a proposed form of aircraft. In 1961 a letter dealing with this subject, written by Barker in 1872 to his brother in England, was exhibited by his great grandson, T. Barker, of Christchurch, to the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand. Dr Barker died in Christchurch on 20 March 1873.
by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.
- New Zealand Free Lance (Wellington) 1 Apr 1953. “Barker of Cathedral Square”, Cresswell, D. D.