Charles John Wright Barton was born, according to family information, on 6 February 1852 at Daventry, Northamptonshire, England, and was baptised there on 2 March. He was the son of Charlotte Kinder and her husband, Charles John Wood Barton. Charles junior never knew his father, who was Church of England chaplain to the British community in Canton (Guangzhou), China, and died of a fever at Macao soon after being married.
Charlotte Barton persuaded her youngest brother, Henry Kinder, to accompany her and her baby to New Zealand. They arrived at Wellington on the Northfleet in 1853 and settled in Auckland. In 1855 they were joined by Charlotte's mother, sister and older brother, the Reverend John Kinder, who was the first headmaster of the Church of England Grammar School in Parnell (which Charles Barton probably later attended). Charlotte Barton married in 1864 Major Thomas Wilson of the 3rd Regiment, Waikato Militia, who later that year was allotted land at Cambridge in Waikato.
In 1869 Charles was appointed an ensign in the Auckland Militia and for his services received a grant of 79 acres at Te Kōwhai, near Hamilton, adjoining land granted to his stepfather. His holding was later increased by a further substantial grant and the amalgamation of his property with that of his stepfather. On 4 December 1879 at Ngaruawahia Barton married Marion Edgecumbe, one of a prominent local family. Marion gave invaluable support to her husband during his long municipal career.
Around the time of his marriage, Barton entered local body politics by serving on the Town of Ngāruawāhia District Board. He was elected to the Newcastle Licensing Committee in 1882. The following year he was appointed canvasser and then in 1884, secretary of the newly formed North New Zealand Farmers' Co-operative Association, and spent six months raising finance for the venture.
Barton's stepfather died in 1883 and, having sold most of the farm holdings, Barton moved into business in Hamilton. In September 1884 he purchased the Waikato Brewery in Hamilton East and in May 1885 he became proprietor of the Commercial Hotel in the town's main street. In 1886 Barton and seven others leased land at Claudelands, developed a racecourse, and established the South Auckland Racing Club with Barton as honorary secretary.
Already a well-known figure in the town, Charles Barton was elected to the Hamilton Borough Council in 1886 and in 1887 he became mayor at the age of 35. While in office he supported the development of saleyards – an important facility for a farming service centre. Early in his term he struck business difficulties, which were caused by a depressed local economy. He leased the brewery to concentrate on the Commercial Hotel but lost the remaining lands at Te Kōwhai when he failed to meet mortgage repayments. He became bankrupt while in office and resigned in 1888.
His recovery was swift. In 1889 he was appointed as town clerk, a salaried position he held for the next 13 years. He was required to act as treasurer, valuer, rates collector, dog registrar, inspector of nuisances and returning officer, and was also secretary to the Public Library Committee and the Domain Board. In addition he was employed as secretary of the Waikato Hospital and Charitable Aid Board from 1889 to 1903. A strong supporter of the new hospital in Hamilton, his interest in this aspect of his work went beyond duty. He daily visited patients with mail and newspapers and ran errands for them.
As a skilled administrator and secretary, Barton achieved prominence in many sporting and social organisations. For many years he was an office-bearer in Masonic Lodge Beta-Waikato, he helped organise public concerts and sports days, and he was on the committees of cricket, lawn tennis and athletics clubs.
Barton was persuaded to stand for mayor again in 1903 and won a keenly fought contest with J. S. Bond. Declaring that Hamilton was 'going ahead', he produced a comprehensive scheme for the development of the borough through the construction of new saleyards, a town hall, and improved sanitation and drainage. Once again however, business problems led him to resign after only a few months.
Barton continued as a borough councillor until his resignation in 1933, at the age of 81. Known for his wit and debating skills, he was referred to as the 'watch-dog of the Council' because of his political astuteness and knowledge of local affairs. During a municipal career of nearly half a century Barton always expressed faith in the future of Hamilton. Charles Barton died on 4 March 1935 at the Waikato Hospital, survived by his wife and their seven children.