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Barrington, Archibald Charles


Clerk, secretary, pacifist

This biography, written by Carol Markwell, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.

Archibald Charles Barrington was born in Wellington on 8 May 1906 to Christina Jane Blackwell and her English-born husband, John Benjamin Barrington. He grew up in Marton, Rangitikei, where his father worked as a stoker at the municipal gas works. John Barrington was also a cabinet-maker and a talented amateur artist. He built a home for his family and developed a market garden on the property, combining it with a fruit shop in town, and later adding a poultry farm and co-operative store. Archibald and his brother Ben sold produce from the garden, carrying it in a hand cart around Marton Junction.

Intelligent, energetic and always eager for knowledge, Archibald was educated at Marton District High School. He left school to become office boy in the Marton law firm Fullerton-Smith, Miles and Cook, later moving to Wellington, where he worked with a law firm, becoming clerk, then company secretary and accountant. However, his involvement with commercial business came into increasing conflict with his developing Christian faith, and he found full-time work as Wellington secretary and national secretary of the WEA. In Wellington he attended the Methodist church in Webb Street, serving as Bible-class leader, lay preacher and honorary national secretary of the Methodist youth movement. The minister, Ormond Burton, had been wounded and decorated for bravery in the First World War, but was by this time staunchly pacifist. At Webb Street, Barrington and other young men hammered out the application of Christian faith to life, concluding that acceptance of Christianity ‘involved not only repudiation of all war and violence, but active work for peace, for the “Good Society” ’. Barrington would be a committed advocate of this belief throughout his life.

At the Methodist church in Marton on 4 January 1935 he married Janet Elizabeth Galpin, a clerk, and the daughter of a local farmer; they were to have two sons and a daughter. In March 1936 Ormond Burton and Barrington together formed the Christian Pacifist Society of New Zealand. Barrington became its first secretary, preparing a hand-duplicated pacifist newsletter. He and Burton and other members of the society became soap-box orators. They held open-air meetings and poster parades (wearing large home-made sandwich boards with anti-war messages) every week from early 1938 until these activities were suppressed by the Labour government early in the Second World War.

In 1940 Barrington made a tour of the North Island, speaking outdoors in parks and reserves. His anti-war message was not always well received: returned soldiers marched him out of Stratford, Te Kūiti and Tauranga; tomatoes were thrown at him at Stratford and eggs in New Plymouth. He was arrested, convicted and fined in Wanganui, Auckland and Gisborne for his anti-war writings and speeches. These were the first of many court appearances.

By 1941 even advertisements for pacifist meetings were prohibited. Barrington, undeterred, spoke two sentences at Wellington’s Pigeon Park in Manners Street and was arrested, along with several others who had attempted to speak. At his Supreme Court trial, where he defended himself, he was found guilty and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment with hard labour. In his summing up the judge, Sir Michael Myers, observed that Barrington was ‘obviously a man of considerable ability, coupled with conceit and arrogance’.

After his release early in 1942, Barrington continued to write and speak out against the war. He was once more summonsed, for ‘publishing a subversive document’, and after defending himself at a second Supreme Court trial, was again convicted, although the conviction was later quashed by the Court of Appeal. He was prosecuted once more during the war (but not convicted) for assisting an escaped conscientious objector by lending him a ration book with clothing coupons. At the 1943 general election he stood as a Christian pacifist against Robert Semple in the New Zealand Labour Party stronghold of Wellington East, receiving 252 votes.

The war’s end brought a change of focus and location for Barrington. It was time to work actively to build a good society and a more peaceful world. In 1947 the family moved to Lower Moutere in the Motueka district to join the Riverside Community. This was a Christian pacifist community (largely Methodist), which had been founded six years previously by Hubert and Marion Holdaway and others on farm and orchard land. Archibald (known almost universally by now as Barry), Jan and the children settled into the shared life and work of Riverside. Jan cared for the children and attended to the constant stream of visitors to the household. She also helped to provide meals and accommodation for those in need of shelter who were taken in by Riverside. Barry assisted in managing the community’s finances, and worked on the farm – pruning and planting apple and pear trees, tending the animals, grubbing gorse, and driving horses, wagons, trucks and tractors.

He also continued to work for peace, discussing issues, making speeches, and sending a flow of well-argued letters to newspapers. In 1970 he published Trials of a pacifist. He corresponded with writers and fellow pacifists all over the world and in 1949 was New Zealand delegate at a conference on international fellowship and reconciliation in India.

Barrington was undeterred by criticism and hostility. For three successive weeks in Nelson in July 1949, when speaking alongside other Riverside members against compulsory military training, he was verbally abused by an angry crowd, and on one occasion physically manhandled. In the early 1950s he and two others made three tours of the South Island with a ‘peace caravan’ (the community car covered with posters), travelling thousands of miles and speaking out against racial discrimination and war. He continued to preach in the Methodist church at Motueka, his clear and forthright views stirring an angry response on occasions. In 1973 he was elected vice president of the Methodist Church of New Zealand, the highest position a layperson can hold.

Ironically, while Barrington was a lifelong pacifist and non-drinker, one of his brothers, Francis, was a publican, and another, Ben, volunteered in the Second World War, rising to the rank of temporary brigadier in Freyberg’s New Zealand Division.

Archibald Barrington was a tall, strongly built man and in old age had a shock of white hair. He was a keen and able chess player, read widely and was an avid book collector. Even in the last few months of his life he was an energetic, but selective, letter writer. He died in Nelson on 4 March 1986, survived by his wife and children; Jan Barrington died in 1999.

How to cite this page:

Carol Markwell. 'Barrington, Archibald Charles', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5b11/barrington-archibald-charles (accessed 13 July 2024)