Joseph Barry (born 1796), was the 16th and youngest son of victualler and Inn keeper Richard Barry of Hitchin (whose grandfather Richard, is rumoured to have fled Ireland). Joseph lost his parents at a young age and spent some years in France & Spain studying the wine trade under the tutelage of his older brothers Charles Frisby Barry and Michael Barry who married a French lady, Theresa Victoria Josephine Marquette, in 1816.
As a young man of 21 years Joseph Barry was commissioned by the London Wine House, Barry & Wilkinson, to act as their agent for the export of wines from the Cape in 1817. Soon after arriving in Cape Town he was granted permission to remain and in 1819 he returned to make the Cape his home.
BARRY & NEPHEWS
His capacity for hard work, an engaging personality and his reputation as a man of many scruples enabled him to build a successful business empire. Joseph Barry chartered a ship, the Duke of Gloucester, in 1822 to transport a load of rice, grain and merchandise, of which the Overberg was in desperate need after a severe drought, from Cape Town to Port Beaufort. This venture made him a handsome profit and he realised that there was a genuine need for regular trade between Cape Town and the Overberg. Coupled with several misfortunes he nearly went under when one of his ships the Sincapore sank in 1827. By the 1830s his fortunes has changed and this entrepreneur persuaded his nephews, Thomas and later John, to assist with the rapid expanse of the business. Joseph Barry and his nephews all married into the same family! Their wives were all granddaughters of old Cape Dutch aristocratic, Dirk Grysbert van Reenen.
The firm Barry & Nephews traded by ship all along the East coast from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and from Port Beaufort up the Breede River to Malgas. From here it was a short ox wagon journey to the Barry trading store in Swellendam and over the Tradouw pass to Barrydale. This developed farming in the Overberg, as the overland route was a hazardous, long and expensive journey discouraging the farmers from trading with Cape Town. By the 1850s Barry & Nephews were loading woollen cloth direct for London at Port Beaufort.
Sailing the Cape of Storms was not without it's own hazards. In 1848 the 149 tons Cape Coastal schooner, Barry I, wrecked in a South Easter off Stuys Bay. Fortunately no lives were lost. In 1857, Barry II, set out on a voyage to London from Port Beaufort with a cargo of brandy, wool, barley, aloes and animal skins. She wrecked whilst crossing the sandbar and tragically 3 lives were lost.
Wool was by far the most valuable commodity to Barry & Nephews but their trading interests were vast. By 1860 their assets amounted to 3.5 Million rixdollars. An amount usually referring to government matters and not private concerns at the time. Amongst their other interests was dried fruit at Worcester, ostrich farming, a butchery and canteen at Port Beaufort, a flour mill and bakery at Swellendam, a law firm, auctioneering, building gun powder magazines at Swellendam, Riversdale and Mossel Bay, wine and wine stores and they built brandy distilleries at Montagu and Robertson for the farmers in those districts. They encouraged the farmers to improve the quality of their vines. During the 1950s they were presented with a cup for promoting the growth and exportation of wool. In 1865 they took a Silver Medal at the Paarl Agricultural Show for the best spirits of wine.
BARRY & NEPHEWS COUNTING HOUSES - PRIVATE "BANK"
Eventually 15 Barry trading stores were established all along the Breede River and inland with Barry relatives or son-in-laws in charge.
By the end of the 1830s, they had significantly opened up trade opportunities for Overberg farmers in the Cape Colony. However, the large sums of money they dealt with could not be kept in all the rural towns they traded with. “Counting Houses” were thus constructed by the firm across the Overberg and in Cape Town. Here they kept a certain amount of ready cash, but of great historical and economic importance are the five-pound Barry & Nephews ‘bank’ notes to facilitate trade. These were printed on watermarked paper in London. See photo above. This promissory note gained the reputation of being ‘readily accepted everywhere'.
John Barry persuaded one of the Imperial banks to extend itself to the Cape Colony. As one of its directors he assisted in opening the London and South Africa Bank in the Cape in 1860. This bank was eventually absorbed by Standard Bank of SA.
THE SS KADIE
The pride of the Barry fleet was the nimble 158-ton screw steam assisted sailing ship, the SS Kadie. She was custom built to navigate the Breede River, on the Clyde in Scotland by Archibald Denny of Dumbarton in 1859 for Barry & Nephews. She often rendered aid to ships in distress. Her furthest run was carrying a cargo of ostriches, bound for Australia, to Mauritius. After many successful voyages (estimated at 240) she sank on the 17th December 1865 on a treacherous sandbar at the mouth of the Breede.
Today the interdenominational Barry Memorial Church built in 1849 by Thomas Barry still stands guard over the Breede river mouth at Port Beaufort. In 1854 three sisters, the daughters of Frederick William Reitz, were married at the Barry Church to 3 men all named John! In 1862 a double wedding saw both brides named Aletta Catharine, one being Thomas’s daughter and the other Joseph’s. Church services, weddings and funerals are still held in this National Monument. Trevenan Barry of Swellendam is the current Barry family custodian of the Barry Memorial Church. By 1859 Barry & Nephews had also built a Dutch Reformed Church at Malagas.
Joseph Barry donated ground for a mission school to be built in Riversdale in 1855, and two years later as an elected member of parliment he moved to Cape Town. On a trip to England the Duke of Newcastle presented the Honourable Joseph Barry to court and he enjoyed a private luncheon at Windsor Castle. Sadly his wife Martina died in London. On his return he built the original Christ Church in Swellendam in her memory. The Lower Mission School in Swellendam was built as a tribute to the work that his wife had done among the poor.
The sinking of the SS Kadie in 1865 coupled with the death of Joseph Barry earlier in the same year and the bad farming conditions at the time - drought, locusts and blight - was a tremendous blow to the firm and the farming community. Port Beaufort was closed as a harbour in 1866 and further disaster struck with a fire that decimated a third of Swellendam including the Barry & Nephews Trading Store. John was appointed head of the firm and his son, Joseph Joshua, ran the London office. But, the magic was gone and the firm Barry & Nephews became a thing of the past with the death of John in 1871. Never the less, the Barry's were in South Africa to stay.
Joseph Barry's 5th son, Michael's two sons George Joseph and his younger brother, Hamilton continued trading and farming as Barry Bros. In 1911 they built a gun powder magazine "kruithuis" on the outskirts of Robertson for the Barry Trading store in town. The Barry Kruithuis was declared a National Monument in 1975. Barry Brothers was succeeded by Robertson Trading Association and thereafter Barry Trading Co. (Handelshuis) In his later years, Hamilton's son and Diocesan College OD, Edward George Hamilton Barry "Ted" joined Duncan van Reenen Barry's son, George Joseph, as director. The Nephew Thomas Barry's 12th child, Richard van Reenen's son Roelof Louis "Roelou" Barry (born 1899) and his son Richard van Reenen "Reenen" (born 1936) also became directors.
HORSE BREEDING IN THE 1800s
During the 1800s the Barrys were also successfully breeding hardy horses for racing and as British Army remounts in India at their Lismore farm. Joseph Barry's eldest son, Charles van Reenen (1830/1 - 1878), owned show-places Malta on the Liesbeeck River and Varsche Drift - recounted as being the finest in race horse studs in the Colony at that time. He was honoured to have bred a Met winner. The Van Reenens bred horses at Rhenosterfontein. The Barrys also married into the Van Breda family who stood English stallions Roderick Dhu and Diabolus at Zoetendals Vallelji. Joseph's sixth son, John Henry (1839 - 1890) stood an imported stallion "Warrior" at his farm, Stockwell, near Robertson.
Riverton farm was purchased in 1918 by the mayor of Robertson, Hamilton Barry, on behalf of his youngest brother, Duncan Van Reenen Barry, whilst he was away fighting in WW1.
Duncan Barry's eldest son, named George Joseph in honour of Duncan's eldest brother from whom he had inherited £ 10,000, was born on Riverton and aside from leaving to fight in East Africa during WW11 and a brief time auditing for Gurneys in Cape Town was privileged to spend his entire adult life as a gentleman farmer on Riverton. George married Philippa Jeffery in 1954 and they had 3 children, Janet, Patricia and Duncan.
Riverton is a wine (member of Robertson Winery) & fruit farm and in the 1960's George Barry added horses to the mix. After many successes and the standing of top grey stallion, Jamaico (Fr), George Barry was ready to scale down his operation and sell the horses in 1981. On phoning his son, who was working at a stud farm in Ireland, with this news he was told, "It's your call Dad, but don't expect me back."
Needless to say, Duncan Barry Jnr. returned and soon after the grey Russian Fox (USA) came to Riverton. Russian Fox went on to become Champion First Season Sire and it took 17 years for any stallion to beat his record for the most winners in a season! In 2006 both Jet Master and Captain Al surpassed this record. Duncan's fondest memory of Russian Fox are the wonderful swims they used to enjoy in the Breëde river.
In 2011 another grey stallion, Blue Tiger, became the resident stallion. Hopes are high that his progeny will also prove super stars when they go to track.
In 2015 Captain of All that was bred by Duncan Barry became the top merit rated horse in South Africa and went on to be ranked as the 2nd joint top Sprinter in the Longines World Rankings.
Historians are welcome to approach us for permission to peruse the many books, letters and historic photographs that we have in safe keeping. Included in this collection are books concerning the families of the wives that the Barry's married; the Arderne's of the famous Arderne Botanical Garden in Cape Town and the original Dutch Memoirs of Ds. Dirk Van Velden written in 1872. An English translation of the Dutch Memoirs (1993) by Mr. J.N. van den Berg is available.
I must extended a special thank you to the Barry Aunts, Helen Jameson and Noëlle Botha-Reid, for their kindness and patience in answering all my questions regarding the Barry family. Their answers were especially valuable where research gave conflicting stories.
Becky Saacks, as always was a mine of information for which I am deeply grateful. Former Doyenne of the Robertson Museum, the late Becky Saacks, had a vast amount of knowledge concerning the Barrys and the history of our area which she was thankfully only too happy to impart.
Thank you to the Robertson Museum for their research on the Barry "Kruithuis" and Barry Bros. The Robertson Museum also has a Barry Room with information on the South African Barrys.
Thank you to Marsh Shirtliff for all his information on the S.S. Kadie and the Chapter 20 extract on the Kadie from the book, Tales of Shipwrecks at the Cape of Storms.
Thank you to the "Ham" Alfred Hamilton Barry Family for sending me accurate facts.
Thank you to my sisters-in-law, Janet and Patricia, for picking up the spelling mistakes.
Thank you to Henry Barry's granddaughter Judy Rosewall for additional information.
- The Barrys and the Overberg by AP Buirski
- The Barry Family by Mary Hewitt Hanley (née Barry)
- The Families of Hamilton Barry and Duncan Barry by Margaret Leroy (née Barry)
- The Barry Family Tree of Joseph Barry & Nephews, Thomas & John compiled by Dennis T.v.R. Barry. Assisted by Mary Hewitt Hanley (née Barry) born in 1910, Margaret Clare Leroy (née Barry) born 1932 and died 2003, Michael Merriman Coke born 1941 and Reginald M. Barry born 1945.
- Tales of Shipwrecks at the Cape of Storms. Chapter 20 - The Kadie.
- Overberg Odyssey by Edmund H. Burrows
- Van Reenen, Van Renen, Vanrenen Familie / Family 1722 - 1994 by J.D. Van Renen. Publication series, Department of Computer Science, University of Port Elizabeth 1994.
These are too numerous to mention them all here, but Google has certainly made it easier to verify, tally and extrapolate facts.