The Why

The illegal settlement and early development of Melbourne is unique in the history of Australia.  Dr Barry Cotter was among the first dozen or so settlers to arrive at Port Phillip and his story is intertwined with that unlawful and at times reckless settlement. This biography, although of general historical interest, has been written particularly for the descendants of Dr Barry Cotter, the first doctor in Melbourne and his wife Inez Seville Fitzgerald.

headshot 7 (4)I grew up with the surname Barry-Cotter and in the 1950’s and 1960’s in country N.S.W. a hyphenated surname was unusual and confusing, especially together with my given name Moira.  And that really shows how narrow Australian society was at the time, for these three words are all Anglo (Irish to be precise), but the fact that there were three, not two, like everyone else, caused endless confusion.  I knew nothing of the history of the name, or about the family’s beginning in Australia.  I hope that after reading the story of this extraordinary couple, anyone with the surname Barry-Cotter will be better informed and prouder of the name than I ever was.


My parents had five children – Kevin, Christopher, Catherine, Philip and Moira. The males in our family have, of course, all experienced the frustration of the “No! It’s hyphenated! Barry is part of my surname, not my second Christian name” situation. My parents, in fact, decided not to give us any second Christian names as they recognised that we had enough to cope with.

But back to Barry-Cotter.  Where did it come from and who is responsible?  The answer is simple – one person, my grandfather—is the one who inserted the hyphen.  He did so on his marriage and shortly afterwards on the birth of his firstborn, my father, Leslie Keith who was born on 2nd March 1908.  If birth, marriage and death certificates prior to this are examined they show clearly that the Cotter family had kept Barry as second Christian name for the boys, especially for the firstborn male. My grandfather’s given names were Leslie Frank Barry along with the surname Cotter, but at his marriage and on the birth of my father he

F-L marriage

The marriage certificate of Frank and Laura is the first recorded hyphenated Barry-Cotter surname.

inserted the hyphen so that my father’s birth certificate shows clearly his given name as Leslie Keith and his surname as Barry-Cotter.  My father’s younger siblings, Frank, Jean and Max all record the hyphen in the same way.  So it is clear that if your surname is Barry-Cotter, then you belong to this branch of the family.

Having said that, it is true that so far one recorded exception has been found.  It is the inscription on the tombstone of Effie Mary Inez Cotter, my grandfather’s sister who died in 1913, which reads Effie Mary Barry-Cotter.  I would guess that my grandfather had a hand in this recording, as her death occurred just a few years after he had decided to insert the hyphen in his own name.  Effie’s birth certificate (NSW BDM 10492) and death certificate (NSW BDM 890) both record her as ‘Effie Mary Inez Cotter’ with no mention of Barry-Cotter.

But why did he do it? I never knew my grandfather, but I have heard a little about him from my older brother, Kevin and I think my grandfather had a great admiration for his grandfather, Dr Barry Cotter, the first doctor in Melbourne, who along with his wife Inez, is the main subject of this biography. Capturing this piece of history in a hyphen ensured its survival.  Perhaps he also considered that using the name as a hyphenated surname also ensured that the daughters in a family would carry that connection.



During the 1970s, 80s and 90s my sister Mrs Cathy Harrison and brother Fr Kevin Barry-Cotter, without the advantage of the internet, were able to locate and record information as a result of hours of reading microfilm, scanning copies of newspapers and writing letters. Their work, especially Cathy’s, makes a substantial contribution to this biography and Cathy’s unpublished timeline of Dr Barry Cotter While I Live I Hope has been a constant reference point for me. I have been able to build on it and through modern technology, add detail and new information which was not available to her.

Technology also brought about my meeting with John Vignoles from London who was researching his family story when we found we shared much common ground.  John has been a wise and constant guide to me, a mentor and brilliant researcher and I owe him a debt of gratitude for his contribution to this work.


To tell the story of Barry and Inez without reference to the people and events around them would be to tell only half the story. The advantage of publishing on a website is that it is easy to link information about an interesting person, place or event, which is not central to the story, but will enhance the reader’s understanding of the main characters and the times. I hope you follow some of the links which interest you and please contact me if you come across any links that are broken.


The images in this work come from a variety of sources. I have endeavoured to establish the copyright status of each image and have sought permission for use where necessary.  If you believe that an image is in breach of copyright please contact me as I have in good faith tried to trace the status of each image.

The State Library of Victoria (SLV) has an amazing collection of images from this period as has the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office (TAHO). The State Library of NSW (SLNSW), the National Library of Australia (NLA), the National Museum of Australia (NMA) and the Port Phillip Pioneers Group (PPPG) also hold valuable images of this period. These institutions have online digital collections and every staff member I spoke to about my research was supportive and extremely helpful.


Also and perhaps most importantly, I have tried to let Barry and Inez speak directly to the reader by reproducing the letters and official reports written by them which British bureaucracy, thankfully, preserved.


Paperwork_l_tnbOne thing I have discovered in researching and writing this biography is that evidence in the form of certificates, land grants, shipping lists and depositions give the facts but they do not give an indication of the motivation that prompted the action and it is the motivation which is the most interesting, human aspect of the story.  To tell the story with only the facts will be a dry tale.  We can only relate to people of the past through our shared human condition and to really believe and know them as real people we need to find a common human link with them.  These links exist in what are sometimes called ‘universals’, those hundreds, perhaps thousands of human traits that surpass race, culture, distance and most especially for us, time.  Human beings are always human beings.  They laugh, cry, love, hate, despair, murder, they are puffy with self-importance, they can show incredible courage or tenderness or fear.  How they relate to each other is the basis of all literature.

So what do we do? Use the evidence, the facts that survive, and guess the motivation that prompted the action? This is very shaky ground as we cannot be sure that we are correct in our choice.  love heartsFor example, it would be reasonable to assume from a marriage certificate that the couple was motivated by love.  But there are many other reasons why two people might marry. In the Australian colonies men outnumbered women by twenty to one in some cases, and marriage was often the result of loneliness or the need for a housekeeper, and for the women it offered security in a very uncertain world. Love may or may not have come later but was not always the motivation for marriage.

Often our attitude to pioneers and ancestors is coloured by the sepia tones of old photographs. Being photographed was a serious and expensive business and the flash of the photographer’s bulb usually caught the subjects stiff, still, posed, bearded, frocked, trussed up in tight, heavy clothing, staring unsmilingly straight ahead.  There is nothing lifelike about the people in these photos, no hint of the humour or courage or sadness or misery or pain or tenderness or fear or affection or a hundred other feelings which were certainly there.  So it is a blessing that no visual images seem to exist of Barry and Inez, because it liberates us to get to know them as real people.  And real people they certainly were, with all the attributes and faults that we can so easily list in our living relatives.


In the last two decades the internet has revolutionised family history research, allowing easier access to certificates, shipping lists and the most interesting of all, newspapers.

Trove logoThe National Library has digitised most of the newspapers produced in Australia’s short publishing history and made them available to the public free of charge through the Trove website.  This certainly is a treasure trove for the family historian, as all the  information contained in the majority of newspapers ever published in Australia is easily accessible through a simple and effective search mechanism. There are also links to the newspaper archives of other countries.


Barry and Inez lived in the period when the newspaper was at the pinnacle of mass communication.  Newspapers abounded in a variety of forms, from the one page handwritten sheet printed in a pub or a back yard to the sophisticated London Times with its columns, sections, editorials and articles.

newspaper sellerNewspapers were the life blood of the two colonies, Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales.  Ships arriving from England brought the settlers news of ‘home’ albeit three months old.  The local publications gave settlers an interpretation of English and European news as well as a rundown on local issues and articles, public notices and classified advertisements.

Nineteenth century newspaper journalists are well known for their colourful prose and exaggeration and their accounts are sometimes discounted as poorly written.  However, if we look past the language and see the actions we can learn much about the people at the centre, or on the periphery of the story or imagine the story’s effect on others.  The article at the beginning of Chapter 1 is a great place to begin the Barry Cotter story.

1 thought on “The Why

  1. Jan Arratta

    Hi Moira, what a fascinating history you have written on Barry Cotter and his family. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and it did answer some questions about the family that I had. No, I am not a descendant of the Cotter family, but I am a great granddaughter of William Henry Smith, who came to Australia in 1860 with Inez and her family. Frances Laura did marry in London in 1856, but not to WH Smith. She married George John Hastrick, and in 1857 had a son, Francis Barry Hastrick. It appears that she then left for Australia with her family and WH Smith, whom she was with till her death in Melbourne in 1878. I do not believe she divorced Hastrick, nor married William Henry Smith. They had 5 children, their daughter Seville dying aged 10 in 1876. The town in the Dandenongs called Seville was named for her, and my grandmother (from WH Smiths marriage to Esther Robarts – he was 60, she was 27) was named Nathalie Seville Smith. Frances Laura and William Henrys children were: Frances Annie, Charles Alfred, Walter Linwood, Seville Suzette and Leslie Snodgrass.
    Kind regards
    Jan Arratta nee Colhoun



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