Dr. A.C. Barker (1819 – 1873)

Dr. A.C. Barker sought opportunities, fortune and we should be so grateful that he did.Born in Hackney, London in 1819, A.C. was a well established young doctor and surgeon. He couldn’t pass on the great opportunity of becoming the on board doctor on the ‘Charlotte Jane’ in 1850. This not only gave him free passage for himself, Emma (his wife of 5 years) and their children (Dick, Sam and Arthur) to Canterbury but also would have him make his fortune as a colonial doctor and surgeon…surely he would be in high demand which meant big bucks!The Barkers bravely boarded the ‘Charlotte Jane’, with every soul on board trusting their health to the good doctor. While A.C. earned his wages (he would get more with each settler that made the journey alive) tending to the other passengers, Emma realised that she was pregnant with their fourth child. I’m sure this didn’t help with her sea and home sickness!

A.C. was right, he was Canterbury’s first doctor. Emma gave birth to their first daughter Elizabeth while still in, what A.C. liked to call their ‘Studding Sail Hall’ – the family tent, as they were awaiting their more permanent housing. His practice grew in leaps and bounds and I am sure he was treating people at all hours of the day and night. His family also grew too – with the birth of Mary, Francis, John and William.

Unfortunately, his ventures as the colony doctor didn’t measure up to what A.C. had dreamt. Some of those he treated never paid while others didn’t have much money to begin with. Interest in his practice began to fade so with the arrival of other doctors and the death of Emma in 1858, A.C. walked away from medicine for good. He had also fallen from his horse at some unrecorded time and injured his back. This injury caused him grief ’til his dying day.

Completely committed to his hobbies, A.C. started to dabble in photography. His first ever photo was dated 1858. He took photos of family and friends (usually in his garden in Worcester Street) as well as Christchurch. He even took photos of Homebush! Thanks to A.C. we have many early images of Christchurch – historians alike are very grateful for this!  Note the great photo of the Canterbury Provincial Chambers being built in 1859.

Still hailed by photographers, even today, A.C. was a pioneer in more than just medicine and surgery. One of his first cameras was made out of a tea chest lined with blackened paper and a lens barrel made from a large pill box. He would use the lid as the shutter! The wet-place process was all he had for printing his photos which had to be done immediately. This was unacceptable when out and about so A.C. made himself a mobile darkroom – on the back of a buggy that could go with him. He also had a darkroom at his home which was sited on the corner of Worcester Street in Cathedral Square.

By the 1870’s, A.C. health began to decline. He bravely photographed himself during this decline, maybe to help doctors in the future with a similar case to his. A.C. died in 1873 of meningitis. His funeral service was held at St Michael and His Angels (Anglican) and then around 600 people followed his coffin to Barbadoes Street Cemetery. In a dray right behind the coffin were his sons and sons-in-laws, their admiration for A.C. showing through their grief. Walking along side the coffin was Canterbury Superintendent, William Rolleston and also J.C. Watts Russell whose farm ‘Ilam’ is now the suburb. He was a well respected man!

*Image of Dr. A.C. Barker courtesy of http://canterburyphotography.blogspot.co.nz/ *
*photo of Barker Family Burial Plot taken by Annette Bulovic*
*image of Canterbury Provincial Chambers courtesy of http://canterburyheritage.blogspot.co.nz *

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