Captain Collet Barker (1784-1831) was a British soldier of the 39th Regiment who came out from England to the new colony, on the convict ship Phoenix in 1828. After his arrival in Australia, he was posted to Raffles Bay in Darwin. At the time it was hoped that a trading port could be established in the area for business dealings with Singapore and other Asian neighbours.
The settlement was soon abandoned after Barker was transferred to King’s George’s Sound in 1829. Barker’s role during his posting included supervision of troops, convicts and civilians and handing out discipline and punishment. He also spent a great deal of time amongst the Aboriginal inhabitants. He was fascinated by their culture and spent a considerable amount of time recording indigenous names, words, and observations of their customs.
Discovery of the Sturt River
In 1831 Captain Barker was recalled to Sydney. A request was made to Barker, that during his journey on the schooner ‘Isabella’, he conduct further exploration of the southern coast to include the mouth of the Murray River. The ‘Isabella’ anchored off the coast of Adelaide where Barker and his party set ashore and journeyed inland. On their way they discovered and named the Sturt River (after Barker’s friend Charles Sturt) and viewed the future Port Adelaide from the summit of Mount Lofty.
The party returned to the ‘Isabella’ and sailed on to Yankalilla Bay where they again disembarked and headed to the mouth of the Murray River on foot. It took a few days for the party to reach the mouth of the river.
On arrival, they discovered that the channel to the other side of the river was considerably strong. Barker, the only strong swimmer, volunteered to swim across the 200m channel to take bearings. On reaching the other side of the channel, he climbed a large sand dune, took some bearings, waved to his party and disappeared over the dune. That was the last time he was ever seen of again. Understandably nervous, his party waited a few days before heading back to the ‘Isabella’ to report Barker’s disappearance.
So what happened? It was later discovered that Captain Collet Barker had been speared and killed by three Ngarrindierri people (local Aboriginals). Various and differing reports on how he was killed were reported following his death. Charles Sturt later named Mount Barker after his friend.
A marble memorial tablet in honour of Captain Collet Barker was placed on the north wall of St James Church which was seen as the most suitable place to commemorate important members of colonial society.