BARNETT Bros., Western Australia

Barnett Bros. was one of many glass firms and artists that set up their business in Perth in the late 1800s.  A number of men came from Victoria, seeking to find a better financial climate than the depression that gripped the eastern states in that decade.[1]  Geoff Down noted that Barnett Bros. was one of eight firms listed in Melbourne’s 1895 Sands & MacDougall Directory; Barnett Bros. Perth business was founded in 1897.[2]   The first mention in the Perth press was when the firm removed from Barnett Court in Hay Street to larger premises at 491 Hay Street in 1898, which suggests it was already well-established in only a year of operation.[3]

The firm was run by two Barnett brothers, Montague and Barend and, although less mention is made of Barend in the press, the firm and its principals were well-respected businessmen and contributors to various Perth charities and activities.[4]

Barnett Bros. Local Competitors

Barnett’s competitors were Montgomery & Grimbly (a branch of William Montgomery’s Melbourne firm), Biss & Trowbridge[5], and Messrs. Sedgwick Limited.  Montgomery & Grimbly of Moore Street, were probably the first of these firms to set up in Perth, possibly around 1887.[6]  As the practice was in his Adelaide branch, Montgomery designed and made the figure work in Melbourne, shipping it interstate where local men would complete the ornamentation, leadlighting and installation.  In Perth, James Moroney, Montgomery & Grimbly’s leadlight foreman for many years, set up on his own behalf in 1899.[7]  In 1897, Biss & Trowbridge of 234 Murray Street, Perth, advertised for a smart youth to learn ‘leadlight glass work’, and in the same year, that a window by the firm was described in the local press as the first of this type made in the Swan River colony.[8]   However, in 1899, Biss retired from the partnership, amicably leaving the two remaining partners, W.H. Trowbridge and C. Staible to carry on the business as stained glass artists. Sedgwick’s, located at 126 William Street, Perth, was described in the West Australian as ‘oil and colour merchants’ although they were moving into leadlight and stained glass by 1898 when they installed a large leadlight window in the new Swan River Mechanics Institute, which featured swans at either side of the floral designs.[9]  Many of the windows by these firms remain unidentified in churches and public buildings around Western Australia but Barnett Bros. (as did William Montgomery) identified his windows by inscribing his name in the lower waster border of a window, making it possible to document a number of installations from the 1890s to the 1930s.

Artists at Barnett Bros.

Barnett Bros. reputation appears to have flourished after Herbert M. Smyrk joined the firm.  Smyrk, an English-trained artist whose work was occasionally featured in the Arts & Crafts journal, The Studio, had been in partnership with Charles Rogers in Melbourne, but this partnership was dissolved in 1888.  Peter & June Donovan in their seminal work on South Australian stained and painted glass noted that in 1897 E.M. Troy, one of South Australia’s leading nineteenth-century firms, ‘engaged H.M. Smyrk … a decorative artist of high repute’.[10]  But it seems he went further west and, by 1899 when Barnett Bros. work was selected to represent Western Australia in the 1900 Paris Exhibition, Smyrk was announced as the window’s designer; The Good Shepherd was awarded a bronze medal.[11]

The peripatetic Mr. Smyrk apparently left Perth in the early 1900s, and from 1903, a Mr. H.H. Estcourt was credited with many designs for Barnett’s windows.  He was yet another artist from Melbourne, although his time there is unrecorded.[12]  One of his first designs was an adaptation of William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World, which was executed for St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, Perth, the first cathedral window to be made locally.[13]

perth-st-georges-cathedral-1903       perth-st-georges-cathedral-detail-1903

Figures 1 and 2: H.H. Estcourt (designer) Barnett Bros. (maker), Light of the World, St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, Perth 1903.  Detail of ‘Barnett Bros., Perth’, which regularly appeared on their windows.

A few months later, Barnett Bros. supplied windows throughout the Perth Law Courts, all manufactured to Estcourt’s designs.[14] No doubt he was responsible for many designs, but only occasionally was his name mentioned in the newspapers. One important memorial was the east window at St. John’s Northam, the gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Throssell as a tribute to the soldiers who died in the Second Boer War, South Africa.  The three-light window depicted St. James, Christ Teaching and St. John.[15]  At Christ Church, Claremont, his interpretation of the Good Samaritan was installed as a memorial to Fred Stacey, who had managed Harris, Scarfe in Western Australia,[16] and Christ the Comforter for the Johnston Memorial Church, Fremantle.[17]  In 1914, Estcourt once again designed and executed another window for St. George’s Cathedral, Christ in the Garden of Gesthemane, taken from the famous painting by Hoffman.[18]

Major Commissions

Other commissions fulfilled by Barnett Bros. before the First World War included: Raising of Jairus’s Daughter (1909), Christ Church, Claremont; Christ with Child, and St. John (1909), St. John’s Albany; three-light window (1912), Dardanup Church (near Bunbury); Christ’s Temptation in the Wilderness (designed by J.W.R. Linton, 1912), St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, Perth.   A war memorial window to Mrs. George Parker and her son, Gunner Ernest Parker, killed in action, was installed in St. George’s Cathedral in 1921.[19]


Figure 3: Barnett Bros., Christ in the Wilderness, St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, Perth, 1921.  [The subject is usually entitled Christ in the Garden at Gesthemane but this was reported to have been already made by the firm in 1903…]

The Barnett family suffered personal loss during the First World War when Lionel Barend, son of Montague and Julia Barnett, was killed in action on 15 August 1918.  The twenty-year old was serving with the 11th Battalion when he lost his life and was buried at Lihons, France.[20]  His only sister, Florence served with the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment during the war, was well-known for her social work and was a founder of the Claremont Braille Society; she died in 1921.   The following year two stained glass windows – Ruth and Jonathan –  designed and made by the firm, were installed in Christ Church, Claremont by the bereaved Barnett parents in memory of their children.[21]  Montague was reported as ‘stricken’ by the loss.[22]  Taking an overseas trip with his wife in 1925, he died suddenly of pneumonia while in France, aged 61.[23]


Figure 4: Barnett Bros., Queen of Martyrs Catholic Church, Maylands, 1932.   The window was commissioned by the Hibernian Society as a tribute to Parish Priest, the Rev. Father Lynch.  Photograph: Daily News, 15 November 1932, p. 10.

The Barnett Bros. firm continued to operate in Perth until the late 1930s.  Although the principals from that time are not known, it seems that Estcourt was still designing for the firm; in 1931 he designed two windows for Fairbridge Farm Church at Pinjarra.[24]  Sometimes the firm donated windows to various charitable organisations, such as the windows for ‘The Flying Angel’, Mission to Seamen Chapel at Fremantle in 1933[25] and Anzac House in 1934.[26]  When war was declared again in 1939, it is likely that the firm closed its glass department as stained glass was deemed to be a non-essential industry.

[1] This entry relies heavily on reports of leadlight and stained glass firms that appeared from time to time in the Western Australian press.  Barnett Bros. was particularly diligent to make certain that local reporters received news of their latest glass work, however other firms may not have sought publicity in this way, thus giving a false impression of the importance of this firm.  The author welcomes additional information and photographic examples of windows by all firms operating in this region of Australia.

[2] Geoffrey Down, ‘Nineteenth-Century Stained Glass in Melbourne, MA thesis, University of Melbourne, 1975, p. 112.  West Australian, 11 December 1925, p. 12.

[3] West Australian, 14 May 1898, p. 2.

[4] Montague Barnett emigrated from England in 1882 and, as well as Barend, included other brothers, Lionel (London), J[ames?] (Perth), Leopold (Sydney) and three sisters, Mesdames Glick, Kosminsky and Solomons.  West Australian, 11 December 1925, p. 1.

[5] W.C. Trowbridge probably was another of the Victorians who headed west; along with Barnett Bros., he is listed in the 1895 Sands & MacDougall Directory, Melbourne.

[6] West Australian, 2 September 1899, p. 2.

[7] West Australian, 2 September 1899, p. 2.

[8] West Australian, 23 November 1899, p. 4.  Trowbridge & Staible refuted Barnett Bros.’ claim as the makers of the ‘first’ locally-made window, citing a report in the West Australian from two years earlier.  West Australian, 29 November 1899, p. 4.

[9] West Australian, 14 May 1898, p. 2.

[10] Peter & June Donovan, 150 Years of Stained & Painted Glass, p. 37.

[11] West Australian, 23 November 1899, p. 4; 9 December 1899, p. 6; 8 February 1900, p. 2; Western Mail, 25 August 1900, p. 48.

[12] Western Mail, 17 January 1903, p. 10.

[13] Western Mail, 17 January 1903, p. 10.  Most of St. George’s windows to that date were imported from the London firm, Clayton & Bell.

[14] West Australian, 8 June 1903, p. 7.

[15] West Australian, 26 June 1905, p. 7.

[16] West Australian, 13 June 1911, p. 7.

[17] West Australian, 17 April 1911, p. 4.

[18] West Australian, 22 June 1914, p. 6.

[19] West Australian, 25 March 1921, p. 4.  Ernest Parker was a 32 year-old solicitor, in partnership with his father prior to the war.  NAA: B2455, Parker Ernest Frederick.

[20] NAA: B2455, Barnett, L.

[21] West Australian, 22 April 1922, p. 8.

[22] West Australian, 11 December 1925, p. 12.

[23] Daily News, 10 December 1925, p. 2.  Barend Barrett pre-deceased his brother Montague in November 1922.  Montague was survived by his wife Julia and one son, Cleve Barnett.

[24] West Australian, 9 December 1931, p. 16.

[25] West Australian, 10 May 1933, p. 6.

[26] West Australian, 21 August 1934, p. 14. It was estimated that the donation of a fully-painted window was about £150.  West Australian, 9 November 1933, p. 12.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s