A career as colourful, apparently contradictory and varied as Barry's is as difficult to comprehend as it is to summarise.
The judge who sentenced to death Ned Kelly and the convicts accused of murdering the inspector-general of penal establishments, John Grice, not only acquitted the Eureka rebels but also supported the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society. He was also a lifelong defender of Aborigines, rarely being paid for the cases on which he spent much time and effort. The list of organisations he founded or helped to found is both long and diverse, including what later became the Athenaeum, the Melbourne Club, the Philharmonic Society, the Royal Society and the Melbourne Hospital.
Barry is, however, best remembered for his immeasurable influence on the cultural life of Victoria through his role as founder of both the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Public Library, now the State Library of Victoria. Even before the establishment of the latter, Barry had encouraged members of the general public to come to his own house to consult his extensive collection of books and journals.
As founder and first chancellor of the University, Barry presided over an institution which soon commanded world-wide respect. Ernest Scott, describing him as 'suave but masterful,' notes his assiduity in attendance at Council meetings and his hospitality to guests. He assumed a hands-on role in the Public Library as well, visiting it almost daily, drafting correspondence and choosing the books.
Barry never married, maintaining the mother of his four children, Mrs Louisa Barrow, in a separate establishment from 1846 until his death. The entire family frequently appeared together in public and Louisa Barrow is buried by his side.