Heritage of Wine and Horses


Entrepreneur Joseph Barry born in 1796, was the 16th and youngest son of victualler and gentleman Inn keeper Richard Barry of Hitchin (whose great great grandfather Thomas is thought to have fled Ireland for England). Joseph lost his parents at a young age and spent some years in France & Spain as a teenager studying the wine trade under the tutelage of his older brothers Charles Frisby Barry and Michael Barry who married a French lady, Theresa Victoria Josephine Marquette, in 1816.

While in France, Joseph found himself in the path of Napoleon heading through the South of France after his escape from Elba in 1815. Joseph was arrested as a spy in Valence and again in Avignon until a certificate proving he was a commercial man could be got from Lyons. He avoided Napoleon at Marseilles and was nearly ship wrecked on the way to Spain to join a commercial firm connected with his brother Charles. It is rumoured that his slight limp came from falling whilst serenading a senorita in Romeo and Juliet style.

As a young man of 21 years Joseph Barry was commissioned by the London Wine House, Barry & Wilkinson, to act as their agent for the export of wines from the Cape in 1817. Soon after arriving in Cape Town he was granted permission to remain and in 1819 he returned to make the Cape his home. He initially opened a general store in Burg street in Cape Town.

Joseph Barry’s capacity for hard work, an engaging personality and his reputation as a man of many scruples enabled him to build a successful business empire. In 1822 he applied for and won a tender to supply the drought stricken farmers and Khoi in the Overberg. Circumventing the long hazardous overland journey he chartered a ship, the Duke of Gloucester, to transport a load of rice, grain and merchandise, of which the Overberg was in desperate need, from Cape Town to Port Beaufort. This venture made him a handsome profit and he realised that there was a genuine need for regular trade by ship between Cape Town and the Overberg. His Barry Trading Co flourished as the overland trip was not only a risky undertaking that could take a farmer away from his farm and his family for up to two months at a time, but an expensive one. A wagon and team of oxen cost £70 but a load of 36 bushels of wheat could only earn £11 in Cape Town.

However, coupled with several misfortunes including the sinking of his ship the Sincapore and the long wait to be paid by the government for goods transported to the Settlers at Albany, he was declared bankrupt in 1827. Working as a building contractor, post contractor and holder, deputy sheriff for several years, and auctioneer he managed to pay off his debts and by 1830 his fortunes had changed. This setback was to prove valuable in the years to come as it gave him a deep understanding and love for the Overberg and its people.


Joseph-Barry-appointed Deputy-Sheriff-1834

Barry & Nephews


Entrepreneur Joseph Barry persuaded his nephews, Thomas and later John, to assist with the rapid expanse of the business and the firm Barry & Nephews was founded on 1st June 1834. Joseph Barry and his nephews all married into the same family! Their wives were all granddaughters of old Cape Dutch aristocratic, Dirk Grysbert van Reenen who was the grandson of Graaf Jacob von Rhenen of Prussia.

The firm Barry & Nephews traded by ship all along the East coast from Cape Town to Algoa Bary (formely Port Elizabeth now Gqeberha) and from Port Beaufort up the Breede River to Malgas. From here it was a short ox wagon journey to the Barry trading store in Swellendam and over the Tradouw pass to Barrydale. This developed farming in the Overberg, as the overland route by ox-wagon was a hazardous, long and expensive journey discouraging the farmers from trading with Cape Town. By buying the farmers goods outright and taking the risk, instead of taking goods on consignment as was the practice of other merchants like Benjamin Moodie, the firm quickly established itself as the leading trader.

By the 1840s Barry & Nephews were loading woollen cloth direct for London at Port Beaufort. They encouraged the farmers to improve the quality of their vines and wool. During the 1850s they were presented with a silver cup for promoting the growth and exportation of wool. Photo right. This cup was unfortunately stolen from the Drostdy Museum in Swellendam. In 1865 they took a Silver Medal at the Paarl Agricultural Show for the best spirits of wine.

Wool Trade Promotion Cup presented to Barry & Nephews in the 1850s


As more stores were opened in the Overberg more managers were needed to oversee the expansion and James Charles Barry (b. 6-5-1819 d. 7-6-1881 married to Elizabeth Tilson) the son of Joseph Barry’s brother James (b. 26-6-1789 in Hitchin d. 7-3-1842) and his wife Sarah Breeds also came out to South Africa to join the firm. The Nephews Thomas and John’s sister, Mary Anne married diplomat, George Cuthbert Pratt, and lived in Belgium. Both her sons, Francis Barry & Leonard George, also came out to South Africa to work in the firm.

Sailing the Cape of Storms was not without it’s own hazards. In 1848 the 149 ton Cape Coastal schooner, Barry I, wrecked in a South Easter off Stuys Bay. Fortunately no lives were lost. In 1857, Barry II, set out on a voyage to London from Port Beaufort with a cargo of brandy, wool, barley, aloes and animal skins. She wrecked whilst crossing the sandbar and tragically 3 lives were lost.

Swellendam Post Wagon


“The public are informed that a commodious wagon will leave Swellendam on Tuesday 1st. of January and arrive in Cape Town on Thursday following, and start again from Cape Town on Monday morning at 7 o’clock and will continue to leave on those days every second week”. Government Gazette, 11.1.1839. no. 1725

A seat on the post wagon from Cape Town to Swellendam cost £1-13-0 with children under 10 (and seats on the back) paying half price. A family could hire the post wagon for £11-0-0.

J.G Aspeling,  J.E. Eksteen and Joseph Barry were directors of the firm and Alexander Reed the secretary.


In 1860 the artist Thomas Bowler stayed at the Auld House in Swellendam to paint 6 paintings of the Swellendam district including Port Beaufort and Malgas, at the special request of John Joseph Barry. One of these was of the Auld House and the Barry Store depicting the commercial activity that the Barry’s brought to the Overberg. The Barry family believe that Thomas Bowler was previously commissioned to do the art work for the promissory notes. A careful examination of the notes and with due consideration of the liberties taken by the engraver into account, would seem to confirm this impression.

Barry & Nephew bank note
Cape of Good Hope Montagu bank note

Barry & Nephews Counting Houses

By the end of the 1830s, they had significantly opened up trade opportunities for Overberg farmers in the Cape Colony. However, the large sums of money they dealt with could not be kept in all the rural towns they traded with. “Counting Houses” were thus constructed by the firm across the Overberg and in Cape Town. Here they kept a certain amount of ready cash, but of great historical and economic importance are the five-pound Barry & Nephews ‘bank’ notes to facilitate trade. These were printed on watermarked paper in London. See photo on left. This promissory note gained the reputation of being ‘readily accepted everywhere’.

Joseph Barry was even asked to enter into a security bond where he lent £2000 to the Cape government. The Overberg’s subsequent prosperity eventually brought banks to be established in the region. Joseph chaired a Swellendam branch, while John Barry became chairman of the Cape of Good Hope bank in Montagu. His portrait can be seen captured on the top left of the bank note. By 1859 they were buying a million pounds of wool to ship directly from Port Beaufort to London.

John Barry who at the time was in charge of the London branch persuaded one of the Imperial banks to extend itself to the Cape Colony. As one of its directors he assisted in opening the first Imperial London and South Africa Bank in the Cape in 1860. Joseph’s sons, Sir Jacob Dirk Barry (married to Prime Minister John X Merriman’s sister, Charlotte) and Thomas Daniel Barry were listed throughout as Cape shareholders in it. This bank was eventually absorbed by Standard Bank of SA.



The pride of the Barry fleet was the nimble 158-ton screw steam assisted sailing ship, the SS Kadie. She was custom designed to navigate 35 km up the Breede River to Malgas. Steam engines were the latest in technology at the time and she didn’t have to wait for the wind to blow in the right direction to allow her entry into the Port Beaufort river harbour.

Built on the Clyde in Scotland by Archibald Denny of Dumbarton in 1859 for Barry & Nephews she always attracted attention whenever she was sighted. She often rendered aid to ships in distress. Her furthest run was carrying a cargo of ostriches, bound for Australia, to Mauritius. After many successful voyages (estimated at 240) she sank on the 17th December 1865 on a treacherous sandbar at the mouth of the Breede. Fortunately no lives were lost.

Barry Churches


It was said of Barry & Nephews that no sooner had they established a store in a village than a Church was soon to follow.

Today the interdenominational Barry Memorial Church built in 1849 by Thomas Barry still stands guard over the Breede river mouth at Port Beaufort. This Barry Church is unique in that it was designed by Bishop Robert Gray himself, as opposed to his wife Sophia who was responsible for drawing up the plans for so many other South African churches. In 1854 three daughters of Frederick William Reitz, later president of the Free State, were married at the Barry Church to three men all named John! In 1862 a double wedding saw both brides named Aletta Catharine, one being Thomas’s daughter and the other Joseph’s. Church services, weddings and funerals are still held in this National Monument. The late Trevenan Barry (1937 – 2021) of Swellendam and Henri Barry (1949 – 2020) of Lismore were stalwart Barry family custodians of the Barry Memorial Church organising the restoration of the Church and thatching of the roof in 2016. Money was raised for this at the international Bary-Barry reunion held in Oudstshoorn in 2016 and at the 2017 Barry reunion at Port Beaufort. By 1856 Barry & Nephews had also built a Dutch Reformed Church at Malagas. (Later renamed Malgas to prevent post ending up in Malaga, Spain.)

 Joseph Barry donated ground for a mission school to be built in Riversdale in 1855. Two years earlier as an elected member of parliament he had moved from Swellendam to Cape Town. On a trip to England the Duke of Newcastle presented the Honourable Joseph Barry to court and he enjoyed a private luncheon at Windsor Castle. Sadly his wife Martina died in London. On his return he built the original Christ Church in Swellendam in her memory. The Lower Mission School in Swellendam was built by the community as a tribute to the work that his wife had done among the poor.

Barry & Nephews ‘Empire’

Eventually 15 Barry trading stores were established in Cape Town, along the Breede River and inland – all with Barry relatives or son-in-laws in charge. John Barry was sent to run the London branch.

Wool was by far the most valuable commodity to Barry & Nephews but their trading interests were vast. By 1860 their assets amounted to 3.5 Million Rixdollars, an amount usually referring to government matters and not private concerns at the time.

The Barry’s made one more lasting contribution to sheep farming. Joseph felt the Saxon Merino sheep now favoured, needed to be strengthened. In 1862, en route home from England, he took his son Thomas Daniel to Versailles, to buy rams from King Louis XVI prize Rambouillet flock which flourished despite the disruption of The French Revolution and Napoleon.


Barry & Nephews business interests


•Shipping from Cape Town along the east coast up to Mauritius and to London.
•Traders with 15 stores in the Cape Colony and a branch in London.
•Banking, Philanthropy, Law & Auctioneering
•Builders of Stores, Churches, Schools & Gun powder magazines
•Sheep (wool), Ostrich, Aloe, Cattle (butter), & Potatoe Farming
•Brandy Distilleries in Montagu & Robertson
•Wine, Raisins & Wine Stores in several towns
•Butchery & Canteen in Port Beaufort
•Bakery & a Flour Mill in Swellendam and a post & passenger transport wagon to Cape Town.
•Dried Fruit in Worcester and Robertson
•Tobacco & Cigars at Lismore (1st SA cold storage plant & rooms)
•Horse Breeding

A popular Afrikaans ditty at the time was, ” As jy lekker wil liewe, koop by Barry ‘n Newe!”



Barry Empire 1860
Barry & Nephews Mossel Bay store that is today a Protea Hotel

In 1849 the Barry & Nephews double storey store was the first commercial building in Mossel Bay – today it is a Protea Hotel

Barry & Nephews - Thomas, Joseph and John Barry

Barry & Nephews

Thomas on the left, Joseph seated and John on the right looking at the photograph.

Horse Breeding

Joseph Barry’s eldest son, Charles van Reenen (1830/1 – 1878), owned show-places Malta on the Liesbeeck River and Varsche Drift – recounted as being the finest in race horse studs in the Colony at that time. He was honoured to have bred a Met winner. His brother, Joseph’s sixth son, John Henry (1839 – 1890) stood an imported stallion “Warrior” at his farm, Stockwell, near Robertson.

During the mid 1800s the Barrys were also successfully breeding hardy horses for racing and as British Army remounts in India at their Lismore farm. The Van Reenens bred horses at Rhenosterfontein. The Barrys also married into the Van Breda family who stood English stallions Roderick Dhu and Diabolus at Zoetendals Vallelji.

In 1853 the Cape Colony achieved representative government from the British and the first Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope, without regard to race, was elected. The Honourable Joseph Barry was elected as the Swellendam representative and moved to Cape Town leaving the Swellendam Head Office in the hands of his nephew John Joseph Barry.

Whilst in Cape Town, Joseph and his wife Martina hosted a dance for Queen Victoria’s son, the young Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, a midshipman on the Euryalus when it docked in Cape Town harbour. Joseph was thus assured hospitality on his subsequent visit to England. A woollen suit (currently in the Drostdy Museum in Swellendam) was custom made for him to wear in London where, it was arranged, he would meet Queen Victoria. He was presented at court by the Duke of Newcastle. He also enjoyed a private luncheon at Windsor Castle. Sadly Martina died in London and was buried at Kendal Green. On his return, Joseph built the Christ Church in her memory. The Christ Church Mission School in Swellendam was also built by the town in memory of Martina.

In 1863 the Honorable Joseph Barry was elected as Mayor of Cape Town until his death in 1865. Seventy horse drawn carriages attended his funeral.


Charles Van Reenen Barry, early South African thoroughbred horse breeder

Joseph Barry, then the Mayor of Cape Town, died in March 1965. He was spared the fire that sparked from a bakers oven and burnt most of his beloved Swellendam on the 17 May 1865, laying waste to much of the town in 2 hours including the main Barry & Nephews stores. The sinking of the SS Kadie in November 1865 coupled with the death of Joseph Barry earlier in the same year and the bad farming conditions at the time – drought, locusts and blight – was a tremendous blow to the firm and the farming community. Joseph’s will revealed a partner’s agreement requiring that accounts be settled and his share paid to his family with the remaining estate shared between the surviving partners. Barry & Nephews had always extended credit and been patient about payment, waiting for the rains to fall or crops to be reaped. Lawyers now heartlessly delivered ultimatums.

With the Kadie gone, Port Beaufort was closed as a harbour in 1866. Nephew John was appointed head of the firm and his son, Joseph Joshua, ran the London office.

Joseph’s eldest son Charles van Reenen Barry succeeded John Barry on his death in 1871 as head of the firm. Sadly the magic was gone and four years later the firm started selling out and Charles sold up a year later and moved to England. John Joseph of Swellendam was the last head of the firm which closed by the end of the 1870s.

Never the less, the Barry’s were in South Africa to stay.

Origins of the Bary-Barry family dating back to 1020

'Boutez en avant' the Bary-Barry family motto



Joseph Barry’s 5th son, Michael ran the Mossel Barry operation for Barry & Nephews before moving to Cape Town to live at ‘The Firs’ that today is home to the Irma Stern museum. (His youngest daughter Rose May’s name can still be seen etched into a window with the date 1895.)

Michael’s eldest son George Joseph and his younger brothers, Hamilton and Duncan van Reenen continued trading and farming as Barry Bros. Barry & Nephews had applied to the Robertson Commissioners for a plot to build a gun powder store in 1860 and two years later their request was granted for plot 9 valued at 15 Pounds. By 1911 the brothers were storing their gun powder in the magazine “kruithuis” on the outskirts of Robertson for the Barry Trading store in town. The Barry Kruithuis was declared a National Monument in 1975. Barry Brothers was succeeded by Robertson Trading Association and thereafter Barry Trading Co. (Handelshuis). In later years, Hamilton’s son and Diocesan College OD, Edward George Hamilton Barry “Ted” joined his youngest brother Duncan van Reenen Barry’s son, George Joseph, as director. The Nephew Thomas Barry’s 12th child, Richard van Reenen’s son Roelof Louis “Roelou” Barry (born 1899) and his son Richard van Reenen “Reenen” (born 1936) also became directors.

The Robertson town Hall boasts the Barry motto, Boutez-en-avant, as decided by the mayor Hamilton Barry after the town council couldn’t agree on one, “If it’s good enough for the Barry’s it will be good enough for Robertson!”  See the Robertson History page for full story.



Riverton farm and an engagement ring were purchased in 1918 by the mayor of Robertson, Hamilton Barry, on instructions from his youngest brother, Duncan Van Reenen Barry, whilst he was away fighting in WW1. Soon after his return he married his beloved Hubertha Van Velden.

Duncan Van Reenen Barry’s eldest son, George Joseph was born on Riverton and aside from leaving to fight in East Africa during WW11 and a brief time auditing for Gurneys in Cape Town was privileged to spend his entire adult life as a gentleman farmer on Riverton. George married Philippa Jeffery in 1954 and they had 3 children, Janet, Patricia and Duncan.

Riverton was a wine (member of Robertson Winery) & fruit farm and in the 1960’s George Barry added horses to the mix. After many successes and the standing of top grey stallion, Jamaico (Fr), George Barry was ready to scale down his operation and sell the horses in 1981. On phoning his son, who was working at McGrath’s Brownstone Stud farm in Ireland, with this news he was told, “It’s your call Dad, but don’t expect me back.” Needless to say, Duncan Barry Jnr. returned and soon after the grey Russian Fox (USA) came to Riverton. Russian Fox went on to become Champion First Season Sire and it took 17 years for any stallion to beat his record for the most winners in a season! In 2006 both Jet Master and Captain Al surpassed this record. Duncan’s fondest memory of Russian Fox are the wonderful swims they used to enjoy in the Breëde river.

In 2015 Captain of All that was bred by Duncan Barry became the top merit rated horse in South Africa and went on to be ranked as the 2nd joint top Sprinter in the Longines World Rankings. Now standing as a stallion at Klawervlei Stud he won the Champion First Season Sire award in 2019.

 Today the vine and fruit sections of the farms are leased to Duncan’s second cousin. Duncan is a happy man finally only working with his beloved horses!

George Barry - iconic photo by Charles Faull
Iconic photo of stallion Russian Fox taken by Charles Faull


Historians are welcome to approach us for permission to peruse the many books, letters and historic photographs that we have in safe keeping. Included in this collection are books concerning the families of the wives that the Barry’s married; the Arderne’s of the famous Arderne Botanical Garden in Cape Town and the original Dutch Memoirs of Ds. Dirk Van Velden “Heilige Dirk” written in 1872 to his children. An English translation of the Dutch Memoirs (1993) by Mr. J.N. van den Berg is available. See link below.

Kindly note that we receive numerous requests for assistance. Whilst we make the information available we do not unfortunately have the time to do the actual  research for your thesis or write your project.





I must extended a special thank you to the late Barry Aunts, Helen Jameson and Noëlle Botha-Reid, and to the late Margaty Sands for their kindness and patience in answering all my questions regarding the Barry family. Their answers were especially valuable where research gave conflicting stories.


Becky Saacks, as always was a mine of information for which I am deeply grateful. Former Doyenne of the Robertson Museum, the late Becky Saacks, had a vast amount of knowledge concerning the Barrys and the history of our area which she was thankfully only too happy to impart.


Thank you to the Robertson Museum for their research on the Barry “Kruithuis” and Barry Bros. The Robertson Museum also has a Barry Room that was built by Barry’s Handelshuis with information on the South African Barrys.


Thank you to Marsh Shirtliff for all his information on the S.S. Kadie and the Chapter 20 extract on the Kadie from the out of print book, Tales of Shipwrecks at the Cape of Storms.


Thank you to the “Ham” Alfred Hamilton Barry Family for sending me accurate facts.


Thank you to my sisters-in-law, Janet and Patricia, for picking up the spelling mistakes.


Thank you to Henry Barry’s granddaughter Judy Rosewall for additional information.


Thank you to Lorraine Barry Martin for additional information on the Barry Memorial Church in Port Beaufort.


Thank you to Roger Du Barry for sharing the DNA testing research and Barry Family history.


 Book References



The Barrys and the Overberg by AP Buirski, a thesis submitted for the M.A. degree in the University of Stellenbosch, December 1952


The Barry Family by Mary Hewitt Hanley (née Barry)


The Families of Hamilton Barry and Duncan Barry by Margaret Leroy (née Barry)


The Barry Family Tree of Joseph Barry & Nephews, Thomas & John compiled by Dennis T.v.R. Barry. Assisted by Mary Hewitt Hanley (née Barry) born in 1910, Margaret Clare Leroy (née Barry) born 1932 and died 2003, Michael Merriman Coke born 1941 and Reginald M. Barry born 1945.


Tales of Shipwrecks at the Cape of Storms. Chapter 20 – The Kadie.


Overberg Odyssey by Edmund H. Burrows


Van Reenen, Van Renen, Vanrenen Familie / Family 1722 – 1994 by J.D. Van Renen. Publication series, Department of Computer Science, University of Port Elizabeth 1994.


The Saga of the South African Horse by Daphne Child published in 1967 by Howard Timmins in Cape Town.



Web References


Stopforth, J.A. 1974, Swellendam en sy Distrik gedeurende die siviele kommissarisskap van Harry Rivers. 1828 – 1841. Copyright of this Thesis held by U.C.T.  https://open.uct.ac.za/bitstream/handle/11427/16628/thesis_hum_1974_stopforth_james_arban.pdf?sequence=1


Yell, N., 2014, Weekend Escape: Asleep on the water, viewed 2017 http://www.timeslive.co.za/Feeds/2014/10/05/Weekend-Escape-Asleep-on-the-water


Dr. Muller, A.L., n.d., Coastal shipping and the early development of the South Cape, Department of Economics, University of Port Elizabeth viewed on http://dspace.nwu.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10394/6434/No_18(1985)_Muller_AL.pdf?sequence=1

Wikipedia, June 2021, Mayor of Cape Town https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayor_of_Cape_Town


Further web references are detailed in the Bary-Barry Origins PDF. Others references were tangential and too numerous to mention but where possible were used to verify, tally and extrapolate facts.



Natasha Barry