A prominent citizen and Alderman of Newcastle, Barkas was born in the Bigg Market, Newcastle, on the 5th of March 1819, the son of a builder. At the age of 15, he found himself an orphan, charged with managing the family business and the maintenance of a brother and two sisters. After gradually letting the Pallister and Barkas building company subside, his life took on an altogether different direction, attending evening classes to supplement the deficiencies in his education. By 1840, he was delivering lectures in the Nelson Street Lecture Room on subjects as diverse as electricity, galvanism and magnetism. The following year, after becoming a close friend of Isaac Pitman, the inventor of 'phonography' or shorthand, he became a pioneer of the system in the North East, delivering many lectures on the subject; indeed, it was claimed that most of the press reporters in the region at that time took their first lessons in shorthand from Barkas. As part of his progression in life Barkas decided that he should become a purveyor of literature and, in 1845, subsequently acquired the book selling business of Robert Fletcher at number 26 Grainger Street, Newcastle. 

Barkas was a prominent member of the Newcastle Society for the Investigation of Spiritualism, addressing the Spiritualistic meetings held in the Cordwainers Hall, Newcastle, arranging test seances and introducing Elizabeth D'Esperance, the prominent Victorian medium, to the wider general public.
As well as being on the Committee of the 'Lit and Phil' in Newcastle, Barkas was also instrumental in founding the 'Newcastle upon Tyne Temperance Society'. He also found the time to write many books on several subjects, including geology and 'spiritualism', with grand titles such as the 'Illustrated guide to the fish, amphibian, reptilian and supposed mammalian remains of the Northumberland carboniferous strata' in 1873 and 'Outlines of ten years investigations into the phenomema of modern spiritualism' in 1862. Many of the fossils he recovered from the Tyneside coastline ended up on display in the Natural History Museum, Barras Bridge; the modern day Great North Museum or the Hancock Museum, as many Tynesiders continue to know it by. 

In 1866, Barkas was persuaded to enter Newcastle Town Council; he was re-elected in due course each year until 1883 where he was then subsequently appointed as an Alderman for St. Andrew's North Ward.  

In partnership with Thomas Hall Tweedy, the famed Newcastle carver and gilder, in 1870 he founded the Art Gallery in the Central Exchange Building in Newcastle. This was also a news room and a concert room; later, a small theatre was also attached. On retiring from the active management of the Art Gallery in 1890, Barkas was presented with a cheque for £345 as a token of the esteem in which he was universally held by the citizens of Newcastle.

Following a stroke and a short illness, Barkas died on the 13th July 1891.


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