Arthur Barnes, the son of John and Annie Barnes, was born in Topsail, Conception Bay on November 17, 1866. Educated in St. John's he began teaching in Coley's Point when he was seventeen. He later returned to university and acquired his B.Sc. degree. In time he moved to Bay Roberts and taught there until 1888, in which year he became Vice-Principal of Bishop Field College in St. John's. The following year he returned to Bay Roberts where he served as principal until 1904.
Arthur Barnes never married. Very early in his career he was engaged to Emmeline Dawe. When Miss Dawe died of tuberculosis he assumed the care of her widowed mother until her death.
Dr. Barnes entered politics in 1904 and represented Harbour Grace district until 1908/
For the next nine years he served as Principal of the Normal School in St. John's. During this time he completed his thesis on The History of Education in Newfoundland and was awarded his Doctor of Pedagogy Degree in 1917.
On the promise that he would be allowed to help organize an educational system for the entire Island, Dr. Barnes again entered politics in 1919 when he was re-elected as a member of the Squires Government for the district of Harbour Grace. In his book The New Newfoundland J.R. Smallwood says, "I have often thought that the new impetus given to the cause of education arose out of the entry of a practicing school teacher and educationist into the ruling government of the day. This was Dr. Arthur Barnes... The new University College and teachers' training school would almost certainly not have come into existence without him.
Arthur Barnes was Newfoundland's first Minister of Education and inaugurated the Department of Education in Newfoundland. According to Eileen Dawe, who has done a good deal of research on his life, Dr. Barnes was a firm believer in the need for education to be tailored to the needs of the individual and deplored a heavy dependence on exams.
As Minister of Education he worked hard at upgrading the qualifications of teachers and helped organize the new teachers' training school in 1924. He made the Department of Education responsible for the teachers' pay and for issuing teaching certificates to teachers.
He was very concerned that the children in smaller communities have access to good books. To achieve this he set up a system whereby schools could acquire small libraries by buying books at reduced prices from the Department of Education.
Long after his retirement Dr. Barnes gave his time freely to help the cause of education in this Island. He gave lectures, attended teachers' conferences and helped organize teachers. As late as 1952 his name appeared on a brief presented to the Government of Newfoundland suggesting that a system of Regional High Schools be established and urging better salary scales for teachers, in order to attract and hold men and women of ability to the teaching profession.
Dr. Barnes died at the age of ninety in Bay Roberts on November 24th, 1956.