Born in Ayrshire to ironworker James Barr and Janet Watson, his family arrived in Castlemaine in 1862, moved to Fryerstown in 1870 and Bendigo in 1872. He was editor and owner from 1883 to 1900. Elected to Fitzroy City Council in 1898, he served until 1942, including two periods as mayor (1902-1903, 1918-1919).
In 1902 Barr was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly as the ministerialist member for Fitzroy, but he was defeated in 1904.
Barr died at North Fitzroy in 1947.