The collection consists of correspondence, personal papers, press cuttings, photographs and papers relating to the Federation campaign and the first Parliament of the Commonwealth. Correspondence 1827-1896 relates mainly to the business and family affairs of William Barton, and to Edmund's early legal and political work. Correspondence 1898-1905 concerns the Federation campaign, the London conference 1900 and Barton's Prime Ministership, 1901-1903. Correspondence 1906-1920 relates mainly to Barton's family and to his work in the High Court.
Correspondents include Alfred Deakin, Lord Forrest, Lord Hopetoun, Joseph Chamberlain, Sir Samuel Griffith, Sir William Lyne, Sir Henry Parkes, Lord Tennyson, Lord Jersey, George W.E. Russell, and Sir George Reid. There are also press cuttings relating to the Hastings-Macleay election, 1898, and to the activities of the Federation delegates in London, 1900; Commonwealth Constitution material, 1885-1901, some of it annotated in Barton's hand; family documents; commissions and honours.
Sir Edmund Barton (1849-1920) was the first Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, having previously been a leading advocate of Federation and one of the draftsmen of the Australian Constitution. He served as Prime Minister from 1 January 1901 until 23 September 1903, and then resigned to become the senior puisne judge of the newly-established High Court of Australia.