Barlow was well connected to the church, navy and Indian colonial service. One of his uncles was sometime Governor of Madras while another was an admiral, one of whose daughters married into Lord Nelson's family. Barlow's father was Vicar of Halberton in Devon and he attended Blundell's school in Tiverton. He then went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating in 1820.
He was ordained in 1823 and was Curate of Uckfield in Sussex until 1830. There he married Cecilia Anne Law, the daughter of a wealthy nabob. In 1830 he moved to London, the same year that he was appointed Rector of Little Bowden in Northamptonshire. He held the position until 1843 even though he appears to have been largely absent - his younger brother acted as curate. From 1854 until death he was Chaplain in Ordinary at Kensington Palace.
Almost uniquely as an Anglican clergyman, Barlow enjoyed a close friendship with Michael Faraday. He took over many of Faraday's administrative functions, including arranging Friday Evening Discourses, following the latter's breakdown in health in the early 1840s.
As Secretary it fell to Barlow to discover the long-term fraud that had been perpetrated by the Assistant Secretary Joseph Fincher. For a period in the late 1840s he took over Fincher's duties and put in place new procedures for preventing future fraud. It was this experience that probably led to his remarking to John Tyndall that
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