Miss Mary Layard Bowker of the farm Tharfield, near present day Port Alfred, Eastern Cape, was the fourth child of Thomas Holden Bowker* and his wife Julia Eliza McGowan. Her godfather was Edgar L. Layard*, which explains her second given name. In the preface to his South African butterflies... (1887-1889) Roland Trimen* of the South African Museum, Cape Town, acknowledged her as a contributor of butterflies from the Eastern Districts. In 1889 she continued her donations of insects and land shells, with natural history notes, to the museum. Around this time she collected the original specimens of the land snail Gulella mariae, which was named after her in 1892. Another species of the same genus, Gulella bowkerae, was named after her at the same time.
In March 1894, at Bathurst, Eastern Cape, she married Henry Mitford Barber*, with whom she had four sons.