Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Beach, William (Bill) (1850–1935)

by J. L. Stewart

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

William Beach (1850-1935), by unknown photographer

William Beach (1850-1935), by unknown photographer

Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society, P03\P03460

William (Bill) Beach (1850-1935), sculler, was born on 6 September 1850 at Chertsey, Surrey, England, son of Alexander Beach, blacksmith, and his wife Mary, née Gibbons. Before he reached school age the family migrated to New South Wales and joined John Sculfer on his farm at Albion Park. Beach later claimed that his first earnings at 9 were for minding cows on lush feed to stop them 'blowing', and that he then learnt the trade of blacksmith. He lived at Dapto all his life and for some time appears to have been a fisherman. According to local legend, he won his first race as a teenager against a local publican, either for a bottle of brandy or 5s. When Anniversary Day regattas began at Kanahooka Point, Dapto, he had little success, at least in 1875-77.

He was said to have visited the sculler, Edward Trickett, but the date of Beach's first race on Sydney Harbour is uncertain: the Illawarra Mercury, 1 February 1935, claimed 1875-76 but the Town and Country Journal, December 1881, recorded that he won the handicap skiff race for amateurs on Woolloomooloo Bay on the 24th. Among the donors of his £25 prize was J. Deeble, a publican who became his sponsor. In other races he was said to have won £150 with which he built his home at Dapto. On Boxing Day at Pyrmont he was beaten in the allcomers' handicap skiff race by A. Pearce. On 25 February 1882 he won £50 in a match with Solomons, and in October in his first outrigger race he was second for the Punch trophy on the Parramatta River, finishing ahead of Trickett. In December 1883 he defeated Trickett for the James Henry trophy of £150. On 26 January 1884 he finished ahead of Trickett but, after a protest, lost when the race was rowed again; on 12 April he beat Trickett for £200 a side, the championship of Australia and the right to race against Hanlan. On 16 August on the Parramatta he beat Hanlan and won the world championship; he defended it against Clifford on 28 February 1885, Hanlon on 28 March and Matterson on 18 December.

In March 1886 Beach left for London with Deeble and in August won the final of the International Sweepstakes on the Thames for a prize of £1200. On 18 September he successfully defended his title against Gaudaur on the Thames; in this exhausting race each rower in turn stopped and slumped in his boat. After beating Ross for £1000 and the world championship, he returned to Sydney in December. He was met by the president of the Rowing Association who congratulated him 'on his great achievements … [and] his steady, careful, upright and manly character'. Welcomed as a hero by band and banners, he was presented to Governor Lord Carrington and his lady on the way to Sydney Town Hall where he was met by the mayor and the premier and given an illuminated address. Special trains ran from Sydney, Bathurst and Goulburn on 26 November 1887 when, on the Nepean, Beach again defeated Hanlan for the world championship. After the race he announced that he would hand the title to his young training partner, Peter Kemp, instead of accepting his challenge. On the Parramatta River on 27 November 1888 in a race with Hanlan for £500 a side, Beach won by three lengths in the presence of 5000 spectators. Beach was then 5ft 9½ ins (177 cm) tall with a 42 ins (107 cm) chest, 15½ ins (39 cm) biceps, 16 ins (41 cm) calf and a weight of 170 lbs (77 kg).

At Dapto, Beach was a trustee of the showground and Gooseberry and Hooker Islands in Lake Illawarra, and president of the Regatta Club, alderman of the Central Illawarra Council and patron of the Boy Scouts. In 1873 at Brownsville he married Sarah Duley; they had six sons and six daughters. He died at Brownsville on 28 January 1935 and was buried at St Luke's Church of England cemetery. He was predeceased by his wife and survived by ten children.

Monuments in his memory are in Cabarita Park, Sydney, and in Bill Beach Park, Mullet Creek, Dapto.

Select Bibliography

  • Athletic Sports in America, England, and Australia (Philadelphia, 1889)
  • Town and Country Journal, Dec 1881–Nov 1887
  • Burrangong Argus, 12 Sept 1886
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Dec 1888
  • Illawarra Mercury, 19 Dec 1924.

Citation details

J. L. Stewart, 'Beach, William (Bill) (1850–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/beach-william-bill-2957/text4299, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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