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Beale, Octavius Charles (1850–1930)

by Neville Hicks and E. J. Lea-Scarlett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Octavius Charles Beale (1850-1930), by unknown photographer, 1905

Octavius Charles Beale (1850-1930), by unknown photographer, 1905

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23193352

Octavius Charles Beale (1850-1930), piano manufacturer, was born on 23 February 1850 at Mountmellick, Queen's County (Leix), Ireland, son of Joseph Beale, woollen manufacturer, and his wife Margaret, née Davis. In December 1854 he and his mother joined his father and brothers in Van Diemen's Land. In Hobart Town Mrs Beale founded a small school, one of several which amalgamated into The Friends' School. Brought up as a Quaker, Beale was sent back to Ireland in 1859 to be educated for six years at Newton School, Waterford. At 16 he entered a Melbourne hardware firm, Brooks, Robinson & Co., and at 23 set up a branch in New Zealand; he returned to Melbourne and became a partner two years later. On 9 October 1875 at the Congregational Church, Woollahra, Sydney, he married Elizabeth Baily, who bore him thirteen children. She died in 1901 and Beale married her sister Katherine on 4 March 1903.

After a brief association with Hugo Wertheim in Melbourne as sewing-machine importers, he moved to Sydney about 1884 and established Beale & Co., Ltd, piano and sewing-machine importers; he was managing director until 1930. In 1893 at Annandale he established a large piano factory. Beale & Co. made all their own components and introduced a revolutionary improvement, the all-iron tuning system, patented in 1902. He also made sewing-machines. With J. C. Watson he had been joint honorary treasurer of the Pitt Town Co-operative Settlement in 1894, and as a large employer of labour, maintained 'a friendly association' with trade unions.

In 1903 Beale was a member of the New South Wales royal commission on the decline of the birth-rate and on the mortality of infants. Believing that the inquiry had failed to stem the social change that disturbed him, he continued to pester the Commonwealth government about 'secret drugs' and abortifacients, the use of which was 'ruining the moral fibre of the nation'. Authorized by the prime minister Alfred Deakin, in 1905-06 he collected information in the United States of America, Britain and Europe and on his return was appointed to act at his own expense as a royal commissioner into secret drugs, cures and foods. In 1908 Beale presented his report, which was chiefly distinguished by its moralistic tone and reliance on opinions rather than evidence, and had to be purged of some of its wilder claims before publication. He was criticized by some members of parliament, and legislation had to be enacted to give him the protection of retrospective privilege. His racialist and strongly pro-natalist population theories were aired again in his Racial Decay: A Compilation of Evidence from World Sources (Sydney, 1910), which merited its later description as 'quite the oddest book ever published in a field where there are many competitors'.

Beale was founding president of the Federated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, and president later of the New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures and of the Chambers of Commerce of the Commonwealth of Australia. As State president of the National Protection League, he kept Deakin, an old ally, informed on political matters in Sydney and complained of Sir William Lyne losing himself 'in the torrent of his own invective'. As early as 1905 he was discussing a possible rapprochement with the free traders; and, an advocate of 'Empire preference', he lunched with Joseph Chamberlain in London in 1906. He encouraged the 'fusion' of the non-Labor parties, and was present at Deakin's meeting with (Sir) Joseph Cook on 24 May 1909.

A good linguist, Beale had revisited Europe and England in 1908 for the Franco-British Exhibition, of which he was a commissioner. He had three sons on active service and was often in London with his family in World War I. He became a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Royal Society of Arts; as a liveryman of the Company of Musicians he was admitted freeman of the City of London in 1918. Back in Sydney, Beale was a trustee of the Australian Museum and of the New South Wales Savings Bank. At his home, Llanarth, Burwood, he grew rare plants in his garden, particularly orchids; he was knowledgeable about botany and Australian timbers. Fascinated by the ritual and history of Freemasonry, he became an Anglican and joined the Christian Masonic orders. He combined the refinement of a classical education with the forcefulness of a successful man of affairs. While his letters suggest a quiet confidence, his family remembered him as a stern paterfamilias in the Victorian manner.

Beale was killed in a motor accident at Stroud, New South Wales, on 16 December 1930 and was buried in St Thomas's Church of England cemetery, Enfield. He was survived by six sons and four daughters of his first marriage and by his second wife.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Museum Magazine, 16 Jan 1931
  • Lone Hand, 1 Nov 1907, 1 July 1911
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17, 31 Dec 1930
  • O. C. Beale, correspondence MS2281, 2822 (National Library of Australia)
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia)
  • family papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Report on secret drugs, CRS A2 9/3562 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Neville Hicks and E. J. Lea-Scarlett, 'Beale, Octavius Charles (1850–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/beale-octavius-charles-5165/text8675, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 19 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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