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Beardsmore, Robert Henry (1873–1959)

by A. Argent

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

Robert Henry Beardsmore (1873-1959), soldier and public servant, was born on 12 August 1873 at Marrickville, New South Wales, son of William Beardsmore, carpenter, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Grimes, both of whom were born in England. Educated at Sydney High School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1895), he became a clerk in the public service in July 1890 and worked in the Department of the Postmaster-General in 1890-97, the office of the Public Service Board in 1897-99 and the Chief Secretary's Department in 1899-1914. He was secretary of the Aborigines Protection Board in 1904-14. On 5 February 1901 he had married Ethel Mary Clack at St Adrian's Anglican Church, Summer Hill.

Beardsmore joined the militia in 1895 and was commissioned second lieutenant in the 2nd Infantry Regiment, New South Wales Military Forces; he was promoted captain in 1905 and major in 1914, two years after he had been transferred to the 24th Infantry Regiment. On the outbreak of World War I, Beardsmore volunteered for service with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force which captured and occupied German New Guinea. He then enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 August 1915 as a major in the 30th Battalion, and reached Egypt in December. In June 1916 his battalion embarked for the Western Front and on 19-20 July had a bloody baptism in the battle of Fromelles. Beardsmore, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous gallantry, was wounded early, but continued to lead his company for ten hours before having his wounds dressed; the citation praised his 'great coolness and courage'. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 28 July and appointed to command the 32nd Battalion. In January 1917 he was mentioned in dispatches; next April he was transferred to the general list on account of his health, and was placed in charge of the 5th Australian Division base depot at Etaples. He later became a staff officer for demobilization at Australian depots in the United Kingdom.

Beardsmore was discharged from the A.I.F. on 13 February 1920 and resumed employment with the New South Wales Public Service as an accountant in the Department of Lands. In December 1929 he organized the police camp at the Rothbury colliery near Maitland when, in an attempt to reopen the mine, the State government gave armed police protection to non-unionists and a violent clash followed. In his capacity of chief accountant to the department, in 1932 Beardsmore was to precipitate the final chain of events which led to the dismissal of the premier J. T. Lang. On 10 May the government issued a circular instructing its officers to pay into the State Treasury all revenue collected in New South Wales; this contravened an earlier Commonwealth proclamation which directed that any revenue due to the Federal government should be paid into the Commonwealth Bank. Beardsmore was the only departmental executive who refused to comply with the State order. His action forced a crisis: Governor Sir Philip Game ruled the circular was illegal and on 13 May dismissed the Lang government. Beardsmore had been sent on indefinite leave and later resigned from the service. He became treasurer of the Australian Jockey Club in 1935-49 and was also a member of the State Superannuation Board; from 1947 he was a director of B. J. Heath Pty Ltd, crockery merchants. He had been appointed M.B.E. in 1938.

An extrovert by nature, Beardsmore was a keen sportsman whose favourite recreations were horse-racing, golf, poker and rifle-shooting; in 1919 he had captained the Australian rifle team at Bisley and he was the first president of the Metropolitan District Rifle Association of New South Wales. Survived by a son and a daughter, he died at Burwood on 25 December 1959, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • S. S. Mackenzie, The Australians at Rabaul (Syd, 1927)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, vols 3, 4 (Syd, 1929, 1933)
  • B. Foott, Dismissal of a Premier (Syd, 1968)
  • H. Sloan, The Purple and Gold: A History of the 30th Battalion (Syd, 1938)
  • London Gazette, 26 Sept 1916, 2 Jan 1917
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 12-14 May 1932
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May 1932.

Citation details

A. Argent, 'Beardsmore, Robert Henry (1873–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/beardsmore-robert-henry-5169/text8683, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 11 December 2018.

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

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