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Beasley, Hillson (1855–1936)

by Hannah Lewi

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Hillson Beasley (1855-1936), architect, was born on 30 April 1855 at Canterbury, Kent, England, son of Edward Beasley, dyer, and his wife Caroline, née Saunders. Educated at Wesley College, Sheffield, he was articled to an architect in Dover, then practised in London, Carlisle and Oxford. He married Fanny Clarke on 22 December 1877 at the parish church, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. They were childless. Moving to Cape Colony, South Africa, he was employed by the Public Works Department for three years. The couple arrived in Melbourne in 1886 and Beasley opened his own practice. Early built works included the Presbyterian (Uniting) Church, St Kilda (1887), featuring polychromatic brickwork, and a competition entry for public buildings at Fern Tree Gully described as American Romanesque in red brick, stone, slate and terracotta.

Beasley promoted academic discussion on architecture and taught at the Working Men's College and the University of Melbourne in 1893. Among lectures reproduced in professional journals was a series on 'Greek and Roman Architecture' in The Australian Builders Contractors News, 1893. In 'The Value of Technical Education to Artisans' (Building and Engineering Journal 1893), he advocated the teaching of trades and crafts through manual training and apprenticeship, as opposed to theoretical education. 'The Sanitation of Dwellings' in the same journal emphasized proficiency of knowledge in sanitation, drainage and ventilation.

Moving to Perth in 1896, Beasley continued to work within the palette of contrasting stone and red brick. He joined the Public Works Department as a draftsman under the direction of George Temple Poole, and in 1897 became chief draftsman and assistant to John Grainger, who succeeded Poole. A loyal lieutenant, Beasley in turn was chief architect from 1905 until June 1917. He was a conservative practitioner, knowledgeable in the eclectic architectural languages of the late nineteenth century, and believing that the style of buildings should fit their purpose, be well mannered and appropriately decorated only to enrich their type. Decoration was typically derived from local masonry materials and sometimes patterned in the striated manner of the 'blood and bandages' style of Federation architecture.

Due to the gold rushes, population increase and the need for new building types with the coming of responsible government in 1891, Beasley oversaw a great number of new government works and additions in Perth, Fremantle and towns along the railway to the eastern goldfields. He designed or was responsible for Government House ballroom, Perth (1899), the competition-winning Western Australian Parliament House (1900), Claremont Teacher Training College (1902), Perth Modern School (1909-11), additions to the Western Australian Art Gallery and Library (1899-1911), Midland Courthouse (1907), Fremantle Post Office (1907) and Fremantle Technical College annexe (1910).

In retirement, Beasley lectured at the University of Western Australia in 1920-21, then visited England. A prominent member of Trinity Congregational Church, Perth, sometime chairman of the Congregational Union, he was later connected with Scots Church, Albany, where he was choir conductor and an elder. Survived by his wife, he died on 7 October 1936 at Albany and was buried in the local Presbyterian cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Perth, 1913)
  • M. Pitt Morison and J. White (eds), Western Towns and Buildings (Perth, 1979)
  • C. T. Stannage (ed), A New History of Western Australia (Perth, 1981)
  • H. Lewi et al, Visualising the Architecture of Federation (CD-Rom, Perth, 2001)
  • Building and Engineering Journal of Australia and New Zealand, vol 12, no 290, 20 Jan 1894, p 21
  • Albany Advertiser, 17 Oct 1936.

Citation details

Hannah Lewi, 'Beasley, Hillson (1855–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/beasley-hillson-12789/text23077, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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