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Beet, William Ironside Ashley (1878–1957)

by Ailsa Rolley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

William Ironside Ashley Beet (1878-1957), medical practitioner, was born on 9 December 1878 at Sheepwash, Devon, England, second of six children of Joseph Frederick Beet, schoolmaster, and his wife Lucelle Selina, née Ashley. In 1886 the family migrated to Queensland. There they successively lived at Clermont, in the Copperfield district and at Townsville West. Ashley was educated at Townsville Grammar School and raised in a strict Methodist home where family pride was important. Intelligent, inquiring and with an inventive mind, he was an avid reader and a talented violinist. He matriculated in 1894 and two years later travelled to England to study medicine. Having been a student and assistant medical officer at London Hospital, in 1901 he qualified as a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons. He then spent a year as medical officer at the West Ham Infirmary before returning to Queensland in December 1902.

In 1903 Beet was appointed medical officer to the eight-bed hospital at Beaudesert, on a salary of £145 a year and with the right to private practice. A table from the matron's room served as his first operating bench. In 1911 he sailed for England as ship's doctor in the Fifeshire. The vessel was wrecked off Cape Guardafui, Somaliland, and the passengers were forced to take to open boats before being rescued, and brought to Aden and thence to England. During the voyage Beet met Lola McCamley whom he married on 3 April 1912 at St Philip's parish church, Kensington, London. After completing the R.C.S. diploma in public health, in August he brought his wife to Beaudesert.

Transport was so difficult that the doctor travelled to the patient. Beet's grey horse often had to be rested at homesteads, or a fresh mount saddled to enable him to complete the journey: 'nothing was too much bother for him', regardless of the blackest night, winter frosts or driving rain. On one occasion he rode 70 miles (113 km) in a day. As transport modernized, Dr Beet progressed to a pony-trap, a springless motorbike, a tramway tricycle and finally to a motorcar. Nonetheless, he remained indelibly imprinted in popular memory as a brown-haired, bespectacled man, tearing around the countryside on a motorbike.

The community loved him and countless babies—White and Aboriginal—were named after him. Stockily built, with a hesitant expression, he was friendly, if a little shy. Small talk never interested him. He had energy and stamina, and enjoyed rifle-shooting, cricket, tennis, golf, bowls and fishing. In a rural community he frequently had also to act as the veterinarian. When he retired in June 1947, the locals turned out en masse at the showground to farewell him.

Aged 69, Beet moved to Southport, but ten years later returned to Beaudesert where he spent his last months in the district to which he had given forty-two years of his life. He died there on 27 April 1957 and was cremated; his wife and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Baldwin (ed), Unsung Heroes & Heroines of Australia (Melb, 1988)
  • Beaudesert Times, 4 July 1947
  • Beaudesert Historical Society files
  • P. Morrison, William Ashley Beet (typescript, 1966, Beaudesert Historical Society).

Citation details

Ailsa Rolley, 'Beet, William Ironside Ashley (1878–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/beet-william-ironside-ashley-9471/text16661, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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