Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Beit, William (1829–1872)

by David Denholm

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

William Beit (1829-1872), pastoralist, was born on 1 August 1829 in London, son of John Nicholas Beit, merchant, and his wife Sarah, née Pearson. John Nicholas was descended from a Scotsman, Rupert Beith, who went to Prussia after the Stuart uprising of 1715. Five generations later, in 1819, John Nicholas moved to England, married an English girl and returned to Hamburg in the 1830s as the New Zealand Co.'s emigration agent. In 1842 he applied to Lord Stanley for permission to take a group of German settlers to Nelson, New Zealand, where he had bought five land orders. He chartered the St Pauli and with his family and many German migrants arrived in Nelson in June 1843. Finding his allotted land inferior and unusable he quarrelled with his migrants, with his own family and more violently with the company. To demand redress, he returned in December 1846 to London where he was said to have hired a room next to the company's office and waylaid clients until his terms were accepted in May 1848 on condition that he and his family quitted Nelson. He returned to Nelson in December and bickered with his German migrants over compensation before winding up his affairs. In 1849 he moved to Sydney, established the firm John Beit & Sons, and continued his attempts, first made in 1847, to introduce German labourers into New South Wales but was thwarted by more enterprising agents.

William appears to have led the family's extension into the Queensland pastoral industry in 1856. About 1859 he became a partner of John Douglas Maclean, who in 1854 had bought Westbrook station near Toowoomba for £12,000. After the Drayton agricultural reserve was opened for selectors, William became involved in a long struggle, because the boundary between Westbrook and the reserve was unfenced and remained so for some years. His protests to the surveyor-general against a proposed extension of the reserve reflect an arrogant disregard for the selectors. They, in turn, were both angered by his practice of branding all unmarked cattle straying over the unfenced boundary and baffled by his silence in the face of protest. Disdain marked his only reply: 'Westbrook never makes mistakes'.

If Westbrook offered a sound foundation for a landed enterprise, much personal tragedy stalked William's fortunes. His youngest brother, Frederick, died at Toowoomba in 1863 at 19. William's partner, Maclean, died in 1868 at Westbrook. On 6 August 1864 at Ipswich William married Mary, daughter of Edward Kellett, solicitor of Ipswich, and Fanny, née Ellis. Fourteen months later, leaving no issue, Mary was fatally injured at Drayton in a carriage accident. On 30 October 1871 in Adelaide William married Sarah Kellett, Mary's sister. On 25 July 1872 he died in the City of Melbourne while returning from an overseas trip; their only son was born posthumously and inherited some £49,000, chiefly from the sale of Westbrook.

Beit laid out the framework of a scattered land interest, acquiring part interests in the Rawbelle stations, in Toowoomba town lots and, with his brothers Henry and Robert, runs in the Mitchell and Warrego pastoral districts. Others of his father's large family remained based on Sydney, highly dependent on William's initiative and financial resources.

Select Bibliography

  • Darling Downs Gazette, 2 June 1859, 10 Dec 1863
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27, 29 July 1872
  • Toowoomba Chronicle, 3 Aug 1872.

Citation details

David Denholm, 'Beit, William (1829–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/beit-william-2965/text4317, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 September 2017.

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

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