Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William Beak (1878–1966)

by Lorna L. McDonald

This article was published:

William Beak (1878-1966), grazier and studmaster, was born on 15 January 1878 at Mount Hedlow, near Rockhampton, Queensland, sixth child of Henry Beak (d.1908), a farmer from England, and his Irish wife Essie, née Matchett. Following primary schooling at Mount Hedlow, William learned cattle husbandry from his father, a pioneer settler who in 1905 founded a pastoral company, Henry Beak & Sons, when he had acquired several Central Queensland cattle stations after a disastrous drought. In 1904 William had managed one of them, May Downs, Clermont. At Calioran homestead, South Yaamba, on 6 March 1913 he married Flora McKenzie, daughter of another pioneering family, with the forms of the John Knox Presbyterian Church.

William's interest in the genetics of breeding began in 1913 when he bought two 'freak', hornless Hereford bulls with the aim of producing polled progeny. In 1919 the company was the first to import polled Hereford cattle from the United States of America. One of these bulls, Polled Gemnation, was mated with progeny from the 'freak' hornless bulls to establish the breed. Beak was instrumental in forming the Australian Poll Hereford Breeders' Association in 1922 (later the Australian Poll Hereford Society) at Rockhampton; he became its patron in 1932. He was to be elected a life member of the American Polled Hereford Association in recognition of his work with the breed in Australia. The family firm had been dissolved in 1929. Next year eight carcases which Beak selected from polled steers were deemed to be the world's best by the meat market at Smithfield, London.

Stud cattle-breeding and carcase-judging fascinated Beak. He published The Key to Divine Designs and their Guidance for the Improvement of Beef Quality (Rockhampton, 1956). This booklet described his discovery of 'the wonderful power of telegony', a controversial theory in cattle-breeding. A second pamphlet, Passing on more Discoveries by a Layman (Rockhampton, 1957), included his findings on the control of sex in animal-breeding; it also described how to judge internal features of fat steers by tapping them with the fingers and listening to the sounds. He had demonstrated this unusual technique at the 1932 Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association's show in Brisbane and its effectiveness was confirmed by the result of a subsequent carcase assessment in London.

Following his father, Beak had sat on the Livingstone Shire Council in 1904-05; he was a councillor of Broadsound shire in 1911-19. He returned to one of the company's coastal properties and again served on the Livingstone Shire Council in 1919-27 and 1933-36 (chairman 1921-27). A public-spirited man, he was, as well, chairman of the Rockhampton Harbour Board (1924-26) and of the Central Queensland Racing Association (from 1924), and a member of the local hospital board. Survived by his four daughters, Beak died on 5 June 1966 at Rockhampton and was buried in North Rockhampton cemetery with Anglican rites. Later that month it was announced that he had been appointed M.B.E. for services to the beef cattle industry.

Select Bibliography

  • L. McDonald, Rockhampton (Brisb, 1981)
  • L. McDonald, Cattle Country (Brisb, 1988)
  • Australasian, 14 May 1939
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 21 July 1908, 7, 11 June 1966
  • private information.

Citation details

Lorna L. McDonald, 'Beak, William (1878–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 January, 1878
Mount Hedlow, Queensland, Australia


5 June, 1966 (aged 88)
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.