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Frank Reginald Beasley (1897–1976)

by Fred Alexander

This article was published:

Frank Reginald Beasley (1897-1976), professor of law, was born on 25 August 1897 at Summertown, Oxfordshire, England, son of Benjamin Joseph Beasley, telegraphist, and his wife Fanny Ellen, née Radbone. Educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford, Frank was sent for reasons of health in 1914 to join relations in Western Australia. On 10 May 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and served with the 11th Battalion at Gallipoli and in France; he was promoted lieutenant on 21 November 1916. Granted leave in 1919, he studied with the Council of Legal Education, London, and at Wadham College, Oxford, where he graduated (B.A., 1920) with honours in jurisprudence. He returned to Australia and was demobilized in October 1920.

Enrolling in law at the University of Sydney, Beasley graduated with first-class honours (LL.B., 1924) and was admitted to the New South Wales Bar. He worked for the directors of Farmer & Co., lectured in international relations for the university's adult education programme, became a university examiner in political science and jurisprudence, and joined the Round Table movement and the Grotius Society. From seventeen applicants who included (Sir) Kenneth Bailey, in 1927 Beasley was appointed foundation professor of law at the University of Western Australia. On 10 October that year he married Helen Grace Moore (d.1952) at St Matthew's Anglican Church, Manly, Sydney.

In establishing the faculty of law, Beasley succeeded in attracting and holding the support of Perth's practising lawyers, to some extent by employing leading members of the profession as part-time lecturers. His own speciality was constitutional law. While his students recognized the quality of his teaching, they tended to contrast the Olympian formality of his classes with less rigid requirements elsewhere. Widely appreciated for his encouragement of university sporting bodies, Beasley was president of the University Boat Club and coached its VIII to victory in the 1930 inter-varsity competition.

He frequently spoke on radio about international affairs: his public discussions aroused controversy during the 1930s and sometimes provoked criticism from members of State parliament. Six feet (183 cm) tall, with blue eyes and brown hair, Beasley was by nature efficient and direct, if at times impatient and even domineering. He came to play a significant role on the small but influential professorial board. As its chairman in 1939, he was appointed acting vice-chancellor on the death of H. E. Whitfeld. Beasley's early introduction of significant reforms in the administration enhanced his role, but created friction with some senior members of the senate and led him to resign from the post on 25 July 1940.

Called up for full-time duty with the Militia in October 1941, Captain Beasley was seconded on 27 July 1942 as deputy assistant adjutant-general at 4th Divisional headquarters, Western Australia. In this post he revealed his characteristic administrative efficiency and emphatic initiative. Having transferred to the A.I.F., he was promoted temporary major in September, but lack of opportunity for active service prompted his return in 1943 to the university where tuition in law had been suspended. From the consequential revival in 1944 of the law faculty's activities until he retired from the university in 1963, Beasley undertook the normal intramural duties of a senior professor, was president (1952-54) of the staff association and continued his involvement in adult education. Despite early postwar difficulties in the relationship between the faculty and the Barristers' Board, he secured a satisfactory range of full-time teaching staff. Juniors feared and relished his dry, acerbic wit. In 1948 he founded the university's Annual Law Review. He married a 25-year-old secretary Ann Poynton on 1 May 1956 at the registrar's office, Perth.

In 1963 the Beasleys moved to Melbourne where Frank became a consultant on the establishment of Monash University's law school. There he held office as a special lecturer and library adviser until late 1970, interspersed with eighteen months as visiting professor at the University of Singapore and six months at the Australian National University, Canberra. Beasley was awarded honorary doctorates of laws from the universities of Melbourne (1956) and Western Australia (1974). Survived by his wife and their son, and by the son and daughter of his first marriage, he died on 3 June 1976 at Armadale, Melbourne, and was cremated. The University of Western Australia's law library bears his name and his bust stands at its entrance.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • B. de Garis, Campus in the Community (Perth, 1988)
  • Gazette of University of Western Australia, 14, no 1, Mar 1964, p 6
  • University of Western Australia, University News, 7, no 4, June 1976, 8, no 8, Oct 1977
  • Australian Law Journal, 50, Sept 1976
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Sept 1927
  • West Australian, 9 June 1976.

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Citation details

Fred Alexander, 'Beasley, Frank Reginald (1897–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 June 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]


25 August, 1897
Summertown, Oxfordshire, England


3 June, 1976 (aged 78)
Armadale, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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