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Joseph Aloysius Beattie (1848–1920)

by D. I. McDonald

This article was published:

Joseph Aloysius Beattie (1848-1920), medical practitioner, was born on 14 April 1848 at Athlone, Ireland, son of Robert Ettingsall Beattie, civil engineer, and his wife Margaret, née Mangan. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he won the gold medal of the Pathological Society and was admitted as licentiate, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (1877) and King and Queen's College of Physicians in Ireland (1878). He was briefly clinical assistant and demonstrator of anatomy at Steevens Hospital, Dublin.

Beattie arrived in Sydney on 21 October 1878 as surgeon superintendent in the migrant ship La Hogue, and for a time lived with F. N. Manning before being appointed assistant medical officer, Hospital for the Insane, Parramatta. In 1881 he became resident medical officer at the Quarantine Station, Sydney, and on 24 November 1882 resident medical superintendent at the Coast Hospital and Sanatorium, Little Bay.

Next year Beattie was asked to initiate a new migration service in association with the Orient Steam Navigation Co. On his first visit to the Plymouth Immigration Depot he reported favourably upon conditions and the work of the immigration officer T. H. Phillips. On 12 December 1883 he left Plymouth in the Abergeldie on the inaugural voyage of the new steamship migration service. Over the next three years he made five trips, having the direct medical care of 3127 migrants.

On 1 October 1886 Beattie was appointed surgeon superintendent at the Liverpool Asylum for infirm and destitute men, which was little more than a hospital for the chronically ill and destitute; he was given the right of private practice. Under his direction it became the principal hospital for the treatment of males suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis until the State sanatorium at Waterfall was established in 1909. In addition, a number of cancer patients and others with 'every disease under heaven' were treated in spartan accommodation.

In September 1891 Beattie was granted six months leave and travelled extensively abroad. In 1901 he represented the New South Wales government in London at the British Congress on Tuberculosis; his short report was criticized for being perfunctory and vague. As part of a campaign from 1903 to have consumptive and cancer patients moved elsewhere, his administration of the asylum came under criticism because of its primitive conditions and unhygienic system of waste disposal. That year he was appointed to the Medical Board of New South Wales. Beattie went overseas again in 1910 to study recent developments in the treatment of cancer; his interest in this disease had been quickened by the claims of local quacks, whose patients often ended their days under his care.

His long association with the poor convinced Beattie that old-age pensions were not in the best interests of recipients who would be imposed upon and neglected by relations. Nevertheless he was regarded by his many patients as 'the friend of the aged poor'. He was a remarkable organizer, despite paying 'little attention to detail'. Gifted with literary ability and a ready wit, he had few equals as a companion, while 'the brilliancy of his conversation was a by-word'. He remained at Liverpool Asylum until 13 April 1916 when he retired after suffering a stroke some months previously.

Beattie, a bachelor, died on 27 November 1920, and was buried in the Catholic cemetery, Liverpool. His estate was valued for probate at £24,281; he left the residue to Catholic charitable institutions in Dublin.

Select Bibliography

  • Blue Book, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1883-84, 7, 55-56, 1887, 5, 36, 1890, 3, 995 (pp 33, 39)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1903, 2nd S, 1950
  • Government Gazette (New South Wales), 5 Sept 1879, 8 Aug 1884, 13 Nov 1903, 11 Feb, 14 Apr 1916
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 18 Dec 1920
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4, 6, 7 Feb 1884
  • Truth (Sydney), 28 May 1899
  • Cumberland Argus, 19 Dec 1903
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 30 May 1914, 5 May 1916
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 2 Dec 1920
  • Colonial Secretary, Grants to officers, migrant ships, 1884, and Reports by immigration agents, 1874-84 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

D. I. McDonald, 'Beattie, Joseph Aloysius (1848–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 April, 1848
Athlone, Westmeath, Ireland


27 November, 1920 (aged 72)
New South Wales, Australia

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