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Sir Francis Joseph (Frank) Beaurepaire (1891–1956)

by J. R. Poynter

This article was published:

Frank Beaurepaire, by Edwin Adamson, c.1940

Frank Beaurepaire, by Edwin Adamson, c.1940

National Library of Australia, 23193381

Sir Francis Joseph Edmund (Frank) Beaurepaire (1891-1956), sportsman, businessman and civic leader, was born on 13 May 1891 in Melbourne, eldest son of Francis Edmund de Beaurepaire, sailor, tram-conductor, trader, and (later) hotel proprietor, and his wife Mary Edith, née Inman. At Albert Park State School, and later at Wesley College, he showed skill in several sports and an unusual talent for swimming.

Beaurepaire was dark-haired and stocky, with exceptionally powerful shoulders. The swimming style he developed, a modification of the popular trudgen stroke, proved effective over both short and long distances; at that time the crawl was thought too exhausting for anything but sprints. He won his first Victorian titles in 1906 at the age of 14, and in 1908 won three titles in the national championships at Perth. That year he made his first trip overseas, to represent Australia at the Olympic Games in London. The tour began badly—he collapsed after six miles (9.6 km) of a fifteen-mile (24 km) race in the Thames—but he won the English half-mile and mile championships. At the Olympics Beaurepaire took second place in the 400 metres and third in the 1500 metres, and was fourth in a 100 metres semi-final. He also won races in France, Germany and Belgium before returning home.

1910 was Beaurepaire's greatest year in competitive swimming. With twelve Australian championships to his credit he was sent on a European tour, in the course of which he set world records for 300 yards and for 200, 300 and 500 metres, and won seven English titles—from 100 yards to the mile—six of them in record time. He was undefeated in forty-one championships and first-class races, and the Helms Athletic Foundation of America awarded him its trophy for the best athlete of the year.

In 1911, when Beaurepaire became a swimming instructor with the Victorian Education Department, he was declared a professional and debarred from amateur competition. He indulged an interest in motor cycling with an attempt on the 24-hour endurance record, riding a Triumph around Albert Park Lake.

With the outbreak of war Beaurepaire enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted as a second lieutenant, but became medically unfit after a serious appendicitis attack. In 1916 he went overseas as a Young Men's Christian Association commissioner, serving with the 1st and 3rd Divisions in England and France, and gaining warm commendation from Sir John Monash for his work. He was invalided out in 1918, after an attack of trench fever. In July 1915 he had married Myra Gertrude, daughter of newspaper proprietor N. B. McKay, and niece of H. V. McKay, at the Presbyterian Church, Albert Park. A son and a daughter were born of the marriage.

After the war Beaurepaire did not return to his position as an instructor, and worked for a time as an insurance salesman. Eligible once again to compete as an amateur, he made a remarkable comeback. At the Antwerp Olympic Games of 1920 (where his sister Lily was also a representative) he was unplaced in the 400 metres final, but came third in the 1500 metres and was one of the team which came second in the 800 metres relay race. In 1921, while living in Sydney, he won five titles in the Australian championships, helping to win the Kieran Shield for New South Wales as he had earlier won it for Victoria. In 1924, in Paris, he competed in the Olympic Games for the last time, taking third place in the 1500 metres final and second place yet again in the 800 metres relay race. It is remarkable that in so brilliant a career, having held fifteen world records, Beaurepaire never won first place in an Olympic final.

A man of much mental as well as physical energy, Beaurepaire found a suitable sphere of business enterprise when, with a Canadian acquaintance, he formed the Advanx Tyre Repair Co. in Sydney in 1920. In 1922 he decided to return to Melbourne, and founded the Beaurepaire Tyre Service there, with his brother-in-law Oscar McKay as partner. The business prospered, thanks largely to Beaurepaire's skill in choosing staff with the necessary technical abilities, and his persuasive qualities as salesman and promoter. In 1933 the Olympic Tyre and Rubber Co. Pty Ltd was formed, becoming a public company in 1934; by 1952 its paid-up capital was £3,500,000. Production of electric cables was begun in 1940, with profitable war-time government contracts, and Olympic Cables Ltd was formed as a separate company. In 1953 Olympic Consolidated Industries was formed as a holding company for all Beaurepaire enterprises.

In 1928 he won a by-election for Gipps Ward and became a Melbourne city councillor. In 1940-42 Beaurepaire was lord mayor, and was especially active in raising wartime patriotic and charitable funds. He was knighted in 1942, and in the same year was elected to the Legislative Council, where he sat until 1952. He was an unsuccessful United Australia Party candidate for the Senate in 1943. His political views were generally conservative, but he was more interested in fostering particular projects than in ideological positions.

Beaurepaire was very active in support of the Herald Learn-to-Swim campaign, which he helped to found in 1929 and which he served as president for twenty-four years. He fostered the installation of municipal swimming pools, and also financed a dressing-room complex at Albert Park. Among many acts of philanthropy, the largest was the gift of £200,000 to the University of Melbourne for a sports centre.

Sir Frank Beaurepaire was one of the chief sponsors of the proposal to hold the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956. He attended meetings of the International Olympic Committee in London and Helsinki, and of the International Olympic Conference in Rome, and was for a time chairman of the Victorian Olympic Council and of the Olympic Games Organizing Committee. There was dissension in the organization; Beaurepaire lost an election for the chairmanship of the council and resigned from the committee, ostensibly for health reasons. His sudden death at Melbourne from aortic stenosis on 29 May 1956 was, however, quite unexpected; he was cremated with Presbyterian rites. His estate was valued for probate at £938,610. The Beaurepaire Centre at the University of Melbourne, opened after his death, was completed in time for use as a training site during the Melbourne Olympics, and is a fitting memorial to Beaurepaire's rare combination of sporting and business ability.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Lomas, The Will to Win (Melb, 1960)
  • People (Sydney), 21 Sept 1951
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 May 1956
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May 1956.

Additional Resources

Citation details

J. R. Poynter, 'Beaurepaire, Sir Francis Joseph (Frank) (1891–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 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

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