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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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à Beckett, William Arthur (1833–1901)

by Kathleen Thomson

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

William Arthur à Beckett, by Alfred Williams

William Arthur à Beckett, by Alfred Williams

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22392092

William Arthur Callander à Beckett (1833-1901), barrister, was born on 7 July 1833 at Kensington, London, eldest son of Sir William à Beckett and his wife Emily, née Hayley. He went with his family to Sydney in May 1837 and to Port Phillip in February 1846. He attended schools in Sydney and Melbourne and at 18 began reading law under his father's direction. In January 1852 he was appointed associate to his father, then chief justice. In February 1853 he left with his family for England. There he studied applied sciences at King's College, London. He returned to Melbourne in December 1854 and was reappointed associate to his father. His brother Edward FitzHayley succeeded to the associateship in September 1855.  

In February 1855 à Beckett was appointed second lieutenant in the Melbourne Volunteer Rifle Corps. On 17 September he married Emma (1838-1906), only child and heiress of John Mills, who had bought land in the first Melbourne sales. In March 1857 he took her to London, where their first daughter Emily was born in June. They returned to Melbourne in October 1858.

His political career began in January 1868 when as a Constitutionalist candidate for Mornington he opposed James McCulloch. Though defeated à Beckett showed well in the poll and in September was elected to the Legislative Council for the Southern Province. He was a minister without office under (Sir) Charles Gavan Duffy from June 1871 to June 1872 and in Berry's ministry from 7 August to 20 October 1875. As a parliamentarian he showed great diligence and spoke on every subject under discussion. He unsuccessfully sought representation for St Kilda in the elections of May 1877.

à Beckett was appointed a territorial magistrate in 1861, magistrate for Melbourne General Sessions in 1869, and called to the Victorian Bar in September 1875. He went to London in 1886 and next year was admitted to the Inner Temple. He returned to Melbourne in 1892 and died in a private hospital at St Kilda on 16 December 1901, survived by his wife, two sons and four daughters. One son, William Gilbert, went to Cambridge (LL.B., 1892) and became a barrister at Inner Temple; the other, Arthur Heywood, served in Gallipoli and Egypt. A daughter, Emma Minnie, was an artist and married the artist Arthur Boyd.

à Beckett won notice for his individualism and whimsical wit. He was an original member and governor of the Old Colonists' Association in 1869, and a member of the Eclectic Association of Melbourne and of the Yorick Club, to which he presented some engravings. He held no particular religious belief, but subscribed to the Unitarian Christian Church building fund in 1864. He took a keen interest in horse-racing and studied heraldry. He had great pride in his ancestry, and by royal licence of 18 April 1888 he and his issue were authorized to use the surname and to bear the arms of à Beckett with proper distinctions.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Selby, History of Melbourne (Melb, 1924)
  • Berwick (Victoria) Shire Council, From Bullock Track to Bitumen (Berwick, 1962)
  • M. Boyd, Day of My Delight (Melb, 1965)
  • Age (Melbourne), Aug-Sept 1868, 4 Oct 1876
  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 Feb 1906
  • J. E. Parnaby, The Economic and Political Development of Victoria 1877-81 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1951).

Additional Resources

  • inquest, Argus (Melbourne), 18 December 1901, p 9

Citation details

Kathleen Thomson, 'à Beckett, William Arthur (1833–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 September 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 3

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