I'm writing Mr Beattie's life story for a talk at U3A (University of the Third Age). I really thought I knew Beattie, having written about him for the web site 6 years ago. I read a lot of stuff at the time and thought I had it pretty right. I was wrong.
John Watt Beattie came to Tasmania purely by chance. A weird set of circumstances really. I'd read about his father's (pictured above) fight with the church but I never realised how random that all was. The church features heavily in his life and Scotland in the 1860s was a pretty serious place. As a church elder and in his 40s you would think he was at the top of his game, in his prime. But the matter of music in the church so upset him that he started making rash decisions. First he resigned from the church and then he cut all ties. But that wasn't enough and he decided the family would have to emigrate to get away from this offence. His eyesight was failing which is a terrible thing for a photographer. (My own father's eyesight failed him late in life and I saw how that affected him.) Young John Watt Beattie was reading to his father and one night from a book on sheep farming in Australia. Old Beattie jumps up, and decides on the spot that the only solution was to go far enough away so he couldn't hear the music!
Young John was dispatched to Australia to scout the land for opportunities. He spent time in Melbourne and then travelled by boat to Launceston. The place did not make a good impression on him at all. I think it's fair to say, reading the letter he wrote to his father, that he hated it. He points out that Tasmania is incredibly beautiful but business was bad here and sheep farming was doomed to fail miserably. Beattie senior would hear nothing of that and packed the whole family off to Tasmania. They settled in New Norfolk and farmed sheep. And they failed miserably, losing all their money. Young John showed such great promise as a photographer that two different people offered to start him in business, the first offering to put up two hundred pounds which was a fortune in those days. He accepted the second offer from the Anson Brothers and that was the start of his career and his lasting contributions to Tasmania.
It seems to me that Beattie's success in Tasmania and in fact his very arrival was such a roll of the dice. If he had packed up and gone back to Scotland with his father and family, Beattie's Studio might never have happened.
The full story will be in a video and I'll post the written version too, that'll be out sometime in June.