Who was John Watt Beattie?

May 07, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

A man born on the other side of the world became one of the most famous Tasmanians of his time. 

 

People ask me if I related in some way? I grew up in a family of photographers. I asked my father how come his work was called Beattie's when our name is Stephenson. He told me of this old man who was a famous photographer and his name was Beattie. Pop had bought the business from him and that’s why it was called Beattie's Studio. But who was John Watt Beattie ?

 

To answer that we need to go back to Scotland in the 1870’s and look at his father John Beattie senior, an elder in the West Free Church in Aberdeen. Beattie senior was raising his family and earning his living as a portrait photographer. By this time he was in his 50’s. The church features highly in his life and a new minister was appointed against Beattie senior’s wishes. He was so affected by this ministers views on music in church (it sounds like the new guy was for it and Beattie was against it) that Beattie felt he had to resign and withdraw from the church altogether. This action was not enough and Beattie senior soon decided that his family (wife Esther and 8 children) must uproot and move to the colonies to put enough distance between himself and the dreaded church music.

 

As Beattie senior was almost blind by this time, John junior read aloud to him. One night while reading from an illustrated book of sheep farming in Australia, Beattie senior had an epiphany and decided to send young John (18 at the time) to spy out the land and find them a new home on the other side of the world. The dutiful son arrived in Melbourne armed with letters of introduction and made his investigations both in Victoria and Tasmania. He was soundly told that times were bad and businesses were failing. It was not the right time. He told his father this, but nothing would sway Beattie senior and so out to Tasmania they came. In 1878 they settled on 320 acres on a property called Murray Hall at Mt Lloyd near New Norfolk and farm sheep they did until the money ran out.

 

John describes the land as beautiful. Quoting Charles Barrett “Doubtless God could have made a lovelier valley but doubtless He never did”. Beattie also wrote that bushland clearing was not to his taste. This is our first hint of his conservationist views to come.

 

The full story including Beattie's career and legacy, family and much more will be in the first episode video on YouTube, coming soon. I have filmed it all and it's with the editors now. I hope to release that on June 1st to launch the YouTube channel "Forgotten Tasmania"

 


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