JOHN BESWICKE (1847 - 1925) - HERITAGE ARCHITECT


[Ken Bethell]

Ken Bethell at the February 2013 Meeting.

Ken Bethell, himself an architect, has written a history of his grandfather John Beswicke who over the course of his working life designed a enormous number of well-known buildings in Melbourne and country Victoria.

John Beswicke was the son of Charles Beswicke and Elizabeth Keys who had migrated with her parents and 9 siblings from Ireland. Her father John Keys farmed at Preston and then moved to Moodie Yallo (Mordialloc) where he bought up land. He became well known in the area and Keysborough is named after him.

Charles Beswicke, who was born in Oldham, in England arrived in the Port Phillip District in 1840 and met up with his sister Isabella, and his brothers John and James.

Tragedy struck when John apparently drowned c1840 whilst attempting to ford the Dandenong Creek. His body was never found and his wife and child returned to England.

Isabella died within 2 years of arrival and James was killed in 1844 in a horse and cart accident.

Charles remained here and came to hold Moodie Yallo Station which was said to be the largest depasturing licence in the colony at the time. It covered most of what we now call Mordialloc. By 1850 when Charles returned to England for a short time, possibly to tie up his late father's estate, he no longer was at Moodie Yallo but had set up a farm near Geelong.

In 1847 when he married Elizabeth Keys he was aged 40 years and Elizabeth was 18 years. They had 3 daughters and 2 sons, John being their second son.

John went to Geelong Grammar School and in 1862 at the age of 16 started an architect apprenticeship with Crouch and Wilson. He worked there for 18 years then after the partnership between Crouch and Wilson was dissolved he went into partnership with Ralph Wilson. From this point in time he kept records which were kept in little packets. John Bethel found these records stored away at his grandfather's house and has found much valuable information in them.

John Beswicke had other working relationships. For a time he had a solo practice as J. Beswicke, but also worked in partnerships, Beswicke and Hutchins, and Beswicke and Coote.

Ken Bethell's book covers some 300 buildings designed by his grandfather. Included are 203 houses, 9 banks, 14 churches, 44 commercial buildings, 11 hotels, 15 institutional buildings such as hospitals, 45 shops and 18 town halls. Amongst the town halls were Dandenong Town Hall, Brighton Town Hall, Essendon Town Hall and Hawthorn Town Hall which came about mostly as the result of competitions. In other competitions he designed houses for the Grace Park Estate in Hawthorn and he designed the Mechanics Institute in Brunswick.

John Beswicke built numerous mansions for his family in Harcourt Street, Hawthorn from the 1880s to 1915 when he retired. Of 15 buildings built in this area, 14 are still standing. The first of these was "Tudor Lodge" ( 13 Harcourt Street ) which he built for his father Charles. Charles had bought land in Harcourt Street in 1872 and moved to Hawthorn from Geelong in 1873. John Beswicke's own residence "Rotha" was designed in 1885 before he went to the United Kingdom on a working trip to study tall buildings and mechanical installations. On this trip not only did he take some staff members, but he took his whole family. On the return trip, one of his daughters contracted cholera and later died at Point Nepean where she is buried.

John Beswicke's wife, Mary Hannah Parsons, was the daughter of barrister Charles Parsons from London.

John Beswicke left from "Tudor Lodge" in 1877 to marry Mary at Scots' Church and over a period of time they had 5 children: Charles, Percy, Harry, Elsie and Rupert.

Elsie was Ken Bethell's mother. She was discouraged to become an architect because 'men might look up her skirt' if she had to climb a ladder. Rupert became an architect but never practised as such. He lived at "Thurston" in Harcourt Street for 87 years until his death in 1980. It was here that Charles Beswicke had died in 1885 aged 81 years.

As well as being a successful architect and licenced surveyor John Beswicke had other skills and interests. He was an accomplished painter and left sketches of his sisters. He was a good shot and went on hunting trips by train with his friends ( and dogs ). In the hot weather quails were jugged to keep them fresh until they reached home.

He was a car enthusiast, and owned 4 cars, the first one being steam driven. The others were a De Dion Bouton, an Oldsmobile, and a Maxwell. He invented a tubeless tyre and had it patented. In 1905 he went to America and sold the patent, but it was supressed for 50 years.

John Beswicke, with his heavily waxed moustache was a distinguished figure and obviously a good business man. He sold "Talana," a house he built for his wife on the corner of Auburn Road and Harcourt Street for £5,000, after she said she would rather stay in their present home. It was on the market recently for $10 million.

[Ken Bethell]

Ken Bethell at the February 2013 Meeting.

( The above is a report on Ken Bethell's address at the General Meeting on 9 February 2013 )

( Contributed by Jan Hanslow, PPPG Member No. 1057 )


List of Newsletter Articles  |  Back to Home Page