Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Early Days, Volume 10, 1989-1994

The early ministry of the Rev'd John Beukers, 1896-1901

J. H. M. Honniball

Honniball, J. H. M. 1989, 'The early ministry of the Rev'd John Beukers, 1896-1901', Early Days, vol. 10, part 1: 39-56.


Just one hundred years ago a young Dutchman arrived in Australia and began a new life which placed him in many different environments in the course of the next fifty-three years. His formal education had not gone beyond primary schooling, but he was an avid reader and soon developed a great enthusiasm for writing himself, which was the more remarkable in that he had to forsake his mother tongue. For at least twenty years he meticulously kept a diary, making daily entries of generous length. When aged about forty, he began moulding his earlier experiences into literary compositions which eventually appeared as two modest books. In middle and later life he made numerous contributions to newspapers and church periodicals. All these writings have the makings for a full biography of a very dedicated and rather exceptional cleric. They also provide a good picture of church and community life in a wide range of places, both in city and country. John Beukers (often called Jack) spent sixteen years, in two spells, in Western Australia, and it is to the first of these — a stay of nearly six years — that this paper is devoted.

The Pilgrim’s Early Progress

Beukers was a native of Friesland, the northerly province of the Netherlands at the eastern approach to the then vast Zuyder Zee. In one of the tiniest streets of its attractive capital, Leeuwarden, he was born in a back room behind a tuck-shop on 16th June 1867, and was baptised Johannes. He had a happy childhood within an orderly community firmly attached to the Dutch Reformed Church. Some members of his mother’s people held official positions in the local church, and at the home of his paternal grandmother he became well acquainted with highlights of Biblical history from scenes depicted on the glazed tiles that lined her kitchen.

By the late 1870s his father’s small business was failing to provide sufficient income for the support of a wife and four growing children. The family therefore


took the tearful step of moving to the great port of Rotterdam. John, the eldest child, had just won a scholarship to proceed with secondary education in Leeuwarden, but it was not transferable to Rotterdam. His father could not afford [to keep him on at school and found difficulty in getting steady work himself. Consequently John had to seek work too, and in two years tried his hand at three different jobs. He was reasonably settled working for an upholsterer when tragedy struck. First his mother, then his father, died of smallpox. The four children soon found themselves in the hands of the city authorities responsible for the destitute. The younger children were sent back to live with Friesian farmers, and John told his guardians he wished to go to sea. Before long he secured a berth as forecastle boy on a Dutch sailing ship and then spent the next seven years sailing the seven seas. He recounted some of his shipboard experiences in his book, From the Fo’castle to the Pulpit, published in 1912. He was never to see his brother and sisters again, but corresponded with them to the end of his life.

In August 1888, when he was twenty-one, Beukers came to Port Adelaide on a small Norwegian vessel bringing sugar from Mauritius. Under a harsh captain, additions aboard were intolerable. He therefore made the decision to jump ship and rapidly headed for South Australia’s mid-north, successfully evading arrest for desertion. He was able to find odd jobs, mainly on farms, and moved about a good deal. Attending church whenever he could, and showing he was earnest, he was eventually invited to conduct occasional services in some out-of-the-way places. Under the auspices of the Parkin Mission, an undenominational foundation run chiefly by Congregationalists, he began work in 1891 as a roving lay-missioner to the scattered settlers in the colony’s far north. Travelling mainly by horse and buggy, he readily mixed with all sorts and conditions of men, including the most profane and irreligious. Some of his encounters over a three-year period he recorded in his other book, The Humour and Pathos of the Australian Desert.

Early in 1894, when amidst the settlers on the lower Murray River, the sailor-turned-preacher met Kate Taplin, another keen church worker, whose father and grandfather had been superintendents of a mission to the Aborigines there. Despite the opposition of her widowed mother in Adelaide, who considered the suitor uncouth, he married Kate and then spent a happy eighteen months working manually and preaching regularly within what he termed a socialistic enterprise — a rural community known as the New Era Fellowship — which struggled to exist near Morgan on the Upper Murray.

Grim tragedy was his lot again in November 1895 when Kate died a few days after giving birth to a son whom they called Paul Frederick. As his mother-in-law declined to take him in as a boarder, the grief-stricken and penniless widower decided to have a complete change of scene. Leaving his son in the care of Kate’s unmarried sister (who lived with her mother), he took ship for Western Australia, and so joined in the great tide of intercolonial migration attracted by its fabulous gold discoveries.


The Booming West of 1896

Many were the changes of scene that Beukers experienced in his first year in a colony abuzz with activity everywhere. His diary records his arrival at the busy port of Albany on 22nd January 1896:

Last Saturday the 18th I left Port Adelaide per S.S. Irmamincka for here. We had a good passage, fine weather, but a terrible big crowd of passengers, about 600. Got to Albany about 10 a.m. The town is very picturesquely situated between two high granite hills; facing the bay there is a row of nice looking shops, banks, etc., but otherwise the place looks about 50 years behind the times.

On an afternoon stroll with two friends he had made aboard ship he found the town’s shopkeepers out to make a fortune from their visitors. Penny papers were selling at threepence, sixpenny novels a shilling, and apples 'such as a hungry boy would not look at’ cost a shilling a pound. In the evening the trio went to the Scots Church for a magic-lantern entertainment, punctuated by some of Sankey’s ‘threadbare’ hymns, on the subject of Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. They pronounced it a very feeble performance and all but unendurable. They stayed the night at a boarding house crammed from floor to ceiling with discontented, grumbling men and their baggage.

The next night they spent sitting up in a tightly packed train heading north. After breakfasting at Beverley at 530 am., they alighted at Northam to wait four hours to change to a train bound for the Goldfields. Their midday meal at a boarding house provided further fodder for Beukers’ pen:

Evidently shady characters once fed there, for we were closely watched during dinner. There were two persons at the door, one to collect the money and the other to see that none of the guests took the dinner tools with them. As the writer afterwards recalled, the traffic on the eastern line was enormous in those days; trains had to cross at nearly every siding, which often meant a long wait for one or the other. The talk aboard train the weary traveller found depressing, and accounts of the goldfields not quite as glowing as in South Australia. So when, during a wait at Kellerberrin, he saw a notice seeking labourers for work on the railway, he applied and was promptly engaged to go sleeper-packing on the stretch of line between Hine’s Hill and Doodlakine. The job provided wages of seven shillings a day, water free, stores carried, but no accommodation; it was a matter of sleeping in one’s blanket under the stars.

At that heavy work under the mid-summer sun, Beukers stayed just four weeks, ceasing after an altercation with a new foreman-ganger named Kennedy. Subsequently enlarging upon the confrontation between Irishman and Dutchman in a literary sketch, he made the episode sound almost as dramatic as the similar one that Albert Facey claimed in his autobiography to have experienced in 1913.

Taking a train down to Perth, the newcomer put up at the Rechabite Coffee Palace in Wellington Street and found a week or two's hard work as a mason’s


labourer. The next three weeks he spent cutting wood for a brickmaker at Guildford together with a fellow axeman with whom he also shared a tent pitched on the river's west bank. When in Perth again he responded to an advertisement and was engaged as chainman to a surveyor named Conroy who was marking out blocks at Point Walter for Crossland and Hardy, land agents and surveyors. He enjoyed this work and their prettily situated camp at the river's edge during the pleasant months of April and May. He was frequently given charge of his employers' boats for the task of ferrying passengers and supplies to and from Claremont.

Meanwhile, from his first arrival in Perth, he always made for church on Sundays. A few years later he recalled:

Church life in W.A. in 1896 was peculiar. Before the gold discovery, Perth was little more than a good-sized country town and when people came pouring into the country by hundreds the church room in the city was not enough for those who wanted to go to church. Each Sunday evening the churches were full to capacity long before the service began. They overflowed with an ever-varying congregation.

At the new Trinity Church Beukers soon made the acquaintance of the incumbent minister, the Revd W.T. Kench, who was also chairman of the lately formed Congregational Onion of Western Australia. On his Sundays at Point Walter, he went across river to the Congregational Church at Claremont, and also made contact with the pastor at Fremantle, the Revd W.F. Turton, When he said he was keen to return to mission work, Kench advised him to send to Adelaide for his credentials. He was soon invited to preach and conduct the occasional service in the churches at North Fremantle, Claremont and Leederville, but was disappointed to find that suburban congregations were a lot thinner than those in the city.

When the job at Point Walter gave out, he moved back to the city, sharing a room in a lodging house in Moore Street, and next went grubbing and clearing on a new residential estate that was being opened between the railway stations at East Perth and Bayswater. Again telling of Perth in 1896, he wrote:

There was feverish activity everywhere. New suburbs were being laid out in the primeval scrub... The owners of the estate wanted the work done quickly and they did not mind how many men worked at it, so long as they put in the full eight hours work. Any man could get a job there and a pick and shovel ... and could start the moment he came. Shoals of men came out from Perth to earn the seven shillings, mostly new arrivals... hairdressers, watchmakers, counterjumpers, clerks, nondescripts.

In keeping at the job all through the winter, Beukers stayed longer than most. As he was eager to begin studying for the ministry, he spent much of his spare time at the Victoria Public Library in St George’s Terrace and was impressed with its resources. He participated in religious discussions at the Y.M.C.A. and


he preached several times at the Baptist Church in Hutt Street. He also joined the Literary Society attached to Trinity Church, and took a prominent part in one particular debate, as he recorded:

In that year trouble was brewing in South Africa. The Perth papers were full of it. The Uitlanders of Johannesburg were agitating for political rights in the Transvaal, and in West Australia t’othersiders' were often reminded that they were strangers in a new country, and their sympathies were on the side of the Uitlanders.

While Beukers himself was one of the flood of outsiders come upon the local scene, in regard to South Africa his sympathies were on the side of the Boers. He was therefore asked to take the affirmative side in a debate as to whether the Boer policy in the Transvaal was justifiable. Through prior study at the library and careful presentation of his case, he was victorious in the verbal battle with his opponents. It produced a favourable impression upon the two leading clerics present, and Turton said to Kench, ‘That’s our man ... He can wag his tongue.’

Donnybrook and Domesticity

A few weeks later Beukers was invited to take the services at the Congregational Church in Bunbury during a month’s interregnum and then to begin as a home missionary in the district southward with base at Donnybrook. He was offered a stipend of £2 a week, ‘barely a labourer’s wage’, and accepted once assured that the Congregational (Inion would support his application to take the extramural course of the Church's training college in Melbourne.

He found Bunbury ‘quite provincial in outlook’, and noted the ‘huge rib of a sea-monster standing up post-like in one of its streets’ as the last relic of its whaling days. But the new rail connection with Perth was now wearing down its long isolation, and as a bustling port it was grappling with labour problems.

In his month there the young locum was introduced to the scene of his future labours by the Revd Andrew Buchanan, who had just retired to his farm after thirty years’ ministry to the faithful in Bunbury and a large district beyond.

Beukers’ own new work was to require much travelling, and so with a grant from the Union he purchased a horse called Ned, and then expanded its name appropriately to Nicodemus. He saw that Donnybrook was a thriving town with its buildings strung out nearly a mile along one bank of the Preston River. It owed its prosperity to the many farms in the valleys all round and to several timber mills nearby which were mainly producing sleepers for the new railway line pushing southward to Bridgetown.

The clergy who visited Donnybrook usually held their services at the school, and the newcomer followed suit. But the sight and sound of big adults squeezing in and out of tiny desks soon made him anxious to undertake the task of building a simple church. For lodgings the schoolmaster suggested he should ‘try Miss Minna', who had upper rooms to let in her newly finished house.


Minna Sophia Thomson was the subject of one of the character sketches in lights and Shades of the Golden West', a series of articles that Beukers contributed to a church periodical a few years later:

The lady in question was a descendant of one of the leading W.A. families. Her brother occupied the homestead four miles distant, and Miss Minna, having some land in Donnybrook, had built thereon and fixed her domicile. With her came an aged Irish retainer, who having been assigned to the family in the convict days, had remained till his old age. He looked after the garden, and Miss Minna looked after him. 1 was inclined to stand in awe of the lady, but she received me graciously and seemed well disposed.

‘Yes, you can have one of the rooms, but you’ll have to see about your meals yourself. 1 don’t keep a boarding house. I’ll make your bed and keep your room tidy. Men don’t know how to do that.’

‘Some men do.'

‘Not the men that I know anything about’.

It is wise to let others have the last word sometimes. And so Church and Dissent came to dwell under the same roof. For Miss Minna was the driving force of such ecclesiastical machinery as the region could boast of. She notified all the Anglican families when the rector was due, and those who didn’t turn up had to make an excuse to her for their absence from church...

As a matter of course, we argued about Church and Dissent. Every morning when my room was being tidied there was a fresh phase of the subject to be discussed... She always considered that she had the best of the argument and made peace by inviting me down for a cup of tea. She was emphatic in her assurance that she was not one my parishioners, but as there was only one Anglican service per month, she frequently attended when I was preaching.

Travelling extensively while the weather was good, Beukers ministered to a dozen widely scattered congregations in the first six months or sa He noted that the towns and farming communities were generally clustered about ‘the numerous streams that were dignified by the name of rivers' — the Preston, Ferguson, Capel and Blackwood. In the towns he began by holding a meeting in the hall or school and in the rural areas he usually fixed on a farmhouse where two or three families could conveniently be brought together. Then, if encouraged to do so, he would arrange to hold services regularly, generally on Sundays in the towns and on weekdays in the smaller places.

He found that all his congregations were very mixed, and later made a simple summary of their proper allegiances. Fifty per cent were really Anglican. Then there were decided Methodists and Church of Christ adherents, who, if they dwelt together, were usually suspicious of each other. A few had come from the Congregational Church of Bunbury, peculiarly attached to Buchanan's ministry but very undenominational in their outlook. There were a handful of Seventh


Day Adventists, eager to make proselytes. A few hardly bothered about religion, but would patronise the preacher if he happened to be acceptable to them.

On one round trip that he and Nicodemus made in clockwise direction in mid-December, they covered about 150 miles in five days:

Last Friday 1 travelled to Balingup; from there I went out to Norenup on the following day visiting a couple of isolated families on the Blackwood River. On the Sunday I had splendid meetings at Balingup Greenbushes and Bridgetown. The Lord was with me. I had good congregations and good collections. Stayed at Mrs Allnutt’s and went on to the Lower Blackwood bridge next day. Stayed for dinner at the Grange and then went through some of the most magnificent timber country I have ever seen, passing a little clump of karri on the way. It was but an apology for a track, but I got through all right At the bridge I held a meeting. The people there are too much scattered to come to an evening service and so I intend to come there when there are five Sundays in the month. Next day Mr Miller guided me up the Blackwood past Tanjanerup Dudnalup and then across to Cundenup Here I was again received with great kindness, stayed and had a gathering there in the evening.

I shall go there monthly (D.V.). From there I was shown a track on to the Capel, but the track not being very plain, I lost my bearings. I got to the Capel all right but did not know exactly at what point After some exploring I hit some ring-barked timber, a hut some men, and then I was put on the track. Reached home at 6 pm.

Throughout 1897 the budding cleric continued to find much satisfaction in his labours, and in August they took him for the first time as far afield as Busselton. He was able to report in person on the progress of his work when he went to Perth in April and October for the biannual meetings of the Congregational Union. He was rewarded with an increase in stipend and authorised to begin collecting funds to build a mission hall at Donnybrook. As a further aid to his travels he bought a bicycle, and then had to learn to ride it

Shortly before Christmas he acquired a new fiancee, one from the Anglican fold. She was a young widow who had formerly lived at Busselton, but was now back with her parents who owned two farming properties. Their main one was on the road between Bunbury and Capel, but she was staying at the other when the pair first met; it was called Golden Valley, and just south of Balingup The romance that began in August 1897 was later enshrined in another literary vignette:

Once a month I preached there (at Balingup) on the Sunday morning, and the number of my congregation depended on how many I had been able to see on the previous Saturday. There was no one who could play hymns on the hall piano, and the singing at the service depended on how I felt. But one morning there was a strange lady with a flaxen-haired little girl at church, and that morning the singing was all right.


She spoke to me after the service; had heard of me by the hearing of the ear, and this was her first opportunity of coming to where I was preaching. She invited me to dine with her, and as the place of her abode was a mile or so on the way to my next preaching place, I accepted.

I hung the bridle rein over my arm and, leading Nicodemus, we walked along the shaded ironstone gravel of the Bridgetown Road. The little girl took my hand as if she owned me, and after a while consented to be carried.

When one has to preach three times on Sunday at widely different places, and travel the distances between per horse, there is not much leisure for talk, but when the lady and I parted on that Sunday we knew enough of each other’s domestic history to muse over its curious resemblance.

Susan Sophia was the second daughter — there were seven — of Charles Fox Roberts, of Stratham Park. After several years’ courtship, she married George Rosselotty, of Busselton, and set up housekeeping in that town with every prospect of living happy ever after. The match was a love match of the first magnitude; they married with the virgin heart, belonged to well-known and respected families in comfortable circumstances, and Rosselotty had an occupation that was likely to yield a competency for his family. And suddenly that happiness came to an end. Riding home from Stratham one day, Rosselotty's horse bolted, and running him against the overhanging limb of a tuart tree, killed him on the spot.

After eighteen months of happy married life, I had buried my love and migrated to West Australia, a broken-hearted man. Mrs Rosselotty was left with a little girl; I had left a baby boy with my wife’s sister.

When Mrs Rosselotty and I met, time had exerted its healing influence on us, but the scars remained. Our common grief and analogous situation naturally drew us together, and our geographical positions began to coincide regularly and frequently. Stratham Park, Golden Valley and Busselton were all in my beat. At each of those places we were liable to meet, and we usually did. I made my own preaching appointments, and where Mrs Rosselotty travelled with her sulky, I inevitably followed with Nicodemus.

On 28th February 1898 John Beukers married his Susie at the new Congregational Church in Bunbury and they had a few days’ honeymoon at Golden Valley. Before long they moved into a rented house in Donnybrook, and the new household had the benefit of a ready supply of fresh milk when Susie brought along one of her cows from her father’s farm. Susie’s daughter Sylvia was five years of age and had just started school.

The early domestic bliss was short-lived however. Only six weeks after their wedding, the pair were united in grief when their little Sylvia contracted diphtheria and died. They buried the child at Busselton beside her father.

Meanwhile, in the early months of 1898, Beukers was busy attending to the building of the small mission hall in Donnybrook which he had the satisfaction


of opening for services on 22nd May. it appeared that Bridgetown would shortly follow suit, for his supporters there were also taking up subscriptions for a new church. However, at this stage, the Wesleyans stepped in and placed a minister of their own at Bridgetown, who soon became the shepherd of very much the same flock as Beukers had been tending. Then the Anglicans of Donnybrook began raising funds to obtain a resident curate, and Beukers realised that this development would deplete his own congregation at base. He was philosophical about the new competition, but confided to his diary that it was not so pleasant to be a waning star. Seeking to make the best of the situation, the missioner therefore set his eyes upon the western horizon and took steps to improve the means of transport at his disposal. In a short time he succeeded in breaking Nicodemus into pulling a sulky, and recorded in his diary on 15th July:

Ned is a beauty in the sulky. I need but to say go and he goeth; only he has yet to learn that a sulky is different from a saddle. He has been used to jumping. He would have jumped a rail but Sue held him. She could not prevent him from jumping a creek though.

Busselton at the Turn of the Century

The objective westward was Busselton, and in September 1898 Jack and Susie Beukers drove there for a few days' visit to scout the possibilities of working up a congregation in the seaside town she knew so well. Beukers made another visit in November together with the chairman of the Union, Kench, and they agreed as to its good potential. The Congregationalists already owned the shell of a building there, a simple structure dating from 1872 when Buchanan was moving about at fullest vigour in his ministry. But it had fallen into disrepair and was without floor, ceiling, windows or doors!

As soon as the old chapel was renovated adequately, Beukers came and held services in it every second Sunday. Then in April 1899 he secured a house and brought along his growing family. Just then the family numbered three again, for in January he had made a quick trip to Adelaide and brought back his three-year-old son Freddie. It expanded to four on 25th May when Susie presented him with another son whom they named Friso.

In general, their two and a half years’ stay at Busselton must have been quite agreeable. Once again Susie was close to her eldest sister Clara (Mrs Willie Bovell), and she remained on friendly terms with her first husband’s people, the Rosselottys and the Guerriers. John Beukers doubtless enjoyed being in a port town again and inspecting the numerous vessels that tied up at the long jetty.

Building up a Sunday school, a small choir and a weekly Bible class, he soon had the full round of church activities going reasonably smoothly, and he regularly gave religious instruction at the school. On Sundays he held services both morning and evening at Busselton, and travelled out for a mid-afternoon service alternatively at Newtown to the west and Capel to the east. Occasionally he managed weekday services as far away as Jarrahwood and the Upper Capel,


but he was obliged to let go the work at Donnybrook and in 1900 the mission hall there was sold to the Anglicans. He was able to get on with his own studies for the ministry and sat for periodic examinations when he went up to Perth for the meetings of the Congregational Union. In 1899 he was licensed to celebrate marriages.

Sociable by nature, the pastor also took part in the broader life of the community. Having first joined it at Bunbury, he attended the meetings of the Loyal Orange Lodge, and he was also initiated into the Druids’ Lodge. He patronised certain types of public entertainments, though often disappointed with their standard, and he dutifully attended numerous valedictory gatherings when families left the town. While not enamoured of organised sport, he played a little cricket. He opposed any relaxation of the liquor and gaming laws and expounded his views at length in the press. He felt his most successful work at Busselton was the founding of a branch of the Band of Hope, the temperance association that encouraged young people to take the pledge and band together for wholesome social gatherings unbedevilled by liquor.

Perhaps most of all Beukers relished the occasional excursion along primitive bush roads to the remoter farms and settlements, for which the spur was a visit by luminaries of his own denomination who themselves welcomed a congenial guide. Thus with Kench in November 1898 he drove down to the new lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin, and then wrote lyrically about the karri forest, the wildflowers, the sandhills and the coastline. In the two or three hours they spent with the keepers of the flame, he no doubt described the perils of the sea from first-hand experience. But he sensed that visitors were not so welcome when they called in at Karridale, where, as he wrote, the timber company provided a living for about 800 people and held a most exclusive monopoly of everything and everybody in its vast domain.

A year later he was accompanied by his counterpart at Fremantle, Turton, on a drive via Donnybrook and Golden Valley to Greenbushes, of which he wrote:

A town has sprung up here in the last nine months and I hardly knew the place. Mr Turton inspected one mine in which he is interested and we watched them streaming some tin. Had dinner in a very dubious place.

The spectacular limestone caves that were being opened up were the main objective when Beukers took two representatives of the London Missionary Society to the Margaret River in September 1900, and he reported the visitors entranced with the whole area.

In April 1901 he went directly south — through dense forest to Darradup, the farm of the Longbottom family on the Blackwood River. This time the need to inspect a new school building there gave him the company of Hillson Beasley, deputy to the Government’s Chief Architect and chairman-elect of the Congregational Union. Susie’s eldest brother, William, had married Mary Longbottom and the couple were shortly to settle nearby with a numerous


progeny who were to account for a good proportion of the tiny school’s enrolment

His wife and children sometimes accompanied the pastor on his fortnightly visits to Newtown for Sunday afternoon service and there were other places within easy range that provided them with enjoyable excursions from time to time. In March 1899 they took a day’s circuitous drive through the Naturaliste peninsula and down to Yallingup, where they were the overnight guests of James Forrest and family at their farm, Thornhill. The very same week they went twelve miles eastward of Busselton to visit the other, unrelated, James Forrest, brother of the Premier, at his property, Sea View. The latter’s daughter Rose had married Susie’s brother Herbert the year before. A fortnight later they joined the rest of the family at Bunbury to see Susie’s sister Emily united in marriage with Melville Tuckey. The Beukers buggy negotiated some of the rougher bush roads on Easter Monday of 1901 when it took its occupants to Worangup, the home of Mr and Mrs Nathaniel Abbey on the coast near Cape Clairault. Their three days’ stay there fulfilled a long-standing invitation from the aunt (Adela) of Susie’s first husband.

In a district rich in scenic interest, the clerical pen captured many a pleasing detail:

7th June 1899:1 drove out today with Matthews to the old Ballarat mill near Lockeville. We saw an immense heap of jarrah sawdust there, the last barrowful of which was brought to it thirty years ago, and yet it looks as if only sawn yesterday.

Having escorted a visitor to her sister’s home nine miles down the old Augusta road, the diarist noted on 15th January 1900 that their outing took them

... driving by the butter factory, Fairlawn, Mr Slater’s farm, and across the head of the Vasse River, an insignificant gutter. Slater's farm, with its beautifully laid out plots, thriving cattle and trim fences, was an Eden...

Besides everyday church and domestic matters, the Beukers diary chronicled various public events and local happenings.

5th June 1899: Mr John Bovell tumbled between jetty and steamer last night and was seriously hurt.

6th June: Bovell has been hovering betwixt life and death today. Drs Flynn and Hungerford gave him up.

7th June: Bovell died early this morning. As he is mayor, a son of one of the oldest residents, steamship agent, churchwarden, member of the Druids, etc., he will be much missed. His own people are very much cut up

The grieving family included Susie’s brother-in-law, Willie, brother of the deceased and himself to meet an early death three years later.

Different forms of entertainment frequently enlivened the township of an evening, but some of them failed to win the reverend diarist's full endorsement.


The Roberts family, Busselton, 1899. Left to right, standing: Jane and Frank, Herbert and Rose, Capel, Clara and William Bovell, Edith Chapman, Susan and John Beukers, Emily and Melville Tuckey. Seated: William, Charles and Hannah. On ground: Basil (Bon), Ilma and Grace.


7th July 1899: A school concert was given in the Weld Institute tonight to which I went The children performed very well. A couple of women wore low dresses to my great disgust.

13th July 1899: The Mohawk Minstrels gave a benefit performance tonight and I went to see what it was like but Oh dear, the show was wretched. There were some good things. But on the whole it was decidedly tenth rate and it grieves me to think that people enjoy that sort of thing. The only redeeming feature about it is that the money is for someone who is sorely in need of it

14th September 1899: The Druids are having a grand ball this night Again and again people have asked me why I do not go. They don’t seem to see anything incongruous in a minister at a ball. However I have taken my stand on the subject and intend to hold to it

For Mrs Beukers and all her own people the annual agricultural shows at Bunbury and Busselton were always the hghlights of their social calendar, and were probably of at least passing interest to the dutiful husband:

30th November 1899: Today was Busselton Show, and the whole of the Roberts family came to town. Of course I walked with the crowd around the showground, came home dog-tired, and then went to the Agricultural Concert in the evening, and such a concert! In addition to shows and sports there is a sort of circus also in the town.

As usual, Susie’s father entered a number of exhibits in the show and won prizes for his shorthorn cows, a bull, and for his barley and oats, Next day eighteen people put on their Sunday best again, and assembled for the camera:

1st December 1899: We had the whole group of the Roberts's photographed this afternoon. All Mr Roberts’ children were there and their respective helpmeets except two.

At this stage, of the eleven children of Charles and Hannah Roberts, the First three of four sons and the first four of seven daughters had partners in marriage. The only absentees from the gathering were Edie’s husband, Jack Chapman, and William's wife, Mary. The Chapmans lived at Northam, and the Tuckeys at Mandurah, but all the others were resident then either at Stratham, or at Busselton, or on farms between the two.


The tense situation in South Africa was followed ardently by both the Dutch-bom pastor and the belligerent Australians amidst whom he was cast War clouds were looming on the western shores of the ocean outside when the Weld Institute accommodated a large audience come to hear Beukers speak on a wet and stormy night on the subject of the Transvaal crisis. Held in aid of church funds, his lecture was supplemented by some slides that Kench sent him from Perth to show on the magic lantern. The diary captured this occasion and subsequently some notable events in the war that followed:

6th Octotober 1899: Though I certainly did not give the popular side of the question, 1 carried my audience with me from start to finish, a vote of thanks being given me and great satisfaction expressed as to my statement of the case. Gathered £22.6.

1st March 1900: It is rumoured that Ladysmith has been relieved. If this war does not end soon, some in our town will require straightjackets, they are so excited over it

21st May 1900: A great patriotic demonstration was held today to celebrate the relief of Mafeking. A procession marched around the town, and some toasts were drunk at Bovell’s. I walked with the Rev. Wilson behind the Town Goundi in the procession and was the second speaker at the meeting. Made a decided hit with my speech, being very much congratulated.

Contemporaneously the burning political question at home was whether Western Australia should be a founding member of the Commonwealth of Australia, a prospect distasteful to the old Sandgropers of the deep South-West However, in the colony as a whole, the native-born voters were now outnumbered by t'othersiders who favoured union, and they included the Clitlander at Busseiton:

25th July 1900: Messrs Locke and Harper gave an address against Federation this evening in the Weld. Wretched speaking, duller than the dullest preacher 1 ever heard, and execrable argument But Busseiton swallows it all.

30th July 1900: Everybody is in great excitement as to whether Federation will be decided on tomorrow or not... Busseiton will go nearly solid against it

31st July 1900: Today West Australia has by an overwhelming majority decided for Federation. Great excitement was prevalent even in our little town. Although the weather was very unfavourable, the rain coming down in sheets, floods and torrents, everybody went to the poll.

Developments at the main out-centres put a strain on interdenominational relations at this time. At Capel the pastor was disappointed to find that numbers were falling in his congregation, and noted after a service there on 12th August 1900: The Capel is afflicted with Seventh Day Adventism and Mrs McTaggart now does her ironing on Sunday.' Out at Newtown a dispute arose with the local Anglicans over the right to use the organ which had been installed in the hall some time before In general Beukers managed to work harmoniously alongside


the rector of Busseiton, the only other cleric in the town, but Romish tendencies evidently sparked the Friesian in him when he wrote on 15th September the same year, ‘I heard today that candles are about to be introduced in the Anglican church.’

Towards the end of his second year there, Busseiton shared some momentous occasions with the wider world, and due note of them was made by the avid diarist. Firstly there was the simultaneous start of the twentieth century and of the Commonwealth of Australia, and then within a month the sense of passing from one great era to another was heightened by the death of their much revered sovereign.

31st December 1900: It is certainly a novel sensation to stand on the threshhold of a new century... We held a watch night service and a good few were present, among them no less than 12 who were strangers to Busseiton, also two members of a visiting opera company and two of Busselton’s publicans.

1st January 1901: The new year and the new century has begun, and the Australian Commonwealth has duly been inaugurated in Busseiton by a procession headed by brass band, singing of National Anthem, and numerous sports and refreshments for the children.

23rd January 1901: News came to Busseiton this morning of the death of Queen Victoria. We made arrangements straightway to hold a memorial service on Sunday next

27th January 1901: We had splendid services both morning and evening. Tonight the church was crowded, singing and everything went beautiful. The Maiioo was in loading timber. Some of our people had to work, but a number of passengers came to the church.

Three months later the citizenry cast their votes in the first parliamentary elections held after the colony became a state within a new nation:

24th April 1901: Excitement re the elections ran high today. Everybody went to the poll. Even Susie exercised her newly acquired franchise... Mr H J. Yelverton was elected for Sussex with a majority of 49 votes.

An instance of slackness in the realm of local commerce earned a little barb from the private pen at this point

26th April 1901: Eighteen months ago I gave Mr Woods a picture to frame. He brought it to me this evening. If this is Busselton’s pace of doing work, it is no wonder the town is behind.

The comment was possibly a reflection of Beukers’ growing eagerness for a change of scene after four years in the outposts of the South-West He liked Busseiton well enough, he said, but it seemed to be going downhill as far as the local economy was concerned. Whereas he could scarcely find a home to rent when they first took up residence there, a year later, on 26th January 1900,


he counted no less than thirteen houses empty. One after another, several people who had been his most loyal supporters left the town to take or seek work elsewhere. It was a constant struggle to maintain the attendances at his services, let alone to increase them as he dearly wished. Inevitably, as time went on, there were minor squabbles and personality clashes to contend with in a small town; something of the kind must have been the reason that Brother Beukers withdrew from the Orange Lodge.

The family lived in reasonable comfort, but had to watch the pennies carefully. They kept a cow and a vegetable garden, and Beukers made a little money by tutoring a few boys in Mathematics. Apart from his treasured books, his own chief indulgence was the tobacco for his pipe. They were able to employ domestic help when Susie needed it Yet the clerical stipend barely covered basic expenses, and they would have been faced with debt but for Susie's supplementary resources. Thus early in 1900 she sold four of the cows she had running in her father's paddocks for eight or nine pounds each. Shortly afterwards there was a very helpful legacy when Rosselotty relatives in England left her some £350.

The windfall from abroad prompted Beukers to apply to the Union for leave of absence and enabled him to take his family to Adelaide in November 1900 for a visit that lasted six weeks. While there, he accepted a number of invitations to preach and intimated his interest should a vacant pastorate be offering. His hopes were fulfilled the following year. Firstly though, he was seven months back at his post in Busselton when the Union asked him to go to Kalgoorlie for a month as locum. He accepted with some reluctance as it meant leaving Susie behind and very much pregnant. A week after returning from the Goldfields, he received the call from South Australia and immediately wired his acceptance.

Four days later Susie gave birth to twin daughters at their Busselton manse, the first at 5a.m. and, after a very bad time of it, the second at 5 pm. Next day, Sunday, the proud father observed good attendances at church, and wrote, ‘I am getting congratulated everywhere and to most of the married men I reply: Go thou and do likewise.' The elder twin received the names Grietje Wilhelmina Christian, and the younger Christian Wilhelmina Grietje. They owed their middle name to the fact that they were born on 31st August, the birthday of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who was twenty-one that year. Grietje was the name of their paternal grandmother; Christian was always known as Kin.

Seven weeks later, on 20th October, Beukers conducted his last services at Busselton, and the same night at 11 pm. boarded the ship Woolotura, together with wife, four children, and a young lady whom they engaged as help A good crowd saw them off, and as the diary further recorded, ‘Nicodemus was slung on board and behaved very well.'

Beukers thus completed five years of devoted service to his chosen church in Western Australia’s Lower South-West. The move he made from Donnybrook to Busselton early in 1899 may well have been of his own choosing and further urged by a grieving wife. But it is also possible that the leaders of the Methodist


and Congregational churches were consciously endorsing a mutually beneficial arrangement for an efficient deployment of limited resources, and one that was to last nearly eighty years. While most adherents of the ‘free’ churches of mainstream Christianity gathered under the banner of Methodism at Donnyforook and throughout the Nelson and Warren districts, they likewise rallied under Congregationalism without wasteful competition at Busselton and in the Sussex district generally. Eventually, in 1977, the two denominations merged into the Uniting Church of Australia, and by this time Busselton had acquired its fine Bryant Memorial Church in place of the simple chapel of 1872. John Beukers has a well-deserved place of honour as the first in a long line of resident pastors of a vigorous parish.

A Ministry in Four States, 1901-1941

Limitations of space allow only the barest outline here of the remainder — the greater part — of Beukers’ life. The necessary studies and examinations accomplished, he was duly ordained to the ministry in 1902 and shortly afterwards he was naturalised a British subject In seven years in Adelaide, he served firstly at Kilkenny for four years and then at Port Adelaide, his point of landfall and precipitate immigration in 1888. The family increased with the birth of another daughter, Eunice, in 1905, but was reduced again tragically in 1910 when the fifteen-year-old Fred was killed by another boy in play with a gun. This grim event brought a further parallel in the lives of the widow and widower who had married in 1898; she had subsequently lost the daughter of her first marriage, and now he the son of his.

By that time they were back in Western Australia, for Beukers’ next appointment was to Kalgoorlie, and this time they were to stay in the state a total of ten years. In his four years on the Goldfields, from August 1908, he made a name for himself by firmly confronting a number of social issues. In doing so he made good use of the local press, particularly The Westralian Worker, which began its long career at Kalgoorlie and whose editor, James Keaughran, was a deacon of his church. With the encouragement of Keaughran and of Kench in Perth, he further developed his talent for writing and contributed numerous articles to church periodicals in Perth, the Eastern States and Britain. He also worked on his two autobiographical books, and these came off the press soon after he moved to the city in August 1912. For the next two and a half years he ministered jointly to the Congregational churches at Victoria Park and Burswood, as Rivervale was then called; he also instituted regular services at East Victoria Park, then known as Bickford Park. Not surprisingly, residence close to the city's centre led to his willing involvement in editorial work for his denomination’s monthly organ, The Western Congregationalist. He was also elected a member of the church’s state executive.

The production of a bimonthly parochial magazine called The Drill of the Foothills was a noteworthy feature of Beukers’ next pastorate which, from March 1915, was centred on Armadale. As at Busselton, it was a ministry to several


congregations in a semi-rural setting, but this time the grim realities of a distant war impinged much more sharply on the lives of his parishioners and clouded the pages of The Drill. A skirmish with his flock at Kelmscott caused him to resign in June 1918 — unfortunately just when he had become chairman-elect of the Congregational Union. He decided to head east again.

In the next twenty-three years, Beukers held four different posts in three other states. For the first two years he laboured at Kurri Kurri amongst the Bolsheviks, as he called them, of the Maitland coalfield in New South Wales. From 1920 to 1924, under the aegis of the Congregational Union of Victoria, he served again as a roving missioner in the backblocks of that state. From 1924 to 1932 he was at Barmera on the Upper Murray in South Australia, and it was while stationed there that his wife Susie died in 1928, aged sixty. In 1934 he was married, for a third time, to Ida Tavener, a widow. His final post was Coomandook (with Coonalpyn and Ki Ki) in the arid region south-east of Adelaide and on the railway and highway linking that city with Melbourne. There he produced his last literary efforts in an attractive parish magazine which began in 1937 called The King's Writ on the Duke’s Highway. Its pages too came to be darkened by another horrible war, in which the editor’s native land was overrun by the enemy and which took his son Friso into the Royal Australian Navy.

Still in harness, John Beukers died suddenly at Coomandook on 2nd May 1941, six weeks short of completing his seventy-fourth year.


Beukers’ diaries (189M912) and publications are held by his granddaughter in Queensland, but will eventually go to an appropriate repository in Adelaide. Photocopies of the diaries covering his time in Western Australia have also been lodged with the State Archives (Acc. 3407A; MM 1125).

Copies of his autobiographical books are held in the Society’s library at Stirling House and in the Battye Library; the latter also holds a full run of the periodical The Drill to the Foothills, 1915-18.

Garry Gillard | New: 13 October, 2021 | Now: 13 October, 2021