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à Beckett, Thomas Turner (1808–1892)

Thomas Turner à Beckett, 1892

Thomas Turner à Beckett, 1892

State Library of Victoria, IAN01/08/92/9

Mr. Thomas Turner A'Beckett died yesterday at his residence, Brighton-lodge, Brighton, after an illness of only three days. He was attended during his last illness by his son, Dr. W. G. A'Beckett, of Wellington street, St. Kilda, but medical skill was powerless to stave off death, which was due to failure of the heart's action, caused by old age. The funeral will take place on Monday next, the 4th inst. The deceased gentleman was in his 84th year, and had lived a great part of his life in Victoria.

The father of the subject of our memoir was a solicitor in London, and one of the promoters of the English Law Society. Mr. T. T. A'Beckett had several brothers and sisters. One brother was Sir W. A'Beckett, first Chief Justice of Victoria; another was Mr. Gilbert A'Beckett, author of the Comic History of England, the Comic Blackstone, and several similar works. He was also one of the originators of London Punch, being associated in the conduct of that journal with Douglas Jerrold, Thackeray, and Leech. Mr. T. T. A'Beckett, who was the second son, survived all his brothers and sisters. He was born in London on September 13, 1808, and educated at Westminster School. Having entered his father's profession, he secured a good practice in England, but he determined to try his fortunes in this country, in which his brother, the Chief Justice, had settled. He arrived here in 1851, and in the following year he entered the old Legislative Council as a nominee member. He speedily acquired a very good legal practice, and in 1854 he was appointed registrar of the Church of England in the diocese of Melbourne, which office he held until 1887. Very soon after he took that position, however, he ceased to actively follow his profession. When the new constitution came into force in 1856, he stood for the Central Province of the Legislative Council, and was defeated. He was likewise unsuccessful in an effort to secure a seat for Collingwood in the Lower House. At last he was, in 1858, elected for the Central Province, and he held the sent until 1878, when he retired by rotation. He never afterwards sought a seat in Parliament. In 1861 he represented the Heales Government in the Council without office; and in April, 1870, he became Commissioner of Customs in the third McCulloch Government, whose term of office was 14 months.

When the late Mr. Fellows (then in the Upper House) moved the rejection of the Appropriation Bill of 1867, on the ground that it included a grant of £20,000 to Lady Darling, Mr. A'Beckett was one of the very small minority of the Chamber which supported the bill. His idea, which he ever afterwards maintained, was that the Council could not constitutionally amend or reject Appropriation Bills, and that in effect the Assembly was supreme in money matters. Throughout the disputes of those days between the two Houses he sided with the majority in the Assembly rather than in the Chamber in which he held a seat. In July, 1874, during the agitation for reform initiated by the Francis Government, Mr. A’Beckett submitted a motion referring the reform question to a select committee. He explained that he thought the Council ought to be numerically strengthened, that the basis of representation ought to be enlarged, and that the property qualification for members ought to be reduced. He, was, however, still opposed to any curtailment of the tenure of seats. The committee was appointed and drew up a report, which had no direct effect. During the conflict between the two Houses that Mr. (now Sir Graham) Berry started in 1875, Mr. A'Beckett lent some aid to the Berry Government.

On the subject of state aid to religion Mr. A'Beckett had, during a series of years, many opportunities of ventilating his views. In the old Legislative Council he voted against a proportion of the grant-in-aid of public worship being given to the Jews, and against the abolition of state aid to religion. On several subsequent occasions he opposed the stoppage of the grant, but in 1870 it fell to his lot, as a member of the Government of the day, to take charge of the bill which put an end to state aid. He stated then that he was still favourable to the principle of the grant, but could not ignore the fact that a very large number of his fellow colonists were then, and always had been, opposed to it.

With regard to other questions, Mr. A'Beckett always objected to the system of land alienation by selection adopted by the colony. The existing Education Act was vehemently opposed by him. He supported the principle of payment of members of both Houses, and the original Land Tax Bill, and was opposed to the introduction of the ballot in the early days, and the amalgamation of the two branches of the legal profession. In Parliament, he was a frequent but concise speaker. He left the colony in 1865, and remained in England until 1886, when he returned to Melbourne.

Apart from his political career, Mr. A'Beckett will be best remembered for the prominent part which he took in the formation and administration of the Hobson's Bay Railway Company. He was one of the original promoters of the company; and as its chairman, a position which he held from its formation until the lines were finally taken over by Parliament, he devoted himself with enthusiasm to the administration of the company. It was in this position that his individuality asserted itself most, and he fulfilled its duties in a most successful manner. He was also a member of the Civil Service Commission which was appointed in 1858 and which furnished the Government of the day with a valuable report on the state of the service. He was a member of the Council of the Melbourne University for 18 years, and as registrar of the diocese of Melbourne he was accustomed to take a prominent part in the proceedings of the Church of England Assembly, and will be long remembered for his generous liberality in connection with the church. Mr. Justice A'Beckett, Dr. W. G. A'Beckett, and Mr. Edward A'Beckett are sons of the deceased, who has also left two daughters. His loss will be deeply regretted by the many friends to whom he had endeared himself by his sterling personal qualities and kindly disposition.

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'à Beckett, Thomas Turner (1808–1892)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/a-beckett-thomas-turner-2861/text24085, accessed 24 November 2017.

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