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Brian Charles Besley (1836–1894)

Mr. Besley was born at Crowell, Oxfordshire, England, in December, 1836. He was the youngest son of the late Mr. James Besley, who died two years later. He was educated at St. Mary's College, Woolhampton, Berks. In May, 1851, the family having met with reverses, Mrs. Besley sold her property, and with her children came to Australia, landing at Adelaide in the following August. The gold discoveries in Victoria had at that time almost paralysed South Australia by drawing away the population, and the Besley brothers, leaving their mother and sisters in Adelaide in 1852, started overland for Bendigo, where for two years they energetically, but without signal success dug for gold. Returning to Adelaide in 1854, like a number of other young Englishmen of education and adventurous spirit, who at that time looked in vain for openings for their energies which did not demand the possession of capital, Brian C. Besley in 1854 joined the Mounted Police Force, in which his education, physical advantages, brilliant horsemanship, and admirable coolness, and judgment seemed to offer chances of swift promotion. His reliability, zeal, and steadiness were soon recognised by his superior officers, and in 1855 he was despatched with others to Overland Corner on the Murray to found a Police Station. The blacks were very troublesome and aggressive there, and horse stealing was a flourishing industry in South Australia, the outlet of the booty being the Murray and Darling routes. The success with which he carried out his mission was so signal that in 1857 he was offered by the Police Commissioner of the Darling districts of New South Wales the rank of Lieutenant in the police force of that colony, an offer which by the advice of Colonel Warburton, then Commissioner of Police in South Australia, he declined. He was then only lance-corporal. The same year he received his grade as corporal, and had associated with him at Overland Corner another young man of ability and energy, who ere long, however, became convinced that promotion in the police force was too slow a process. This young man is now Sir Jenkins Coles, Speaker of the House of Assembly. In 1864 he was promoted to Wallaroo, and to the rank of sergeant in 1867, and with great discretion and ability managed police affairs there during the troubled times of the great "copper strike." Removed next to the South-Eastern districts, Mr. Besley at Mount Gambier, in addition to his police duties filled the posts of Inspector of Public Houses and Crown Lands Ranger without pay, and finding the promotion by seniority severely handicapped by the introduction of commissioned officers from outside the colony, in 1874 he addressed a letter to the then Commissioner of Police setting forth his claims. He was subsequently transferred from Mount Gambier to Narracoorte, and raised to the rank of Sub-Inspector. In 1881 he was promoted to the rank of Inspector, and placed in charge of the Northern Police District, his station being Melrose; but two years later he removed to Port Augusta as a more suitable centre, where he resided until his illness, administering the police affairs of the largest district in Australia, extending from the Barrier border to Port Lincoln on the west coast, and from Petersburg North to within the Northern Territory boundary and north-east to the Queensland Border. Inspector Besley's intimate acquaintance with all the phases of bush life, and the study he had from the beginning of his Australian career devoted to the natives of the country, their language, customs, habits, and modes of thought and life, peculiarly qualified him for the post of Sub-Protector of Aborigines, which he held for the last eight or nine years, and in respect to which he snowed untiring zeal, thoughtfulness, and kind heartedness.

Probably no officer in the public service was more well and widely known and personally liked and esteemed by all classes of men in the colony and in the force. Though a strict disciplinarian, his kindness and consideration were such that he was warmly beloved by the men under him, who thoroughly understood that while expected to perform their duty to the smallest particular, harshness either in word or act was utterly foreign to his nature. Knowing himself to the full the nature and extent of their work, and the difficulties they had to contend against, he could and would discriminate between an error and a neglect of duty; and that when a penalty of any kind was necessary he was always on the side of mercy.

Though of striking physique, great endurance, and muscular power, Inspector Besley had a weak physical spot–a delicate stomach–which suffered severely from the long abstinence from food, and the unsuitable and ill cooked fare in the course of his long journeys in the interior necessitated by his duties. He retained, however, singular vigour, until in 1889 he was dispatched on camel back to Central Australia to investigate, with two other Government representatives, the state of affairs at the Finke River Mission. On the journey he suffered so severely that a less resolute man would have abandoned the expedition; but he persevered, and though he recovered in a measure, he was never again in the full possession of health. He was treated for chronic gastritis, but hemorrhage of the stomach occurred on March 18, and it was then ascertained that he was suffering from cancer of a most malignant type. Inspector Besley married Mary Annie Harvie, youngest daughter of the late John Harvey, of Northfield, near Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, and leaves three sons and five daughters. His sons are the firm of B. C. Besley and Co., of Broken Hill and Menindie, the well-known stock and station agents. Inspector Besley leaves one surviving brother, Mr. John Besley, of Mount Gambier, and one sister, Mrs. Gline, of Mitcham. Sergeant Field, of the Mounted Force, was a brother-in-law of the deceased gentleman.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Besley, Brian Charles (1836–1894)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


December, 1836
Crowell, Oxfordshire, England


8 May, 1894 (aged 57)
Port Augusta, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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