Willoughby Bean was baptised at St Mary Abbots Church, Kensington, in 1801. The son of Willoughby and Elizabeth, he had ten siblings, Elizabeth, Harriet, John, Charlotte, Henry, Henrietta, Alexander, Anne, Susan and Maria. Their father, a major in the Coldstream Guards had been capture by the French in the Napoleonic wars and was forced to sit out the remainder of the war, in the company of his family, at Amboise in France.

The family returned to England where Bean completed his education but, at the age of twenty-two he emigrated to Australia on the ship the Courier. Provision had been made for Bean’s future success when, in May 1823, his name had been written in the Colonial Secretaries Notices of the Institution to Issue Deeds. There it was stated that he would receive some two thousand acres of land in Brisbane Water. This was followed by a letter dated 7 June 1823, sent on Bean’s behalf to the government of New South Wales, recommending that he be considered a free settler, and he be provided with a grant of land upon his arrival for cultivation. His land would be held in Brisbane Water:

‘…a line west one hundred and forty five chains fifty links to the North East…of Weavers farm commencing at Tarragut Lagoon, and a continued West line eight nine chains fifty links of Weavers North Boundary; on the West by a line North eighty chains; on the North by a line East to the sea coast, and on all other sides by the sea coast.’

Bean arrived in Sydney in early 1824 and immediately began his work and in the February he made a request for the use of a number of convicts to work on his settlement and undertake its cultivation. Having become a successful landowner and farmer, Bean was appointed the first Police Magistrate in Gosford, a position he held for the next five years, and one which would have given Bean prestige, power and wealth within the community. As Police Magistrate, his primary responsibilities required him ‘to sit on a bench listening to, and adjudicating upon, the numerous cases brought before him by the extraordinary litigious settlers of Brisbane Water.’ (The Brisbane Water Case 1837-1838, Gosford District Local History Study Group, 1989). The role was a ‘difficult office that he handled without help [and] he kept registers and wrote all his own official correspondence.’ (ibid)

Bean had become a figure of some local importance and in 1828 he joined the Australian Social Lodge, the third of the Masonic Lodges originally founded in Sydney in 1816. By the time of Bean’s initiation, the Lodge had a membership of around ninety which included individuals variously involved in the military, in commerce, banking, architecture, medicine and politics, for example.

Bean’s membership was a reflection of his standing and the position he maintained as Police Magistrate and, although some of its members had originally been sent to Australia as convicts, they had become well-to-do individuals, entrepreneurs and businessmen. Bean’s duties as Police magistrate kept him busy and many of the settlers’ disputes revolved around the primary source of local income, namely cattle, be that the ownership of, the dealing in, the stealing of, or the grazing rights of their owners. The lack of definitive boundaries and vast rural areas with little oversight made and the large number of convicts employed on the land, made for an environment geared towards widespread illegal activity.

Ironically, Bean himself was caught up in the middle of one such case and in 1837-1838 he was accused of the very felony he had previously sought to resolve for others. Bean had resigned from his services as Police Magistrate in 1831 due to bankruptcy, in part due to the responsibilities of his post having forced him to neglect his own interests. Having sold his own lands, he subsequently managed the lands of non-residents on their behalf. By 1837 Bean had legitimately brought himself a herd of cattle but he, along with a number of ‘accomplices’ was accused of cattle stealing. Bean was a bankrupt and his fellow accused were noted as being ‘riddled with mortgage debts, very difficult, mad and perverse trouble makers’ (ibid). The primary charge made against Bean and his fellow defendants in one of the ‘The Brisbane Water Cases’ of 1837-38 was that of the slaughter of a single ‘aged, nondescript, one-eyed cow’ named Blindberry that grazed the unfenced open paddocks of Tuggerah Beach Lake. The ownership of the cow was in dispute and it had been slaughtered by one Henry Donnison, who had bought it from John Moore, whose herd had originally been bought from Bean.

In spite of the fact that the three accused belonged to the local gentry, Bean, Donnison and Moore were enchained and jailed by the new Police Magistrate, Alured Tasker Faunce. The men were sent to Sydney Jail on 27 Jan 1837 to await their trial at which, a week later, all three were acquitted and discharged without reprimand. It would seem that the whole case had been a means by which Governor Bourke could demonstrate his intent to clean up the district and to expose corrupt magistrates. Bean, however, both as a magistrate and an individual, was noted as being a ‘respected man of integrity’ (ibid).

In July 1838 Bean married Harriet Battley, daughter of Lt. Col. William Battley of the 60th Rifles and brother to Thomas Cade Battley, an early settler of New South Wales. Once the court case was over, Bean left the district and moved to Banks Meadow to farm but he once again became bankrupt and in 1844 he left Australia and headed for Britain with his wife and two children, Harriet and Willoughby. Upon reaching Britain, Bean studied for Holy Orders at St David’s College, Lampeter. He arrived into the college in October 1844 and left nearly three years later in June of 1847. His third child, Henry, was born in Lampeter in May 1847.

Having been ordained in London, in October 1847 the family returned to Australia, arriving in Port Phillip in January 1848. Willoughby was ordained a deacon at St James Church of England, Melbourne and posted to Williamstown, but was soon given a new commission which he undertook immediately. Bean was to travel to Gippisland, which could then only be reached by boat. He and his young family set sail in November 1848 in a small vessel named the Colina. Bean noted that the ‘twenty-one souls aboard…were pressed into a space less than my family and I occupied on the Stag from England’ [but] ‘after a dreadfully uncomfortable night…offensive from the smell of bilge water they headed up the coast at a good speed.’ However, the next morning he found they were ‘driving behind a terrible gale with such thick mist and gusty rain that we could scarcely see from end to end of the vessel.’ The storm lasted another nine days, during which time the anchors were lost and the ship nearly wrecked. Arriving at Gippisland, between the townships of Alberton and Tarraville, Bean established a church, a school and a parsonage.

Bean was the first permanent Anglican Minister of Gippisland and he worked there for the next ten years. After leaving the parsonage in 1859 Bean took up the position as Incumbent Minister of the district of Tarraville and, in 1862, he was appointed Officiating Minister in the district of Inverleigh, a post he held until 1867. Bean was then appointed Chaplain at the Victoria Lunatic Asylum where he ministered for the next eight years. He died in 1877 in Victoria, at the age of seventy-six.

He was described by one who knew him as ‘strongly-built, below average height, careful and methodical, humble-minded but not a great orator. A man of culture, he was considered by Bishop Perry to be the best Greek Scholar in the diocese, and with his French background, he was quite able to conduct a service in French including the sermon…Bean was known to have a liking for brandy, port and curries, and long after the Oyster beds had gone from Port Albert, it was said that Parson Bean knew where to get himself a bagful’.


Written by Thomason, K.  'The 'Third Alumnus' Rev Willoughby Bean (1801-1877)' , The Link (LXXVIII), Summer 2021. Retrieved from  https://uwtsd.ac.uk/media/The-Link---Summer-(ePDF).pdf