Dr James Beaney

From humble beginnings, in Canterbury, James Beaney (1828-91) travelled and made his fortune in Australia, working as a surgeon and becoming a flamboyant character in Melbourne society. He never forgot his roots and when he died left money to Canterbury to build a Working Men’s Institute. This was used to re-house Canterbury Museum and Library in 1899. In 2012 it became The Beaney.

Biography

Early years and training

engraving by Henry Samuel Sadd (?1811-93), image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

Born to a labourer and servant, George and Sarah Beney, James George, who spelled his surname Beaney, was apprenticed to local chemists before becoming articled to the surgeon, apothecary and chemist, William James Cooper (1801-1880), brother of the famous cattle-painter, Thomas Sidney Cooper. Beaney studied medicine and qualified in 1855. With his wife Susannah he emigrated to Australia in 1857, becoming Honorary Surgeon at the Melbourne Hospital.

Image: James G. Beaney Esq, FRCS, Surgeon to the Melbourne Hospital, about 1855, engraving by Henry Samuel Sadd (?1811-93), image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

Work in Australia

by William Bardwell (active 1858-95), courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

There was no National Health Service and people had to pay for medical treatment. Beaney became very rich. His fondness for showy jewellery, worn even when operating, earned him the nickname ‘Diamond Jim’. He was ‘a bold surgeon’ and pioneer of Australian child health, family planning and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. But he was a flamboyant selfpromoter and shunned by the medical
profession. Controversies included four inquests on patients who died after surgery. One led to Beaney’s trial and acquittal for the murder of barmaid Mary Lewis, who died after an alleged illegal abortion.

Image: Dr James George Beaney FRCSE, 1880-85, by William Bardwell (active 1858-95), courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

Bequest

engraving by Henry Samuel Sadd (?1811-93), image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

Beaney was generous to charities. He left money in his will to Melbourne Hospital, and to Canterbury for building a Working Men’s Institute.

Image: The Hon James George Beaney, MP MD MRIA, Surgeon, Prince of Wales Regiment of Hussars, about 1865, engraving by Henry Samuel Sadd (?1811-93), image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne.

Items on display

Dr James George Beaney

Dr James George Beaney

1886
P Bionda (active as an artist 1880s)
Oil on canvas


This portrait of Dr Beaney is based on a photograph by [check],which was reproduced as an engraving. It is probable that the photograph was projected onto the canvas using a similar projector to that used for lantern slides: there is furniture visible below the paint on the left and right of the painting that matches the photograph and print, and would have been sketched in from the photograph then overpainted. The face is painted in more detail than the costume and background, and differs from the photograph. This suggests that the face was painted from life. Bionda may have had assistants to paint the costume and background as the handling of these is different to the finer painting of the face.

Little is known about Bionda but he also painted other portraits in Melbourne, including that of J. S. Butters (1832-1912), a gold broker and politician, who was mayor of Melbourne in 1867. Butters commissioned the portrait of his friend Dr Beaney, who was godfather to his daughter Irene, born in 1884 and whose middle name was Beaney. The portrait was presented to Dr Beaney on behalf of Irene Butters at the Athenaeum Hall in Melbourne on Monday 11 February 1886. At that time Bionda’s portrait of Butters was hanging in the Town Hall.

Information on Bionda and Butters from Alan Barber, 2012 Bequeathed by Dr James George Beaney, 1891. Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 3089.

Ink stand

Silver ink stand

Silver

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference (nn).

Miniatures of military medals

Miniatures of military medals

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference (nn).

Melbourne Hospital commemorative medals

Melbourne Hospital commemorative medals

Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference (nn).

Trowel presented on laying of Beaney Institute foundation stone

1897
Silver


Trowel presented to the Mayor of Canterbury, George Collard, on his laying the foundation stone of the Beaney Institute in 1897.


Presented by Miss D Collard, niece of George Collard, 1975. Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 9955.1.

Key to the Beaney Institute

1899
Gold


Key with which the Beaney Institute was formally opened on 11 September 1899, with city arms, presented to George Collard, Mayor of Canterbury, by Henry Bell Wilson, builder of the Beaney
Institute.


Canterbury Museums and Galleries reference 8108