Collingwood Notables Database
Poet, missionary in China
Beatrice was one of the five talented daughters of William Vale, Member of Parliament, and his wife Rachel. In the 1880s the family moved into Mayfield in Abbotsford. In this lovely old house May and Elsie painted and gave art lessons, Grace studied for a medical career, and Faith started a school. Beatrice, who attended Presbyterian Ladies College, also showed artistic gifts and studied at the National Gallery School, but would eventually find her metier in writing poetry, prose and plays. The family was close-knit; a delightful photo of the five sisters taken in Allen’s Smith Street Collingwood studio conveys an impression of quiet strength, intellect, and moral purpose.
The Vale family were staunch members of the Congregational (or Independent) Church, and it was through church connections that Beatrice met Willett Bevan. He was the son of Llewelyn Bevan, an internationally renowned Congregational minister who in 1886 accepted an invitation to be minister at the Collins Street Independent Church. For 23 years Mr Bevan was a leader of Protestant intellectual life in Melbourne, and like the Vales, he was a supporter of educational equity. His wife Louisa Bevan also had intellectual and musical interests, was an accomplished linguist, and in 1890 organised a women’s philanthropic and cultural circle known as Daughters of the Court, of which Beatrice was a member. According to the chatty style of ‘Stella’s Ladies Letter’ in Table Talk, the budding romance was ‘watched with indulgent eyes by the whole Sunday School; and the majority of the ‘Daughters of the Court’ took a decided interest in … the clever girl’.
With an M.A. from Melbourne University, Willett undertook theological training at the Victorian Congregational College, as well as in Germany, and at Oxford University. In 1900 he was appointed to take charge of the educational work of the London Missionary Society in Shanghai. Beatrice was not to be left behind for long. In late 1901 she attended the Collins Street wedding of Bevan’s sister on 5 December, set sail from Sydney on 7 December, and married Bevan in Hong Kong on 31 December.
Willett Bevan served as the principal of Medhurst College, a Christian school in the Hankou district of Shanghai, from 1907 until 1913. Beatrice was the President of the Ladies Auxiliary of the London Missionary Society. They were not without family contacts while in a strange land. A younger brother, Louis Bevan, was a professor of International Law at the Imperial University of Tai-Yuan-Fu, and later in Beijing. The Bevan parents visited China in 1907, while the two brothers, their wives, and Beatrice’s only child, Medhurst, who was born in Shanghai, made a visit to Melbourne in 1909. Beatrice gave talks about woman’s work in China, but no details have been located so far; nor are the diaries, which she apparently wrote, publicly available to provide an insight into her life in China.
In 1913, after Medhurst had contracted tuberculosis, Willett and Beatrice returned to Australia, and settled in Adelaide where Willett’s parents had moved in 1910. Bevan became pastor of the Kilkenny Congregational Church, and then of the Gawler Church 1919. Under the name of Mrs Willett Bevan, Beatrice wrote verse, some inspired by the
horrors of World War 1, and plays. Her poems began to appear in The Register and The Evening Journal from 1915. Her Armistice Day Hymn for the 1928 Armistice Day peace demonstration began with this stanza:
Lest we forget the anguish and the horror,
Lest we forget the glorious manhood slain,
Lest we envisage war a thing of splendour,
And all war’s awful lesson be in vain!
Her publications include Sketches in Verse (1922) Sketches in Verse and Prose (1928) and a play, Adam Lindsay Gordon (1938). She also wrote frequent letters to the Adelaide newspapers about topics such as the prevention of crime, trashy poetry, and temperance (the latter topic dear to the heart of her Congregationalist family). After Bevan’s death in 1933 and Medhurst’s marriage in 1935, Beatrice moved back to Victoria and lived with her siblings Elsie, Faith, William and May, along with Faith’s husband and children, in Black Rock. Here she died in 1945.
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Willett Bevan, 26 July 1871-29 December 1933||31 December 1901, Hong Kong||Medhurst Llewellyn 1908-1978|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|Congregational, Collins St Independent Church|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
The Argus; The Age; Table Talk; Punch; Evening News (Sydney); Chronicle (Adelaide); The Register (Adelaide); News (Adelaide); Sharkey, ‘But who considers woman day by day: Australian women poets and World War 1’ Australian Literary Studies; Cummings, Bitter roots, sweet fruit; Austlit www.austlit.edu.au; Emery, Victoria, 'The daughters of the court' in Medievalism and the gothic in Australian culture.