Local Identities

William Bede Christie

By Richard A Murray, 2013

William Bede Christiesurveyor, author, lecturer, business proprietor, land booster for the state, student of astronomy and authority on Egyptology. The list goes on.

Today, this would be a huge achievement, but over a hundred years ago, it would have been a rarity indeed.

William Bede Christie was a key figure in the fruit industry development in the settlement of Korijekup (Harvey) in the South West of WA.

He was my great-great-grandfather.

He arrived in Harvey in 1895, and in an agreement with Dr Harvey he was to do all that was necessary to manage and promote the settlement, including surveying and lecturing on fruit growing. An accomplished horticulturist, he had had lengthy experience in the fruit growing industry in Mildura and Renmark. It was his intention to settle fifty families of fruit growers from ‘the Eastern Colonies’.

Christie set about surveying, laying the townsite out as a replica of Mildura. He was to be given 2/- per acre, and given a commission on all land he sold in the settlement. He wrote his booklet, Korijekup – The Fruit Settlement of West Australia, in which he outlined the great potential for establishing fruit growing in the settlement. Singing the praises of Korijekup, he wrote ‘rich soil, picturesque scenery, eminently adapted to the culture of citrus fruits’.

It seems, he was none too pleased about renaming the settlement Harvey, he believed the indigenous name of Korijekup, was a far better proposition, and a more suitable name when exporting the fruit.

He was joined later by his son-in-law, (my great-grandfather) Alexander Murray, and his wife Katherine and son William Murray (my grandfather). Alex. Murray built the property ‘Riverton’ and this was also used as Christie’s headquarters. Murray had been co-owner and journalist of the Irrigationalist newspaper in Wentworth NSW and founder of the Swan Hill Guardian.

The relationship between Dr Harvey, Dr Hayward and Christie soured, after Christie had sold 500-600 acres, and no titles were able to be issued. This subsequently ended in a lengthy battle in the Supreme Court in 1900, where Christie eventfully won a settlement of £1000 sterling.

William Bede Christie was born in 1842 in NSW. He was highly educated, passing with honours and had a great understanding of the law, often representing himself in his many libel cases, brought on by his time as proprietor and editor of the Wentworth Advocate. A brilliant but bad tempered man, there is an account of him once horsewhipping a fellow surveyor in Glen Innes. His crime apparently was to boast that he was Christie’s superior. He was fined £5, and the magistrate, showing some sympathy, added there was too much talk about others social status in Glen Innes, and that he should find those who circulated the reports and have them punished. Christie could tie the courts up with his knowledge of the law and great command of the English language, often frustrating judges and magistrates alike.

His time in NSW saw him establish businesses, be elected to public school boards, contest municipal elections and receive humane society awards from His Excellency the Governor.

On his move to Perth, he joined the Lands Office, and was credited with surveying vast areas of Western Australia. He was later hired by the government as a land ambassador to the colony, and charged with bringing farmers from the East to West Australia.

Continuing his lectures and surveying, he was no stranger to Perth and many country centre town halls, entertaining his audiences with subjects such as ‘The Israelites in Egypt’ and his pet study, ‘The Origin of the World’. He was a staunch anti-evolutionist, and once booked a hall to refute his opponent’s theories on the subject. In saying that, you can’t help feeling he was also a champion of the underdog.

Known as ‘lantern lecturing’ his speeches were accompanied by slides and lithographs, and he packed out his venues with people from all walks of life.

In 1906, an indiscretion with a married lady caught the eye of one of Perth’s weekend papers and lead to what could be described as a fairly sarcastic and personal attack on Christie. Love letters between himself and the said lady were published. One can only assume ‘WB’ was consumed with passion at the time, as it seems incredible no litigation followed the article.

Perhaps age had caught up with him, or he just simply ignored it.

An incredibly active man, he looked younger than his years, and he continued his busy lifestyle, even after his 80th year. He joined the Civil Services Club in Perth, where he was described as ‘a great source of pleasure and instruction to young students of surveying’. He would entertain his hosts of friends, with conversation, bridge and billiards.

As well as his booklet on Korijekup, William Bede Christie also wrote:

  • Christmas on the briny, the innocents abroad – or A trip to the Abrolhos Islands in 1909.
  • Our land laws, their influence on our prosperity, and some suggestions for the remedy of the evils which they have entailed on the colony, in 1882.
  • Egypt and the Bible (manuscript) 

Copies are held at the WA State Library.

WB Christie died in Perth in 1929, at the age of 87. His funeral was described as ‘impressive’. He left behind many friends and admirers of his contribution, not only to Harvey and the State, but to the Commonwealth as a whole.

He was laid to rest in Karrakatta Cemetery. Family lore says his son-in-law, Alexander Murray, was buried beside him.

References:

W Bede Christie, Korijekup, the fruit settlement of West Australia, Harvey River, South-Western Railway, JB Cant, Fremantle, 1895.

Trove newspapers at https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper