The other day I posted a very old photo and posed the question: “What does this woman who died in the 1860’s have to do with Grand Falls?” I was pleasantly surprised by the response and that so many people knew who she was.
The picture was of Mrs. Beeton, the mother of Mayson M. Beeton the man, who along with the Harmsworth brothers was the founder of the town of Grand Falls. In fact Beeton probably deserves just as much credit as the press barons because he was the man who selected Grand Falls as the location for the paper mill. He was also the first president of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company and the main man on the ground when they built the mill.
Mrs. Isabella Beeton was born Isabelle Mayson in London in 1836. Her father died at a young age and her mother remarried and Isabella lived at Epsom Racecourse where her stepfather was clerk. When her father died she had two other sisters, her mother and stepfather went on to have 13 children which Isabella as eldest daughter had a hand in raising. The family must have had a fairly well to do upbringing because Isabella was able to learn the piano as well as French and German. At one point she even traveled to Germany to study. During this time she also became interested in pastry baking.[i]
In 1856 she married Samuel Orchard Beeton a publisher. Beeton had scored a coup when he secured the publishing rights to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852. The anti-slavery novel became an international best seller and a rallying point for abolitionists in the United States in the lead up to the Civil War there. He also started the first Boys Own Magazine as well.[ii]
Encouraged by her husband Isabella began to write on domestic topics such as cooking, baking and housekeeping. This culminated in 1861 when she compiled Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. This book which was a general guide to the running of a household sold tremendously well. It is reported that it sold almost 2 million copies by 1868.
Unfortunately Isabella Beeton would not live long enough to reap all of the rewards from the book. On January 29, 1865 she gave birth to a son, Mayson Moss Beeton. Within two week she would be dead. She died of perpetual fever; she was only 28 years old.[iii]
After the death of his wife the life of Samuel Beeton went downhill. For some reason he was eventually forced to sell his respected and renowned publishing name to rivals for which he had to work for on salary. He died of tuberculosis in 1877, his son Mayson was only 12 at the time.
As much as we can find out about his parents much remains to be learned about Mayson Beeton. There is about twenty years between 1877 and the 1890’s where I cannot find much information. Mayson Beeton resurfaces in the 1890’s at which point he was the West Indies correspondent for the emerging Harmsworth Newspapers.
His claim to fame that keeps coming up was the investigation of a sugar bounty. Future research suggests that Beeton was not investigating the bounties but the effect they were having on the sugar industry of the British West Indies. The sugar bounties in question were in place in Europe to encourage the growth of the sugar beet industry and had been blamed for the dive in sugar prices and the ruination of the cane sugar industry in British Colonies in the West Indies. As correspondent for the Daily Mail Beeton appears to have been virulently opposed to the bounties an opinion likely reflective of his employers Alfred and Harold Harmsworth.
Many have speculated that it was during this time in the 1890’s that Beeton had become acquainted with Sir. Charles Cavendish Boyle, government secretary and sometimes acting governor of British Guyana. Boyle became the governor of Newfoundland in 1901 at a time when the lumber industry was booming and about to bust on the island. It is likely he had something to do with Beeton coming to the island in 1903 to hunt caribou.
I do not have the resources at hand to determine the chronology of events, if it was the chicken or the egg. There is a story in which at a meeting the Harmsworths told Beeton that he must go to Newfoundland at once to scout out possible locations for a mill. I am inclined to believe that this order was given after Beeton had been on the island on his caribou hunt in the area around Grand Lake in 1903. It is likely that on his return the publishers were impressed with Beetons reports of the limited less stand of spruce and fir on the island. It would also help that Lewis Miller had approached the Harmsworths sometime in the first months of 1903 regarding his properties as well.[iv]
Beeton would be involved in the two years of negations that went on regarding the Harmsworths mill in Newfoundland. Negotiations between the Harmsworths and the government, the Reids, Newfoundland Timber Estates, Harry Crowe and a host of other interests. Interests and locations seesawed from Grand Lake and the West Coast to Grand Falls on the Exploits, until the latter location was chosen. When the dust settled Mayson M. Beeton was made president of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company in 1905 and was charged with overseeing operations in Newfoundland.
I am reluctant to say that Beeton was in charge of overseeing construction of the mill, because that would imply somebody with boots on the ground at all time. It is true that Beeton was in Grand Falls quite a bit during mill construction, but it was still an important occasion when he was in town. The men who I feel oversaw mill construction as company representative was most likely Alex U. Wood a lucky former employee of Harry Crowe and Newfoundland Timber Estates who eventually became secretary Treasurer of the AND Co and William Scott, who became mill manager. Nonetheless Beeton was in charge of the operation and tasked with much of the responsibility by the Harmsworth’s. It was a big enough deal when Beeton showed up that at one time his initials were illuminated with lights on the mill.
Beeton would be the president of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company during those early years. His presence in Newfoundland begins to fade with the First World War, he never lived in Grand Falls, but his visits seem to have become infrequent with the war.
During the Great War Beeton was appointed the director of timber supplies for the war office.[v] A position of great importance considering the amount of timber needed to shore up the trenches of the western front and for the building of aircraft. In this capacity he organized the Newfoundland forestry contingent, many of whom had worked for the AND Co. Beeton served as the administrative officer for that unit while they were in the United Kingdom.
As mentioned previously Beetons involvement with Newfoundland dropped off after the war. He died in 1947 so it could be assumed that he still worked in some executive capacity for Amalgamated Press[vi] for some time before he retired. In 1932 he and his borhter presented their mothers photograph to the National Portrait gallery, which caused a stir since it was reportedly one of the first photos given to the gallery. All those years later his mother was still a household name.
[iv] See Hiller.
[vi] The parent company of the Daily Mail and of the AND Co.