KNIGHTS OF THE ROAD.
No. XIX.—Mr. W. J. A. Begg.
No one meeting Mr. William J. A. Begg to-day would imagine that it is nearly 40 years ago that he adopted the calling of a commercial traveller. Nevertheless,
such is the fact, for it was in 1885 that he started out on the roads in the interests of Messrs. W. & J. Storie, wholesale hard- ware merchants, the firm subsequently be- coming known as William Storrie & Com- pany, Limited, of which concern Mr. Begg was a director. In the early days of South Australia few colonists were not familiar with the name of Begg, for the father of the subject of this sketch was a shipmaster, and made his first trip to Port Adelaide in the fifties, in the ship, Sebastian. Afterwards as Capt. William Begg, he was widely known as the
MR. W. J. A. BEGG.
MR. W. J. A. BEGG.
commander of the Connatto and the Mur- ray, and was the first captain of the old Orient Line of sailing ships. Most of our leading colonists made the voyage from the mother country to South Aus- tralia by those well-built, well-found, com- fortable, safe, and speedy sailers, and if the voyage, owing to contrary winds, was sometimes delayed four or even five months, nobody grumbled or worried, for life was not strenuous as it is to-day, and a week or two more on the sea made no difference. In 1873 the late Capt. Begg settled in South Australia, and was intru- mental in starting the steamtugs at Port Adelaide---the old Eleanor, Sophia, &c., of which he was part owner. For many years prior to his death he filled the posi- tion of Lloyd's surveyor in this State, and was a gentleman highly esteemed, both in shipping and private circles. Prefers the Land to the Sea. Mr. Begg was born in London, but, as a boy, he made several trips to Australia with his father. It might have been thought that this would have engendered a love of the sea, and that he would have adopted his father's calling as a profes- sion; but, although he had several bro- thers, only one responded to the call of the sea, and he subsequently obtained his master's certificate, and used to trade to Port Adelaide as skipper of tuch well- known sailing ships as the Pakwan and the Oaklands. Mr. Begg received his early education at private schools in Lon- don, and when his father settled in South Australia he completed his education at the late Rev. W. H. Mudie's school at Glen Osmond. When he had finished his studies he entered the employ of the Bank of Australasia, hut he soon tired of the routine work, and wishing for a calling with more variety, his father obtained a position for him in Harrold Brothers hard- ware department, where he remained for five years, and became familiar with every branch of the hardware trade. Then, see- ing a good opening with the firm of W. and J. Storrie, he accepted a position with that old-established house, and the goal for which he had long aimed, an outdoor life, was reached, for he was at once appointed one of their country travel- lers. That was in 1888, and Mr. Begg, after that, travelled continuously until 1916, a period of 28 years. He specialized in hardware and fancy goods, and starting with Lower Yorke's Peninsula, the favourite kicking-off trip for travellers in those days, subsequently worked the whole of South Australia and a considerable por- tion of Western Australia. Early Days on the West Coast. Mr. Begg was one of the first travellers on the west coast, and at that time the few habitations dotted along the coastline hardly merited the designation of town- ships. When he first visited Fowler's Bay he had to remain on board the steamer, for there was no hotel and only one store. He believes the store had what was called a "case licence," which permitted the storekeeper to sell liquor by the case. There was a large number of men engaged shooting kangaroos on Eyre's Peninsula in those days, and they were the storekeeper's principal customers, Outside them there were a few farmers engaged in growing a little wheat, and rais- ing a few sheep, so that the trade was necessarily small. Schooners plied to the west coast ports, and Mr. Begg frequently made his trips by that medium. Time was not so much the essence of the con- tract then, and being, a good sailor, and accustomed to roughing it, he came to look upon his visits almost in the light of a holiday. A small steamer, the Helen Nicoll, was put on the western ports, and on one trip that Mr. Begg made by her the skipper received instructions to proceed as far as Esperance Bay. Mr. Begg was glad of the opportunity to visit Esperance, which was just being opened up, and he booked a fair order. There was one store and a hotel, both run by the same man. An old cab ran from the landing place to the hotel, and its driver was a well known South Australian who had "got down on his luck." He had formerly been a wealthy squatter on the Darling, whose mansion at the foot of the hills was one of the most beautiful of Adelaide homes; but droughts and other troubles bad brought him down, and he wound up his career by driving a cab. Gets Western Australian Business. Great things were expected from Espe- rance, and there was a strong agitation in favour of constructing a railway from Coolgardie to that port, which was consid- dered to be the natural outport for the goldfields. Had the line been made, it would have meant a great deal to South Australia, but vested interests in Perth Proved too strorie, and the proposal was, blocked. The Dundas and Norseman fields, however, of necessity had to make Esperance their port, a fine jetty was built, and th etown made great progress. Mr. Begg did sufficiently well on his first trip to warrant his making a second one, and although it was not long after, he was surprised at the advance made, for he found 10 general stores in full swing, and a general air of prosperity existing. In view of the Western Australian boom his firm decided to try and get their share of the business, and Mr. Begg was highly successful in his pursuit ot orders. He
made regular trips all over Western Aus- tralia, from Geraldton in the north to Albany in the south. He workcd all the goldfields—Dundas, the Norseman, Cool- gardie, Kalgoorlie, and the Murchison— and opened up a fine lot of' accounts, many of which lasted until his firm gave up business. It was a hard life, up early and in bed late, travelling by all sorts of conveyances, with poor meals, bad water, and the thousand and one inconve- niences that only the old-time traveller is familiar with, but good orders consoled one for the strenuous work, and "the hardest work was never too hard, nor the longest day too long." In South Aus- traia Mr. Begg used to make regular trips to Hergott and Farina (where Mr. J. W. Manfield was one of his principal customers). He remembers Port Augusta when there were no wharfs, but only small jetties; and it was a hive of industry. In 1916, when his firm dissolved, he entered into business with the -late Mr. W. B. Skinner as manufacturers' agents. The partnership lasted till three years ago, when Mr. Begg jointed his son in busness under the title of William Begg & Son. The Lighter Side. All work and no play, we are told, is apt to make Jack a dull boy. Mr. Begg. be- lieves in a certain amount of relaxation. Cricket was his favourite hobby, nad although it is difficult for a traveller to play regularly for a club, as a rule where there's a will there's a way. He played for the North Ade- laide Cricket Club, and was captain of the Commercial Travellers Cric- ket Club. For some years the annual match between the Victorian and South Australian Commercial Trevallers' Clubs had been allowed to die out, but Mr. Begg and others worked hard to revive it, and were instrumental in seeing the effort brought to a successful conclusion. About 25 years ago Mr. Begg took part in the first match, when the games were resumed on the Adelaide Oval. To mark the occasion, the late Sir Edwin Smith enter- tained both teams at a recherche luncheon. The fixtures have continued ever since. Mr. Begg was also a prominent yachtsman on the Port River for a considerable time. Some years aeo, his eldest son, Mr. R. H. Begg, secured the Commercial Travellers' Association Scholarship, which gave him three years' tuition at St. Peter's Col- lege, and while there he won a university scholarship. He obtained his B.Sc. and B.E. degrees, and is now director of Lascelles, Parrington, Limited, hardware and electrictl machinery merchants, of Melbourne, while his second son. Mr. J. A. Begg, is manager of Fred Walker Pro- prietary, big wholesale marchants and manufacturers, of Sydney. Mr. Begg is an old member of the Commercial Travel- lers' and Warehousemen's Association. He joined the assoaiation in February, 1897, was a committeeman for some years, was. elected President in 1913, and senior Vice- President in 1914, and was one of the dele- gates to the Perth Conference in 1909. Possessed of a high reputation in business circles, and greatly esteemed socially, Mr. Begg reflects honour on the order to which be belongs— the knights of the road.