Beatrice Kerr was a swimmer and aquatic performer originally from Albert Park in Victoria.
“By the bye, everyone rushes after lunch to the Palace Pier to see a young Australian girl in a swimming and diving performance. We went with the rest, and can assure our readers that Miss Kerr is better worth seeing than nine out of ten of the famous dancers…”
Born in Williamstown, Victoria in 1887, she lived in Albert Park, Melbourne with 3 sisters. Her mum taught her to swim. She competed as a swimmer in Geelong and Brighton in Victoria and then toured Australia where she gained 9 medals and 45 prizes by the age of 17. Her fastest time for 100 yards (91.4m) was 1 m 21.4 seconds and 27.5 minutes for the mile.
She was a rival to Annette Kellermann, even beating her at the diving competition at Brighton Baths in 1905.
Beatrice began her swimming and diving exhibition career in Princes Court Pleasure Gardens Melbourne, performing twice a day. She demonstrated swimming and diving displays. She swam freestyle, one-armed, feet tied or breaststroke. She dived with somersaults, the spinning top, the wooden soldier and back-to-front dives. Plus she demonstrated some life-saving techniques to the audience in her shows.
In 1906 she left to tour England but stopped to perform in South Africa on the way. The handbill for her events referred to her as ‘Australia’s Champion Lady Swimmer and Diver’.
Upon arrival in English, she issued a public challenge to compete against Annette Kellermann, but these calls were unanswered. She demonstrated further swimming strokes such as the trudgeon, and the ‘revolving waterwheel’, plus did high diving blindfold back jumps, kneeling dives or the ‘Flying Honey Pot’. One of her daring swimsuit-spangled costumes weighed in at 2.3 kg. She also performed as one of the stars in the play, ‘The Treasure Ship’ at Liverpool, Manchester and London.
Beatrice returned to Australia in 1911. She married Griffith Williams and moved to live at Bondi in Sydney. She died in 1971 and is buried at Waverley Cemetery. A park at North Bondi is named after her.
Beatrice Kerr was an inspiration to many as an example of a fit, daring female athlete at a time when women’s sport was not encouraged and also when a physical culture movement was beginning in the 20th Century.
Cover photo from the Australian National Maritime Museum Object number ANMS1031
By John Scanlon