Sue Young Histories

Otto John Beit 1st Baronet 1865 – 1930

July 12, 2010

Sir Otto John Beit 1st Baronet, KCMG, FRS 1865 – 1930 was a German born British financier, philanthropist and art connoisseur.

Otto Beit was an advocate of homeopathy, and in 1914, he presented a gift of £5000 [£215,300.00 in today’s money] (Frank F. Casseday, Homeopathy and Health, Volume 2, Issue 2, (Frank F. Casseday, 1914). Page 28) to the British Homeopathic Association for the purpose of scientific research into homeopathy, which became the Beit Research Fund, which enabled a feast of research into homeopathy, including the wonderful work of __ William Ernest Boyd (John S. Haller, The History of American Homeopathy: From Rational Medicine to Holistic Health Care, (Rutgers University Press, 2009). Page 56).

(NB: The Beit Fund no longer operates email from Robert Mathie of the British Homeopathic Association 15.4.13)

From Otto Beit was born in Hamburg, Germany, the younger brother of Alfred Beit, into the Jewish family of an affluent Hamburg trader.

He went to England in 1888, where he joined the stockbroking firm of Wernher, Beit & Co., in which his brother Alfred Beit, was a partner. He became a naturalised British citizen in 1896.

In 1890 he left for South Africa to gain experience in the diamond industry. He remained for six years and played an active role in the development of Rand Gold Mines and became a member of Hermann Eckstein’s firm, H. Eckstein & Co.

Despite playing a prominent part in the Witwatersrand gold industry, he returned to London, partly because he did not want to confine his interests solely to financial activities, but also to cultivate his scientific and cultural tastes. He fell under the spell of Cecil Rhodes’s imperialist vision and was his house-guest at the time of the Jameson Raid.

On his return to London, he followed for a few years the career of stockbroker and continued with his interest in the mining industry until the death of his brother Alfred Beit, after which he retired and devoted himself for the remainder of his life to philanthropy.

Otto Beit was a Director, Rhodesia Railways Ltd; Member, Governing Body of Imperial College, 1912-1930; Trustee of the Rhodes Trust, and Beit Railway Trust for Rhodesia; founded Beit Memorial Trust for Medical Research; established the Beit Fellowship at Imperial College in memory of his brother Alfred Beit, 1913; founded the Beit Fellowships for Scientific Research at Imperial College.

He was also a member of the Governing Body from 1912 and a founder member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

He administered both the Rhodes Trust and the Beit Trust, through which he became involved in land settlement schemes in Southern Africa. He served as director of the British South Africa Company.

He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the 1920 New Year Honours for his work in connection with South African troops and hospitals in England and was created a Baronet in 1924 for his numerous donations to children’s sanatoria, libraries and a homeopathic research institute.

He funded construction of the Beit Quad, Students’ Union building and hostel at Imperial College, London. A plaque depicting him by Omar Ramsden is situated in the Beit Quad entrance.

He was a generous benefactor of the Johannesburg Art Gallery, and more so with his gifts to the University of Cape Town, of which he turned the first sod in 1920. King Edward’s Hospital Fund received £50,000 from Beit in 1928 for the purchase of radium.

He was no less generous to public collections in the United Kingdom, helping the Victoria and Albert Museum to acquire many works of art. He also gave his name to an award for excellence in sculpture through the Royal Society of British Sculptors, the Otto Beit Medal.

He received an Honorary LLD from the University of Cape Town and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1924.

He was married to Lilian Carter, daughter of Thomas Lane Carter of New Orleans, USA. They had two sons and two daughters, the elder son dying in 1917 and the younger being Alfred Lane Beit.


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