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O'Shea, Maurice George (1897–1956)

by David Dunstan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Maurice George O'Shea (1897-1956), winemaker, was born on 13 June 1897 in North Sydney, son of John Augustus O'Shea (d.1912), an Irish-born wine-and-spirit merchant, and his wife Leontine Frances, née Beaucher, who came from France. Maurice attended St Ignatius' College, Riverview, and Holy Cross College, Ryde. Sent to a lycée at Montpellier, France, to learn French, he continued his education at the École Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Grigon, near Paris, before training as a viticulturist and analytical chemist at the University of Montpellier. He lectured at Montpellier, reluctantly declined a post in the United States of America, and returned to New South Wales in 1920 at his mother's request.

Maurice, who was 'extremely French' and undecided about remaining in Australia, began to make wine on the family property at Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley. In 1925 he named the vineyard Mount Pleasant. He did not find the going easy. The public preferred beer, fortified wines and spirits to table wine. Grapes were damaged by hailstorms every second year from 1927 to 1939. During the Depression he was fortunate to sell (in 1932) a half-share in the vineyard to McWilliam's Wines Pty Ltd; O'Shea became manager and a director of its subsidiary, Mt Pleasant Wines Pty Ltd. Relieved of sales and distribution responsibilities, he was free to concentrate on making fine table wine. In 1941 he sold out completely, but remained manager and winemaker.

Backed by the powerful McWilliam family, O'Shea was a major purchaser of district grapes and wine for resale and blending. Other growers deferred to his expertise. An individualist and an innovator, he broke with tradition by using varietal rather than generic names for his own products, calling fine wines after individual vats, vineyards, friends and relations. He was also knowledgeable about food, and highly regarded by Sydney restaurateurs such as J. K. 'Johnnie' Walker and Henri Renault (after whom his 'Henry' wines were named) who championed his wines. O'Shea had a long association with the Wine and Food Society and was president of its Newcastle branch. Although he was thought by many to be a bachelor, he had married Marcia Singer Fuller on 2 December 1925 at St Peter's Anglican Church, Hamilton; they shared an affectionate relationship, at Cessnock, in Sydney and later at Newcastle. Their son died in infancy.

Physically small, O'Shea suffered from extreme myopia; his thick spectacles had the effect of enlarging his eyes. Max Dupain's photograph of him, peering at a glass of wine, captured him well. He was a much-loved, gentle, talented and cultivated man, with an impish sense of humour, who lived and worked alone in the countryside. Once he had overcome his initial shyness, he made lasting friendships and welcomed visitors prepared to 'rough it' at his Pokolbin shack. Good company, superb wines and food cooked on an old kerosene stove were their reward. Sydney gourmets spoke 'with wonder of his casseroled duck with mushrooms, his baked hares—and bandicoots'. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died of cancer on 5 May 1956 in his flat at Newcastle and was buried with Catholic rites in Gore Hill cemetery, Sydney. His best wine-making efforts have delighted subsequent generations.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Thompson, On Lips of Living Men (Melb, 1962)
  • M. Lake, Hunter Winemakers (Brisb, 1970)
  • Wine and Spirit News and Australian Vigneron, 21 May 1956
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 7 May 1956
  • ABC Weekly, 6 Apr 1957, p 8
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 24 Jan 1971
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Dec 1989
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'O'Shea, Maurice George (1897–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oshea-maurice-george-11317/text20205, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 19 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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