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Seabrook, Thomas Claudius (1886–1967)

by David Dunstan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Thomas Claudius Seabrook (1886-1967), wine merchant and wine judge, was born on 8 June 1886 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, eighth child of Tasmanian-born parents William John Seabrook, clerk, and his wife Mary Sophia, née Mason. After attending state school at Prahran, Tom joined his father as a vignerons' agent and winebroker. Taught tasting by his father, he picked grapes and worked on vintages in the Rutherglen district. He studied analytical chemistry and fermentation at the Working Men's College, Melbourne, and at the Carlton brewery. Modelling his life on that of his elder brother Will, he took up gymnastics, enlisted in the Victorian Scottish Regiment, Militia, in 1902 (commissioned 1912), and became a teetotaller and non-smoker. Will was drowned at Point Lonsdale on 3 January 1914 when he and Tom attempted to save two people swept out to sea; Tom was awarded the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society of Australasia.

On his father's death in 1914, Tom took over the family business in Queen Street, Melbourne. At the Presbyterian Church, Newtown, Geelong, on 8 June 1915 he married Dorothy (Dora) Sidel Baird (d.1942), a saleswoman. Appointed lieutenant, Australian Imperial Force, on 1 June 1916, he joined the 24th Battalion on the Western Front in January 1917. On 7 December he was promoted captain. In August-December 1918 he served on the staff of the British 87th Infantry Brigade. Having studied French and German for the wine business, he acted as an interpreter for the British. Although he was twice wounded, he regained his health and discovered the delights of drinking wine (as distinct from merely tasting it) on leave in Paris with his friend Frank Menzies in 1918. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Melbourne on 11 May 1919.

As a broker, Seabrook assessed fortified and table wines sent to him, and relied on his extensive contacts with vignerons, hoteliers and restaurateurs. Typically, his trade was in hogsheads, but wicker-covered, ceramic demijohns and special bottles of wine were sold direct to the public. After 1940 W. J. Seabrook & Son (Pty Ltd) evolved more along the lines of a classic English wine merchant. The firm imported and exported wines, and produced its own blends. On 28 April 1945 at Knox Church, Ivanhoe, Seabrook married Amy Maclaren, née Edgar, a widow.

Five ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall and lean, Seabrook was meticulous about wine and rarely drank a glass without appraising it. He became one of an influential group of connoisseurs who helped to keep the trade alive when it was threatened by temperance restrictions, failing vineyards and a beer-drinking society's lack of understanding. A friend and associate of Samuel Wynn, François de Castella and Eric Purbrick, he was honorary secretary (1910-35) and president (1964-67) of the Viticultural Society of Victoria. In 1963 he was appointed O.B.E. Like his father before him and his son Douglas (d.1984) after him, he was chairman of wine judges at the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria's annual shows in Melbourne and was regularly invited to judge in other capital cities. He died on 6 February 1967 at Bundoora and was cremated. His wife survived him, as did the three daughters and two sons of his first marriage. Douglas, who suffered from the effects of poliomyelitis, sold the family business in 1976.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Cox, The Wines of Australia (Lond, 1967)
  • Wine and Spirit News and Australian Vigneron, 25 May 1914, p 199
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 Feb 1967, 3 July 1984
  • private information.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Seabrook, Thomas Claudius (1886–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seabrook-thomas-claudius-11646/text20803, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 30 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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