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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Seppelt, Joseph Ernest (1813–1868)

by Jaki Ilbery

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Joseph Ernest Seppelt (1813-1868), by unknown photographer

Joseph Ernest Seppelt (1813-1868), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B54745

Joseph Ernest Seppelt (1813-1868), winemaker, was born in 1813 at Wüstewaltersdorf, Lower Silesia. His father fought in Napoleon's forces in Russia, and took eleven years to find his way home after the fall of Moscow. After a liberal education in music and the arts Joseph toured Germany and Italy learning the commercial and technical aspects of tobacco, snuff and liqueur production in order to head the family business; when it declined in the 1840s he decided to migrate to South Australia. He sailed from Hamburg in the Emmy on 9 September 1849 with his wife Johanna Charlotte, née Held, and their three children. Through a London agent, he had bought land in Adelaide but soon sold it when he found tobacco would not grow there; he moved to Klemzig. Naturalized in 1851, next year he bought property in the Barossa district and named it Seppeltsfield. After another attempt to grow tobacco he planted corn, wheat and a small vineyard. He made his first wine in his wife's small dairy and in 1867 built the first part of the stone winery. The business expanded rapidly as he concentrated on the production of wine, much of which he sold along the Murray where it was transported by paddle-steamer. Survived by his wife, a daughter and three sons, he died suddenly of delirium tremens on 29 January 1868 and was buried at Greenock. His estate was sworn for probate at £1000.

His eldest son Oscar Benno Pedro was born in 1845 in Lower Silesia. Educated at Tanunda, he later attended chemistry classes run by C. W. L. Muecke. When his father died he became manager of Seppeltsfield and on 23 November 1870 he married Sophie Schroeder. By 1875 he had an estate of 560 acres (227 ha) and had enlarged the cellars; in 1877 he built a new distillery largely of his own design. He had a flair for invention and his wine-testing laboratory was considered unusual if not unique in his day. He kept pigs, which were fed on grape-skins, and cured bacon which fetched good prices. He also bred sheep which grazed in the vineyards in the autumn and in 1883 won a silver cup for a champion merino ram. In his evidence to a select committee on vegetable products in 1887 he wanted a government-guaranteed company which would buy up young wines, mature them and export only good quality products ensuring the continuation of their high repute on the London market.

That year Seppelt grew only about one third of his 200,000 gallon (909,218 litres) output, the remainder being bought from surrounding vineyards. He won the fifty-guinea prize offered by the London merchant P. B. Burgoyne at the Adelaide Jubilee Exhibition for the best claret-type wine and received a contract for 2500 gallons (11,365 litres). By 1900 the estate extended to 1500 acres (607 ha) and had subsidiary industries including vinegar, cordial, liqueur and perfume production. In 1916 he bought Chateau Tanunda and in 1918 took over the Lyndoch and the Great Western vineyards near Ararat, Victoria.

Seppelt retired in 1916 and died of broncho-pneumonia on 11 May 1931 survived by nine sons and four daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • M. R. A. Lamshed, The House of Seppelt 1851-1951 (Adel, 1951)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1887, 3 (90) 25, 1889, 2 (25) 141
  • Register (Adelaide), 1 Feb 1868
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 14 May 1931.

Citation details

Jaki Ilbery, 'Seppelt, Joseph Ernest (1813–1868)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Joseph Ernest Seppelt (1813-1868), by unknown photographer

Joseph Ernest Seppelt (1813-1868), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B54745