Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Arthur Benstead (1896–1971)

by Ray White

This article was published:

Thomas Arthur Benstead (1896-1971), by F. Malcolm Gray

Thomas Arthur Benstead (1896-1971), by F. Malcolm Gray

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 40504

Thomas Arthur Benstead (1896-1971), motor cyclist, was born on 21 May 1896 at Leichhardt, Sydney, twin son of Gregory Blades Benstead, butcher, and his wife Edith Grace, née Jones. In 1916 he joined the Newtown Bicycle Club and competed against well-known riders. Employed by Turner Bros, cycle agents, in George Street, about 1917 Benstead was lent a motor bike and came second in an acceleration test. He borrowed a Turner Jap machine from his employers and won a 33-mile (53 km) road race at Goulburn, on a circuit which was severely rain-affected. The first motor cycle he owned was a second-hand 1917 Harley-Davidson, on which he won many hill climbs and acceleration tests. In the early 1920s he joined Bennett & Wood Ltd who sponsored him on Harley-Davidsons.

In that decade Tommy Benstead won more motor cycle races than any other rider in Australia. He competed throughout New South Wales, and in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, conquering all kinds of tracks: long and short, road, dirt, cinder, concrete, grass and board. On 21 January 1923 he rode from Melbourne to Sydney in 14 hours 43 minutes, lowering the record by 1 hour 36 minutes. At Deagon Racecourse, Queensland, in August 1924 he set three solo and three side-car records, including the Five Mile Solo in which he showed his great skill in cornering. At Brisbane in 1928 he won golden and silver helmets and a silver sash. Next year he won the 'Fast and Furious' shield for which he had dead-heated the previous year. He collected many solo and side-car championships, setting Australian and world records; his trophies included golden and silver stars, gauntlets and helmets. He also took part in petrol-consumption tests and reliability trials. His riding was cool and well calculated, his judgment of just when to use the tactic which would enable him to go to the front and win was admirable. He handled the heavy motor cycles with superlative ease in exceptional conditions. A member of the Motor Cycle Club of New South Wales, Benstead was among the first to insist that protective fences should be erected to safeguard spectators.

On 10 August 1929 at the Baptist Church, Dulwich Hill, he married Jessie McGavin, a tailoress from Edinburgh; they lived at Lakemba and he apparently gave up racing. He continued to work as a salesman, and enjoyed playing tennis. Survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter, Benstead died of coronary vascular disease on 25 January 1971 in the Canterbury Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate was valued for probate at $14,192.

Select Bibliography

  • Auto-Cyclist, 1920-24
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 8 Aug 1959.

Citation details

Ray White, 'Benstead, Thomas Arthur (1896–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Thomas Arthur Benstead (1896-1971), by F. Malcolm Gray

Thomas Arthur Benstead (1896-1971), by F. Malcolm Gray

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 40504

Life Summary [details]


21 May, 1896
Leichhardt, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


25 January, 1971 (aged 74)
Canterbury, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.