Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Best (1830–1887)

by W. S. Benwell

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Henry Best

Joseph Best (1830-1887) and Henry (1832-1913), vignerons, were born at Richmond, Surrey, England, sons of David Best, builder, and his wife Elizabeth, née Stoneleigh. They sailed with their parents, and uncle, George Best, and his young family in the Vibilia and arrived at Launceston on 9 January 1834. In 1838 David Best took his family to Melbourne where Joseph and Henry (b. 15 November 1832) were educated at St James's School. They then spent some years on the cattle stations of their sister, Mrs Robert Whitehead, at Minhamite and Caramut in western Victoria. In 1851 the brothers prospected on various goldfields, but returned to cattle interests, setting up a sale yard at Great Western and supplying meat to the swollen populations at goldfields near Ararat and Stawell.

In 1865 Joseph planted vine cuttings which he had taken from the St Peter's vineyard of the brothers-in-law, Blampied & Trouette, first wine-growers in the Great Western district. In the next years Joseph gradually forsook the cattle business and devoted himself to viticulture. He employed miners to excavate the granitic subsoil on his property to fashion tunnels for the storage of wine. As the gold rush declined his vineyards became eminent in Victoria. Active in local affairs, he helped to found the Mechanics' Institute, supported the racing club and was president of the cricket club; he was also a Freemason. He died suddenly on 8 January 1887, aged 57, unmarried and intestate. His estate was sold and divided between his brother and sister. The vineyard was bought for £12,000 by Hans Irvine who expanded it and began champagne production in Great Western. In 1918 the vineyard was sold to B. Seppelt & Sons, and remains fully productive as Seppelts Great Western Wines.

Henry, under Joseph's influence, also entered viticulture in 1866, when he took up some seventy acres facing Congongella Creek about two miles north-west of his brother's vineyard. There he planted a wide selection of grape varieties and his vineyard enjoyed great success. Much of his wine was exported to Britain and the Continent. Like his brother he was active in local affairs; he was a member of the Stawell Shire Council in 1872-75, a trustee of various public institutions, a founder and captain of the Great Western Rifle Club and a prominent Freemason. He died at Congongella on 27 April 1913. He was survived by his widow Jessie Abercrombie, née Reville, whom he had married at Holy Trinity Church, Stawell, on 30 June 1872, and by three sons and two daughters of their seven children. The adjacent graves of Joseph and Henry Best are in the Great Western cemetery on the eastern boundary of Seppelts' vineyard.

The Congongella vineyard was managed by the third son, Charles Frederick (1878-1920). At his death it was bought by Frederick Pinchon Thomson (1879-1949). Despite the decline of viticulture at Great Western, the vineyard remains fully productive in the hands of Frederick Hamill (Eric) Thomson (b.1908), his brother William and his son Eric Vivian, who retained the right to use the title, Best's Great Western Wines.

Henry Best's fourth son Joseph was born in 1880 at Great Western and educated at Stawell Technical College and St Aidan's College, Ballarat. He was ordained priest in 1904, served as a chaplain in World War I, and became archdeacon of Maryborough, Victoria, in 1921 and of Ballarat in 1926. In 1926-37 he was editor of the Ballarat Church Chronicle. In 1910 he had married Marjorie Jean Wallace; they had three sons and two daughters. He died at Ballarat on 13 July 1965.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • H. E. Laffer, The Wine Industry of Australia (Adel, 1949)
  • W. S. Benwell, Journey to Wine in Victoria (Melb, 1960)
  • K. Slessor, The Grapes are Growing (Syd, 1965)
  • Pleasant Creek News, 11 Jan 1887
  • Stawell News, 29 Apr 1913.

Citation details

W. S. Benwell, 'Best, Joseph (1830–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Richmond, Surrey, England


8 January, 1887 (aged ~ 57)

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