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Neville Francis Sellwood (1922–1962)

by Richard Waterhouse

This article was published:

Neville Francis Sellwood (1922-1962), jockey, was born on 2 December 1922 at Hamilton, Brisbane, fifth child of Queensland-born parents Charles Sellwood, labourer, and his wife Amy Elizabeth Sherman, née Goan. Apprehensive about the financial and physical risks involved in a career in horse-racing, Neville's mother wanted him to become a solicitor, but he deliberately performed poorly at school in an attempt to thwart her ambitions for his future. Perhaps at his mother's insistence, he began work in a pharmacy: he was soon dismissed, after pouring cascara into bottles intended for cough medicine. In 1938 he was apprenticed to Jim Shean, a horse-trainer in Brisbane. His first ride was at Bundamba racecourse, Ipswich; his first win was on Ourimbah, at Doomben, Brisbane, on 11 March 1939.

Called up for full-time duty in the Militia on 19 January 1942, Sellwood served with postal units in Brisbane and at Townsville where a sympathetic commanding officer allowed him to ride trackwork and take mounts at local race-meetings. He topped the jockeys' premiership at Townsville in three successive years, winning 140 races from 290 mounts. Rather than calling different odds for each horse he rode, the bookmakers laid 'even-money Sellwood' for them all. At St James's Anglican Cathedral, Townsville, on 21 October 1944 he married Alwyn Grace Dinnar, a waitress; they were to have two daughters and a son.

By the time he was discharged from the army on 2 May 1946, Sellwood enjoyed a growing reputation as a talented jockey. That year he joined the stables of Maurice McCarten, a Sydney trainer. The pair formed an extraordinary partnership. Within two years Sellwood had won the Sydney jockeys' premiership, a feat he would repeat five times. His first major wins were on Delta in 1949, in the Victoria Racing Club Derby and the W. S. Cox Plate. Riding the same horse, he won the Melbourne Cup in 1951 and was rewarded by the owner (Sir) Adolph Basser with a Rolls Royce motorcar. He won three more V.R.C. Derbys (1953, 1959 and 1960), three Caulfield Cups (1950, 1951 and 1957), two Australian Jockey Club Derbys (1952 and 1953), two A.J.C. Epsom Handicaps (1956 and 1959), two A.J.C. Metropolitans (1951 and 1958), and the Queensland Turf Club Derby (1959). His second Melbourne Cup win in 1955, on Toparoa (trained by T. J. Smith), was controversial. The lightly weighted Toparoa just held off the fast finishing topweight, Rising Fast. Sellwood was subsequently suspended for causing interference to Rising Fast, but, to the surprise of many, Toparoa was not disqualified and its connexions kept the cup.

Sellwood rode the champion horses, Tulloch and Todman, to twelve and ten victories respectively, including Todman's win in the inaugural Golden Slipper Stakes in 1957. Described by one English racing journalist as the 'complete jockey', he had an uncanny ability to read and judge pace and tactics in distance races. He was also shrewd in other ways. His ledgers, recording the form of every horse he had ridden, assisted him in choosing mounts. His manner was confident and easy, and he charmed owners and trainers alike. Enjoying the publicity and wealth that came with success, he wore expensive suits and earned the nickname 'Nifty', but he was no spendthrift, investing much of his earnings in shares, and in a sheep-property at Cudal, New South Wales.

In 1950 Sellwood had travelled overseas, and won races in the United States of America and Britain. He returned to England in 1962 and achieved what was perhaps his greatest success, victory on Larkspur in the Derby. That year he also rode in France for the Aga Khan's stable and led the French jockeys' premiership with 102 winners. On 7 November 1962 he rode the misnamed Lucky Seven on a wet track at Maison Lafitte racecourse, near Paris. The horse slipped, fell and rolled on him, causing severe internal injuries. Sellwood was carried unconscious from the track and died on the way to hospital. Accompanied by his wife and their three children, his body was returned to Australia and buried with Catholic rites in Cudal cemetery. Yves St Martin, who also rode 102 winners to share the premiership, presented the prize, a golden whip, to Sellwood's widow.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Penton, A Racing Heart (Syd, 1987)
  • J. Pollard, Australian Horse Racing (Syd, 1988)
  • M. Painter and R. Waterhouse, The Principal Club (Syd, 1992)
  • People (Sydney), 26 Aug 1953
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Nov 1955, 8, 9 Nov 1962
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 7 Oct 1958, 9 Nov 1962.

Citation details

Richard Waterhouse, 'Sellwood, Neville Francis (1922–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 December, 1922
Hamilton, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


7 November, 1962 (aged 39)
Paris, France

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