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Frederick York Wolseley (1837–1899)

by G. P. Walsh

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Frederick York Wolseley (1837-1899), inventor, was born at Kingstown, County Dublin, Ireland, on 16 March 1837, second son of Major Garnet Joseph Wolseley and his wife Frances Anne, née Smith; his elder brother Garnet became Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley. He arrived in Melbourne in July 1854 in the Norwood and went to Thule sheep station on the Murray River. Here he worked for his brother-in-law Ralston Caldwell for five years before acquiring an interest in Thule and Cobran stations; by 1871 he had Toolong in the Murrumbidgee District. Financed by Garnet, about 1868 he began experiments on a machine for shearing sheep and by 1872 had evolved a working model which removed at least part of a fleece. He then visited England, Ireland, and possibly the United States of America, and on his return in 1874 resumed experiments in Melbourne with R. P. Park.

In 1876 Wolseley bought Euroka station, near Walgett in New South Wales; next year he joined the Union Club in Sydney. In the 1880s he was a sheep director for Walgett and in 1883 was involved in litigation over the ownership of Rosebank station. He continued testing his machine at Euroka and on 28 March 1877 he and R. Savage were granted a patent for a shearing device driven by horse power. A second patent was granted in December, but there were serious problems with the drive mechanism and physical limitations on the shearer's movements. On 13 December 1884 he and Park patented an 'Improved Shearing Apparatus' which included a cog-gear universal joint. In 1885 Wolseley bought the rights of John Howard's horse-clipper and engaged him as a mechanic at Euroka at £3 per week. Howard made several improved machines which worked so well during the 1885 season that Wolseley went to Melbourne and to form a manufacturing company and to arrange for public demonstrations, pitting the machine against the blades. Similar displays took place at Sydney and Euroka in 1886: Hassan Ali, a Khartoum native, used the appliance and Dave Brown was the blade-shearer. It proved superior and after William Ryley's suggestions for improving the hand-piece were adopted, the Wolseley machine was widely demonstrated in eastern Australia and New Zealand in 1887-88. In 1888 (Sir) Samuel McCaughey's shed at Dunlop, Louth, New South Wales, was the first to complete a shearing with machines. That year eighteen other woolsheds were fitted with the invention.

In 1889 Wolseley went to England and set up the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Co. Pty Ltd in Birmingham and engaged Herbert (later Baron) Austin as foreman in his workshops at Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. Ltd, in Melbourne. Austin improved the overhead gear and in 1893 went to Birmingham as production manager. Wolseley resigned the managing-directorship for health reasons in 1894, and next year Austin designed and made the first Wolseley motor car.

Handsome, likeable and well built, Wolseley lacked practical mechanical experience and had to rely on others, but he was inventive and, above all, persevering; he has the honour of inventing the shearing machine which revolutionized the wool industry in Australia. He died of cancer at 20 Belvedere Road, Upper Norwood, London, on 8 January 1899 and was buried in Elmers End cemetery, Norwood, London. He left a widow but no family.

In 1901 Vickers Sons and Maxim Ltd took over the machine tool and motor side of the Wolseley works trading as the Wolseley Tool & Motor Car Co. Ltd. Austin was general manager until 1905 when he started the Austin Motor Co.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. Fraser (ed), This Century of Ours (Syd, 1938)
  • F. Wheelhouse, Digging Stick to Rotary Hoe (Melb, 1966)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1885-86, 6, 727
  • Australasian, 4 Dec 1886, 12 Mar, 11 June 1887
  • Pastoral Review, 15 May 1893, 16 Jan, 15 Mar 1899
  • Sydney Mail, 21 Jan 1899.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Wolseley, Frederick York (1837–1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 March, 1837
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


8 January, 1899 (aged 61)
London, Middlesex, England

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