Capel, Thomas (1796-1855)

Born in 1796 at Somerset, England.

Within three years of settlement, Thomas Capel was selling locally brewed beer from Melbourne’s Yarra wharves.

“Capel” became a tragic word in early Melbourne. Down near the wharf, Thomas Capel had his Britannia Brewery where “beer equal to anything in Melbourne” was sold for 2/-a gallon.”

He sold out eventually and and went off to run a larger brewery in Sydney. His wife was to follow him when he was suitably settled. Towards the end of March, 1839, Mrs. Capel set out to rejoin her husband. The ship on which she sailed was wrecked. As far as was known at the time, there were no survivors.

Persistent reports then began coming in of a white woman seen among aborigines in the vicinity of the wreck. Several parties went out at intervals to the rescue, but each time the elusive tactics of the aborigines outwitted them.

In October 1847, the remains of a white woman and a young child were found in the region. The general belief was that this was all that was left of Mrs. Capel and a child born of one of her captors. The shock lingered long in the public memory.(2)

Capel Street North Melbourne was named in Thomas Capel’s honor.

Thomas Capel died in 1855 at Camperdown, Sydney.


(1) Thomas Capel, Brittania Brewing, Port Phillip Gazette Nov 10 1838.

(2) Northern Advertiser, Jan. 27, 1972. Blanchard collection, “What’s in a Name” at North Melbourne Library.

(3) Sydney Morning Herald July 2nd 1847, page 1.