Frederick York Wolseley was born in Co. Dublin on the 16th March 1837, the second son of an army officer descended from a Staffordshire family. Mount Wolseley House, in Co. Carlow, which had been the home of the Wolseley family since 1725, was burnt by insurgents in the 1798 rebellion and was no longer habitable. It would not be rebuilt for another twenty seven years.
Frederick's older brother Garnet followed their father into the army and went on to have a distinguished career. Frederick himself, however, at the age of seventeen, travelled to Australia, arriving in Melbourne in 1854 and working as a Jackeroo on a large sheep station named Warbreccan (near Deniliquin, New South Wales) where he later became the manager. In 1868 he turned to squatting for himself and in 1870 he became a Justice of the Peace. He then began experimenting with his idea of a mechanical sheep shearing machine. By now he had acquired his own property, 'Euroka' near Walgett on the Barwon River. Here he gave his first exhibition and demonstration of his sheep shearing machine in the presence of a number of squatters. He proved that his mechanical shearing machine was a success. A year later the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Co. was set up in Sydney with a capital of £20,000.
The company moved back to Birmingham, England, in 1889 and Frederick York Wolseley became the Managing Director. However he ultimately returned to Australia and resigned from the company in 1894.
In Birmingham the works manager Herbert Austin started experimenting with motorcars. His first attempt, the Wolseley Autocar No. 1, is said to have looked like an invalid chair with back to back seating for two adults and independent rear suspension. Only one model was made, and none were sold.
In 1899, the first Austin designed 4 seater was built. It was entered in the Thousand Miles Trial in the spring of 1900 and won its class. Within a year the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company had been established and began manufacturing.
As well as cars the Wolseley Company produced motor sleighs for the Scott Antarctic expedition and a two-wheeled gyrocar sponsored by the Russian count Peter Schilovski. During World War 1 Wolseley lorries were supplied in large numbers to the British Army in France and it was claimed that Wolseley aero engines contributed to the success of the Royal Flying Corps.
After the war normal car manufacturing was resumed. In 1932 The distinctive illuminated radiator badge was introduced and never changed. For many years the Wolseley name was associated with the Police Force. Ealing Studios used the cars in films of the 1950s such as the Lavender Hill Mob and Whisky Galore.
Frederick York Wolseley himself never knew about the success of the Wolseley car. He returned from Australia to Surrey seriously ill and died on 8th January 1899; the same year that the first Austin designed 4 seater was built. He was buried at Elmers End Cemetery in London. His name was carried on by the company and became synonymous with cars of style and luxury. "Wolseley cars – driven in three centuries." was the proud boast. In 1975 British Leyland built the Wolseley Wedge, renamed the following year as the Princess. It was the last of the line and the end of an era.