Thomas E. Scaife, associate member of the (British) Institution of Civil Engineers (AMICE), was appointed as assistant engineer in the Irrigation Department of the Cape Colony late in 1897. In November 1899 he was promoted to resident engineer at the Breede River irrigation works near Robertson. He was promoted to circle engineer of the south-western circle on 1 July 1908, but remained at the Breede River.
In 1902 Scaife became a foundation member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. At the association's annual congress held in Bloemfontein in 1909 he contributed a paper on "The Breede River irrigation works", which was published in the association's Report for that year (pp. 92-98). At the next annual congress he spoke on "Irrigation financial problems in the Breede Valley" (Report, 1910, pp. 138-144). At about this time he was elected a member of the (British) Institution of Civil Engineers (MICE). In 1913 he was a member also of the South African Society of Civil Engineers.
In April 1912, following the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, Scaife was appointed as a circle engineer in the Union Department of Irrigation and was stationed in Cape Town. In 1913 he drew up a plan showing the proposed enlargement of the Malkops River dam, near Tulbach. Two years later he surveyed and mapped land near the Valkenburg asylum and the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, in connection with the Zwart River canalization scheme. He was promoted to superintending engineer in 1921 and the next year was appointed acting assistant director of irrigation.