National Science Week – T.S. Mort

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort

Today marks the beginning of National Science Week. The theme for schools in 2013 is A Century of Australian Science.

After a quick glance at the Moruya and District Historical Society’s museum you realise that to a large extent everyone in the early days was a scientist. Indigenous artefacts, home-made recipes for medicines and improvised farming  equipment are only a few of the examples of the truth of the adage ‘necessity is the mother of all invention’.

However one man, Thomas Sutcliffe Mort of Bodalla, really does fit the broad description of a scientist. He was a man of amazing vision who facilitated significant scientific discoveries

Early farm equipment

Even though TS Mort was not strictly a scientist and he certainly lived over a century ago (having been born into the time of the Lancashire industrial revolution),he is certainly a man to consider when we look at the history of science in the Eurobodalla area. Mort’s ideas, financial support and endorsement of scientific ‘big ideas’ of the time caused huge changes to the colony of New South Wales and to the way people were able to live.

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort ( a glimpse)

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort 1816-1878
Thomas Sutcliffe Mort 1816-1878

In 1838 Thomas Sutcliffe moved to Australia and shortly after this (1843) he started a wool-broker company.
By 1856 he had purchased land 200 miles south of Sydney. His estate covered 38,000 acres.
In 1861 he built the first freezing works in the world which was to become the New South Wales Fresh Food and Ice Co.
In 1863 he formed the Mort’s Dock and Engineering Co. Ltd.

All this from a man, who, as Mort family legend has it that, upon hearing of the discovery of a prehistoric mammoth preserved in the frozen wastelands of Russia, he had dreamt of exporting frozen meat to England!

Mort was behind initiatives such as weekly wool auctions and the refrigeration of food. He was involved in moves for the first railway in New South Wales, and was also one of the founders of the AMP Society. Mort was also the founder of Mort’s Dock at Balmain in 1854, which gave Sydney its first major dry dock for repairing ships.

 State Library, NSW
To see many archived images click here:

In the mid-1860s, Mort had been looking at refrigeration as a way of developing manufacturing orders, to ensure better access to the Sydney market for the butter and cheese he was producing at Bodalla and to offset the vulnerability of being exposed to falling wool prices. Mort financed experiments by Eugene Dominic Nicolle, a French born engineer who had arrived in Sydney in 1853 and registered his first ice-making patent in 1861.

In 1861 Mort established at Darling Harbour the first freezing works in the world, which afterwards became the New South Wales Fresh Food and Ice Company. The first trial shipment of frozen meat to London was in 1868. Although their machinery was never used in the frozen meat trade, Mort and Nicolle developed commercially viable systems for domestic trade, although the financial return on that investment was not a great success for Mort.
AMONG the factors ot modern progress refrigerating machinery is steadily assuming a place in the front rank. The late Mr. T. S. Mort of Sydney was the first Australian colonist to grasp the prospective importance of cold air artificially produced. At any rate be was the first to practically demonstrate the uses to which refrigerating machinery might be applied with benefit to the human race. Nearly two decades have passed since Mr. Mort’s experiments lifted refrigeration out of the domain of theory, and taught intelligent minds its beneficent potentialities ; and it is almost humiliating to reflect upon tho slow development the businoss has since exhibited. More than thirteen years ago the steamship Strathleven left Sydney with the first Australian shipment of frozon meat for the London market; mid the sanguine among us then believed that the meat trade would quickly assume large and profitable dimensions.
The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Thursday 3 August 1893, page 4
To read the full article click here:

To read a complete account of a visit to Mort’s factory A VISIT TO MORT AND CO.’S MEAT FREEZING WORKS, published in the Illustrated Sydney News , May 1876 click here.

Illustrated Sydney News  – Saturday 27 May 1876, page 10, 13

As a part of his refrigeration works, Mort developed a large abattoir at Lithgow where sheep and cattle from western New South Wales were slaughtered and refrigerated for later transport. In 1875, to mark his achievements in the refrigeration techniques, Mort arranged a picnic for 300 guests. He organised a special train from Sydney and fed his guests food that had been refrigerated at his plant for over 18 months.

Mr. Mort’s spirit has been moving all the time; and that these preliminary steps were necessary to establish cold storage on its present basis. Im- provements will still be made. No donbt the rising generation will look back and marvel, just as the modern owner of the latest safety bicycle expresses astonishment that folk should ever have ridden the great wheels of a few years ago. But mechanical refrigeration has “become commercially and economically successful; and to wards this we need to remember that Mr. T. S. Mort did more than any other man alone.

The Queenslander, Saturday 15 February 1896, page 304
To read the full article click here:

After writing this article I have changed my mind about Mort. In the introduction to this post I stated that TS Mort wasn’t a scientist in the strictest sense of the word.

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort was a real scientist. He identified some important needs and problems of his era,and, by using his vision, his financial and intellectual capacities and his quest for knowledge; was able to find solutions to these needs. He did this while maintaining a highly-developed social conscience.

Certainly TS Mort of Bodalla is a man worthy to be acknowledged during National Science Week!

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