||Technology in Australia 1788-1988
Table of Contents
I Technology Transported; 1788-1840
II Technology Established; 1840-1940
i Meat Preserving: Heat Processing Introduced
ii Horticultural Products: Heat, Sugar and Solar Drying
iii Refrigeration and the Export of Meat
iv Milling and Baking
v Dairy Products
vii Sugar: Supplying an Ingredient
III The Coming Of Science
IV From Science To Technology: The Post-war Years
V Products And Processes
Refrigeration and the Export of Meat Heat processing was the first major innovation in food technology in the nineteenth century; the second was refrigeration and though others in other parts of the world had successfully lowered temperatures mechanically, the first mechanical ice making machine was put into operation in 1851 by James Harrison at Rocky Point on the banks of the Barwon River at Geelong in Victoria.
Harrison was a Scottish-born journalist who established the Geelong Advertiser for J. P. Fawkner. His real love, however, was in solving the problems of mechanical refrigeration. He was successful in part with an ether compression machine; he secured patents in England, and a refrigerator based on his design was installed in a Bendigo brewery in 1860. Contemporaneously, he made ice commercially in Geelong and then in Melbourne but failed financially because he could not beat the vested interests who imported natural lake ice from North America. A second venture, the Sydney Ice Company formed in 1860 with P. N. Russell, was bought out in 1862 by a group which wished only to suppress it in favour of a development of one of them, Eugene Dominique Nicolle, who used the principle of heat exchange by liquefaction of ammonia. Harrison's funds had been exhausted by his experimental work and during the 1860s, while much work was being done in Sydney, he returned to journalism.
E. D. Nicolle had arrived in Australia in 1853 and begun work on various engineering projects including refrigeration. In 1865 he met Augustus Morris, a pastoralist who was behind the offer of a bonus of £100,000 for the first shipment of fresh meat from Australia to England by some form of refrigeration. Morris introduced Nicolle to T. S. Mort who had come to Australia in 1838 and set up for himself in 1843 as an auctioneer and broken By the 1860s, Mort was an established businessman with wide interests including an engineering works. He had long been interested in meat preserving, though not canning, and he had the resources both financial and engineering, to support Nicolle's development work. Nicolle had been granted patents in 1861 and 1863 for an ammonia absorption method of refrigeration and at first he relied on this process. He encountered corrosion problems, however, and turned to an air expansion machine. This also was abandoned in favour of a return to ammonia absorption with a second absorber and, later, other systems based on solutions of sodium nitrate, sugar, salt, and washing soda.
Harrison had begun with an ice making machine, but the thrust of Australian work on refrigeration from the 1860s onwards was towards the export of fresh carcase meat to England, that is, through the tropics, a problem which did not confront the North Americans, who relied on natural cold. The Americans and Canadians could ship meat to England without too much trouble, especially in winter, but the South Americans and Australians simply had to solve the problems of shipboard refrigeration.
There was considerable discussion in Victoria in the late sixties and some lively exchanges in meetings of the Royal Society of Victoria. Then, at the Melbourne Exhibition of 1872-3, Harrison exhibited 'Fresh Meat frozen and packed as if for a voyage, so that the refrigerating process may be continued for any required period'. Harrison froze meat in his refrigeration plant and then maintained it frozen in an insulated 'cold bank'. There is no doubt that Harrison was successful in maintaining meat in excellent condition for times in excess of those normally required for a voyage to England and a suitable insulated chamber was installed in the Norfolk so that a trial shipment could be made. Details of this 'cold bank' are available, the essential part being the circulation round it of cold brine. The meat was frozen on shore loaded into the chamber and in July 1873 the ship sailed. Unfortunately, the consumption of ice was greater than expected, temperatures rose and the meat had to be thrown overboard. This disaster ruined Harrison. There is no doubt that he was unlucky. His method should have worked and saved him financially, but it was not reliable. It was a passive ice-chest, not an active shipboard mechanical refrigerator. This was still the ultimate goal and Mort and Nicolle were said to be on the verge of success.
Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Sydney Ice Company
People in Bright Sparcs - Harrison, James; Morris, Augustus; Mort, T. S.; Nicolle, Eugene Dominique; Russell, P. N.
© 1988 Print Edition pages 91 - 92, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher