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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 2

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
vi Beverages
vii Sugar: Supplying an Ingredient

III The Coming Of Science

IV From Science To Technology: The Post-war Years

V Products And Processes

VI Conclusion

VII Acknowledgements



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Meat Preserving: Heat Processing Introduced

In the 1780s Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner, began experiments which led to the heat processing of food.[10] He used glass bottles processed in a boiling water bath. The rationale of the day was that if all the air could be expelled by heat, the contents would keep. In fact, as we now know, the time being determined empirically for this 'expulsion of air' was actually the time required to ensure sufficient heat penetration to kill the spoilage organisms which in those days were only dimly, if at all, perceived. In 1810, English interests began work on the heat processing of food in cans. They were successful and Appert himself acknowledged the quality of their products, regretting that at that time he was still confined to bottles by the poor quality of French metallurgy.

The Royal Navy took up the new products, using them as 'medical comforts' and to provision the Arctic voyages of Ross in 1814 and Parry 1819-20 and 1821-2. Conversely, Dumont Durville carried Appert's canned foods in his Pacific voyages of 1826-9 and had a lot of trouble with them,[11] mute witness to Appert's disenchantment with French metallurgy. Canned foods were known in Australia at least as early as 1815 and were recommended to immigrants in 1822 by George Evans, Surveyor-General of Van Diemen's Land.

By 1840 Australia had established a pastoral industry, but by 1843 multitudes of cattle and, especially, sheep, were being boiled down for tallow. This crisis and the rapid introduction of the tallow industry which accompanied it have been described elsewhere.[12] It spelt disaster for some but it catalysed the introduction by Sizar Elliott of the heat processing of foods.

Sizar Elliott was a ships' chandler in Charlotte Place, now Grosvenor Street, Sydney.[13] He had been born in Essex, England, had been taken as a child of three to New Brunswick, Canada, and when 21 had joined his uncle, Joseph William Bell, in Launceston. Late in 1836 he moved to Sydney and took the first opportunity to enter business on his own account. In Canada, Elliott had worked for a merchant who handled many food items. En route to Australia he had inspected a number of factories in Liverpool and Manchester and he had had experience in the food industry with his uncle, who was a miller and biscuit maker. He was innovative, and undoubtedly well aware of canned food. When, therefore, in the wake of the boiling down frenzy, Elliott saw masses of cooked meat strewn on the fields as fertilizer he set himself the task of establishing meat processing in Sydney.

Elliott began to experiment in his own kitchen in 1845. He rapidly decided that a boiling water bath was not hot enough and, being unaware of the recent introduction in England of the calcium chloride brine bath, he turned to whale oil heated by gas flame. By and large, his work was successful. As were cans everywhere at the time, Elliott's cans were all hand made from the very heavy tinplate which was then used. Lids were soldered on after the cans had been filled and the common practice was to leave a hole to allow for the escape of air as the cans were heated. At the end of the processing time a small piece of tin plate was soldered over the hole against the issuing steam. Elliott used a variant by which each lid carried a long soft copper tube. At the end of heating, the tube was bent to dip into a bath of hot 'soup' and the can was cooled with a wet cloth. The resulting vacuum as the steam in the can condensed sucked the 'soup' into the can to replace the water lost as steam during the long cooking process. The tube was then nipped off close to the lid, the stump sealed with solder and the sealed tins given a final heating. All cans in those days were large by modern standards, 6 lb being the commonest size. This led, of course, to serious over-cooking, which was the major criticism levelled at Australian canned meats when they were introduced to the general British market some twenty years later.[14]

People in Bright Sparcs - Elliott, Sizar

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 77 - 78, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher