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

Chapter 12

I The First Half Century - The Initial Struggle

II The Second Fifty Years - The Start Of Expansion
i General Conditions
ii Early Iron Production
iii The Effects of the Gold Rush - Ballarat in Particular
iv Gawler - A South Australian Industrial Town
v Railways - A Major Employer
vi Brewing and Soft Drinks
vii Drink Containers
viii Food Containers

III The Third Fifty Years - Federation And The First World War

IV The Fourth Period - Second World War To The Present



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The Second Fifty Years - The Start Of Expansion

General Conditions

The second fifty-year period began shortly before a number of things happened that were to change the state of the Colony in a positive way. Firstly, transportation to New South Wales was abolished in 1840 and although 30,800 convicts came to New South Wales between 1831 and 1840, they were gradually representing a smaller and smaller proportion of the total population. The final cessation of transportation led quite quickly to an acute shortage of labour. It may be recalled that, in the Colony, it was not the policy to keep the convicts massed together in compounds but to disperse them widely by allocating them as labourers to farmers and to small industries. This policy had two benefits, providing cheap labour to establish and develop the Colony and making any kind of mass rebellion to the harsh conditions very much more difficult. At the same time there was a rapidly increasing agricultural and pastoral industry requiring not only labour but also the extensive range of tools and equipment required to ensure viability of the enterprises. Unfortunately there was an economic recession around 1840-1 that led to the failure of many of the embryo business enterprises that had been struggling to meet local needs. One surviving business was Australian Gas Light Company, which had begun in 1837 and was by 1841 supplying 49 customers. Most of the plant associated with this enterprise was imported, as was the technology for gas production.

A severe drought led to scarcity of wheat and the importation of flour so that some mills shut and others were taken over into larger enterprises such as Sydney Flour Company. Sugar refining began in 1842 following the formation of the Australian Sugar Company in London in 1839; steam engines and equipment to the value of 20,000 were shipped out by the Company and set up in Sydney, using 80 per cent local equity.

This second fifty-year period includes the discovery of gold in Australia, with its stimulation of many small manufacturing concerns and leads up to the birth of the iron and steel industry which, perhaps more than anything else, guided the direction of later manufacturing industry.

A significant event at the beginning of this period was the move of the engineering works of Robert Russell from Hobart to Sydney in 1838. Russell had previously operated a successful works at Kirkcaldy, Scotland before bringing his family including three sons, Robert, Peter and John, to the Colony. After six years in Hobart building up his engineering business, Robert Russell Sr. could see that further expansion of the business could only occur if it were sited in Sydney. The Sydney works became Russell Brothers when the father retired soon after reaching New South Wales. The works on the banks of the Tank Stream prospered but the son Peter parted with Russell Bros. to take over a failing foundry -Sydney Foundry and Engineering Works in 1841. This foundry, producing both iron and brass castings, is thought to be the first foundry establishment in Australia and produced stoves, gratings, railings and architectural building columns, as well as many steam engine parts. The business became P. N. Russell & Co. in 1855 and a paper to the Royal Society of NSW in 1900 stated

. . . With the advent of the 50s, the horizontal engine began to supplant all other kinds of steam engines on shore and by the end of the decade Messrs. P. N. Russell & Co. had complete sets of working drawings for horizontal engines of all sizes in general use made by the author (N. Selpt) to a standard design. From these plans, scores of engines were built by the firm before the final winding up of the business.

This passage is quoted as it would seem to indicate the beginning of standardization as we now know it today. There are three further points of interest about this firm, firstly it was closed down on account of a strike; workers wanted 10 hours pay for 8 hours work. Further, P. N. Russell made two large endowments to University of Sydney around the turn of the Century to found an engineering school. Finally the Engineering Association of NSW, the precursor of the Institution of Engineers, was founded in 1870 largely with support of P. N. Russell.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Australian Sugar Company; Engineering Association of New South Wales; P. N. Russell & Co.; Royal Society of New South Wales; Russell Bros.; Sydney Flour Company; Sydney Foundry and Engineering Works

People in Bright Sparcs - Russell, P. N.; Russell, Robert

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 852 - 853, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher