Thomas Mort – Did you know?
The story of Thomas Mort
Otherwise known, with little exaggeration, as the ‘man who made Australia’, Thomas Mort (see photo) was born in Bolton in England in 1816. At 22 he sailed for Sydney, where he started as a warehouse clerk but soon set up in business on his own. After going bust in the shipping trade he made a fortune in wool marketing, starting the first public wool sales in Australia. At the same time he began private experiments freezing meat. Later he made a further fortune mining gold, and built his own docks at Port Jackson. By 1875, his experiments in freezing (and thus preserving) meat had come to fruition. Mort chartered a steamer, installed a refrigeration plant, and filled it with frozen meat to ship to England.
On the eve of the steamer’s departure he threw a grand banquet, which was attended by all the good and the great of Australia. Here he announced that he had solved the problem of how to feed the world. The steamer duly set sail – and broke down. Refrigeration didn’t work.
A broken man, Mort retired to his country mansion. He turned his great meat refrigeration plant into an ice-making factory, and died three years later in 1878.
But by now the problems of refrigerated shipment had been solved. Overnight, this transformed world trade – and for almost a century the Australian economy ‘rode on the sheep’s back’. Mort had been right, and a grateful Australia erected its first public statue to a great Australian.