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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Mort, Thomas Sutcliffe

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Mort, Thomas Sutcliffe, one of the leading commercial pioneers and public benefactors of New South Wales, was born at Bolton, in Lancashire, on Dec. 23rd, 1816. He entered the warehouse of the eminent Manchester firm of A. & S. Henry as a youth, and was recommended by them to the firm of Aspinwall, Brown & Co., carrying on business in Sydney, whither he proceeded in 1838. Mr. Mort remained with this firm and their successors, Gosling, Brown & Co., till 1843, when the latter firm collapsed in the financial crisis, and Mr. Mort started in business as an auctioneer on his own account. In this way the great wool-broking and financial firm of Mort & Co. was founded, Mr. Mort being the first to initiate public wool sales in Australia. Amongst numerous public enterprises which he was prominent in promoting were the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company (1841); the Sydney to Parramatta Railway (the first constructed in the colony—1849); the Great Nugget Vein Mining Company (the first company started for the working of auriferous lands); and Mort's Dock and Engineering Company, Limited, in which last he invested nearly £100,000. In 1856 he started a dairying settlement at Bodalla, in the Moruya district of New South Wales, which soon occupied an area of 38,000 acres, and gave profitable occupation to a large number of persons, the capital invested by Mr. Mort being computed at £100,000. In 1862 and 1863 Mr. Mort took an active part in floating the famous Peak Downs Copper Company in Queensland, and the Waratah Coal Mining Company, which carries on operations at Newcastle, N.S.W., both having proved enormously profitable. Mr. Mort also assisted in establishing a Maizena factory and iceworks. The great public work of his life was, however, in connection with the frozen meat industry. As early as 1843 he had gone into the export of beef cured in the ordinary way. In conjunction with Mr. E. D. Nicolle—who provided the science, and Mr. Mort the capital— he now went into a series of elaborate experiments to test the practicability of conveying the produce of Australian pastures to the European meat markets in a fresh condition. Hackneyed as the freezing process as applied to meat preservation now appears, it had all the interest and excitement of novelty when Mr. Mort first turned his attention to its possible developments. The first thing was to secure a cheap means of freezing, and this was accomplished when the repeated use of the same ammonia was demonstrated to be feasible. Partial freezing, it was found, would not do, as the meat went bad so quickly when exposed; whilst, on the other hand, when thoroughly frozen, it was found to keep longer after thawing than fresh meat after being killed. Mr. Mort also convinced himself that the quality of the meat was not deteriorated by being frozen. Freezing works were erected at Darling Harbour, and slaughterhouses in the Lithgow valley, amongst the Blue Mountains, on the Great Western line of railway ninety-six miles, so as to save travelling the cattle over the mountains, which injured their quality. At a luncheon given at the freezing works on Sept 2nd, 1875, to inaugurate the start of the industry, Mr. Mort spoke of having solved the riddle by which the superabundance of one country should supply the deficiency of another. He had spent £80,000 upon the venture, and £20,000 in addition was subscribed by the squatters of Australia, with the view of sending home a trial shipment, the ship Northern being chartered for the purpose. Unfortunately Mr. Nicolle's inventive skill failed him at the last moment, the machinery proving unable to stand the action of the chemical agent employed. This failure at the moment of seeming fruition was a terrible blow to Mr. Mort, who could not foresee the splendid results of which his efforts and those of Mr. Nicolle had laid the foundation. The meat export was abandoned, and the freezing works converted to local use as an ice manufactory, a daily supply of fresh milk and a depôt of cooked dishes being started in connection therewith in the interests of the Sydney working classes. Mr. Mort died at Bodalla on May 9th, 1878, a monument being erected to his memory by public subscription. Mr. Mort married first, in 1841, Theresa Shepheard, eldest daughter of James Laidley, of Sydney, sometime Deputy Commissary-General (who died in 1869); and, secondly, Miss Macaulay. The firm of Mort & Co. was recently amalgamated with the equally eminent firm of R. Goldsbrough & Co., Limited, under the style of Goldsbrough, Mort & Co., Limited.