MORT, Thomas Sutcliffe (1816-1878)

MORT, Thomas Sutcliffe (1816-1878)
merchant, and pioneer in meat preservation
son of Jonathan and Mary Mort, was born at Bolton, Lancashire, England, on 23 December 1816. He was educated at Manchester grammar school, obtained a position with the Manchester firm of A. and S. Henry, and had a letter from it recommending him to Messrs Aspinwall Brown and Company when he came to Sydney in February 1838. He obtained a position in this business, but the financial crisis of 1843 compelled him to start for himself. He began as an auctioneer and wool-broker, under the name of Mort and Company, established the first public wool sales, and built up a very prosperous business. He was a shareholder in 1841 in the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company, and was one of the promoters in 1849 of the first railway in New South Wales. With the opening of the goldfields in 1851 Mort realized that there must be a general increase of business, and he showed great enterprise in encouraging anything that led to the development of the country. In 1856 he began to buy land at Moruya about 200 miles south of Sydney. His estate, which was called Bodalla, eventually covered an area of 38,000 acres on which there was much settlement engaged in dairying. He also experimented in the cultivation of silk, cotton, and sugar. In 1863 he was interested in the introduction of steamers for the harbour and coastal trade, and formed what eventually became the Mort's Dock and Engineering Company Ltd which afterwards employed as many as 700 men at one time. Locomotives for the government railways were largely supplied by this business and steamers up to 500 tons were built. He also excavated a dock 400 feet long, the largest in Australia. Later on Mort offered shares to his employees on very favourable terms, and a fair number of shares were taken up. This was one of the earliest attempts at cooperation between capital and labour in Australia, and although only partially successful, Mort's relations with his employees were always of the happiest. Other interests of Mort were in the Peak Downs Copper Company in Queensland, the Waratah Coal Mining Company at Newcastle, and a Maizena factory. He had always been interested in the question of the preservation of meat, and towards the end of his life spent much money in experimenting with freezing meat intended to be exported to England. In 1861 he established at Darling Harbour the first freezing works in the world, which afterwards became the New South Wales Fresh Food and Ice Company. In 1875 slaughtering works were constructed in the Blue Mountains in order that the Sydney market might be supplied. He employed a French engineer, E. D. Nicolle, and much money was spent in endeavouring to find a way of delivering frozen meat in England. The experiments were abandoned for the time being in 1876, and it is extremely likely that the disappointments and anxieties experienced by Mort affected his health. He was, however, still convinced that Australia was destined to be a great supplier of food to Europe. He died at Bodalla of inflammation of the lungs following a chill on 9 may 1878. He married (1) Miss Laidley, in 1841 and (2) Miss Macaulay, who survived him with five sons and two daughters by the first marriage, and two sons by the second. A statue to his memory was erected in Sydney. His business was subsequently amalgamated with R. Goldsbrough and Company Limited under the name of Goldsbrough Mort and Company Limited.
In private life Mort was interested in the arts and his collection of pictures at his own home was frequently thrown open to the public. He was kindly and extremely charitable, not only spending large sums of money on churches, schools and charitable institutions, but finding time to carry out literally the injunction to "visit the widows and fatherless in their affliction". At the time of his death he was spoken of as "the greatest benefactor the working classes in this country ever had". As a business man he was sanguine and enthusiastic and never afraid of a big proposition. To this he united the shrewdness and powers of work that brought success to most of his ventures. No other man of his period did so much for the development of Australia.
J. H. Heaton, Australian Dictionary of Dates; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1878; J. T. Critchell and J. Raymond, A History of the Frozen Meat Trade, p. 18; James Jervis, Journal and. Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XXIV, pp. 325-95; Rev. J. Jefferis, Life Lessons from the Career of Thomas S. Mort, A Sermon.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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