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Thomas Sutcliffe Mort

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Thomas Sutcliffe Mort (1816- )


1879 Bio Note [1]

MORT, THOMAS SUTCLIFFE, was born in Bolton, Lancashire, England, December 23, 1816. At an early age he entered the warehouse of Messrs. A. and S. Henry, of Manchester, and was recommended by that firm, on application being made to them for a trustworthy young clerk, to be sent to Australia.

He arrived in Sydney in 1838, under engagement to Aspinwall, Brown and Co. From this time to that of his death, in 1878, Mr. Mort was more or less identified with nearly every movement for the advancement of New South Wales, and by his business talents, indomitable enterprise, public spirit, and high character, exercised a great power for the general good. Down to 1843, Mr. Mort remained in the employment of the firm we have named, and of their successors, Gosling, Brown, and Co., acting as clerk and salesman.

In 1841 Mr. Mort ventured upon his first speculation of any consequence, becoming a shareholder in the "Hunter River Steam Navigation Company." This afterwards became the "Australasian Steam Navigation Company," and another Hunter River Company was started, retaining the old title. In 1843 the terrible commercial crisis which had set in proved fatal to his employers, and Mort was left to face the world afresh. With many assurances of support, he determined to begin business as an auctioneer. Withdrawing himself from society, he devoted all his energies to his new avocation, working for a long time at the rate of fifteen and even eighteen hours a day. Yet his love of gardening, which afterwards found scope in the beautiful grounds of Greenoaks, impelled him to give many a half-hour by candlelight to a small plot in front of his cottage at Double Bay. Mr. Mort soon put his business on a very comprehensive basis, and to him belongs the credit of establishing the first public wool sales in Australia.

In 1846, his increasing success enabled him to buy two or three sand-hills at Darling Point, upon which he began to try his talent for landscape gardening and horticulture, then new to Sydney. The visitor now sees in the spacious lawns and noble terraces of Greenoaks, clad in richest verdure, and adorned with choice plants and trees, a triumph of taste which few colonial residences can surpass. In 1849, the project of making the first railway in the colony - from Sydney to Parramatta - was mooted, and Mr. Mort became one of the promoters.

In 1851, the discovery of gold near Bathurst brought a great change in Australian affairs. Mr. Mort foresaw that, eventually, the staple industry would command better markets than ever. His advice saved the fortunes of many who would have sold out at any price, and made the fortunes of many others whom he persuaded to invest in pastoral properties. At the same time, Mr. Mort entered with the greatest energy into many new openings for enterprise. He formed the first Company for the working of auriferous lands. It was called "The Great Nugget Vein Mining Company." When the shareholders became dissatisfied, he called them together, and offered to take their shares off their hands. Such was the confidence felt in him, that those present refused to be released from their liability. Mr. Mort's fine commercial capability and activity had now placed him at the head of a business of the first magnitude, known as Mort and Company. His talent as a financier was in those eventful times tasked to the utmost.

In 1863 amongst other useful projects, he promoted the introduction of steam-vessels for the harbour and coasting trade. Mr. Mort also commenced excavations for a dock, which were extended until there was constructed what is now the largest private dry dock in the Southern hemisphere. It is situated at the head of Waterview Bay, in Port Jackson, and is almost 400 feet in length, being entirely cut out of the solid rock. In connection with it there are the most extensive engineering works in the colony, with workshops covering an area of five acres, in which when at full work 700 hands are employed in the iron and brass foundries, boiler, locomotive, engine, and shipbuilding works, comprised in this important concern. Most of the locomotives supplied to the Government have come out of this establishment.

The steamer "Governor Blackall," of 500 tons, was also constructed and entirely fitted out for the Government of Queensland; and the steamers "Thetis," "Ajax," and "Captain Cook" for New South Wales." The whole of the property is now vested in the "Mort's Dock and Engineering Company, Limited," in which the founder sank nearly £100,000 of his capital. In 1873, Mr. Mort endeavoured to persuade his workmen to become his fellow-shareholders on very favourable terms, his purpose, as expressed by himself, being "that I as capitalist, and you as workers, should be bound together by a common tie, with the cords of a common interest." Nearly all the foremen became shareholders.

In 1856, in conjunction with Mr. John Hawdon, whom he bought out in 1860, Mr. Mort proceeded to grapple with the most difficult and vital problem of Australian progress - rural settlement - buying about 14,000 acres of land in the district of Moruya, 212 miles south of Sydney, on the Tuross River, and near the coast. This estate, upon which Mr. Mort spent from time to time upwards of £100,000, is called "Bodalla." It carries on the most extensive dairying operations in the colonies, and give's steady employment to quite a village on the property. The best English grasses have been laid down, and have taken kindly to the soil. Bodalla cheese and bacon are placed on a par with the "best English," and the demand is always greater than the supply, though this is considerable. The returns are very large, and the investment yields a handsome profit. This model estate is proving of immense public advantage, being imitated by many who make useful farmers when a pioneer has shown them the way. The beauty of Bodalla, which now includes an area of 38,000 acres, has often been extolled by visitors from all parts of the world. This was the favourite resort of Mr. Mort in the later years of his life. He was always happy in devising new improvements, and in promoting the welfare of the population who lived upon the fruits of his enterprise. Here he breathed his last, and here in a spot selected by himself, he was interred, amidst the grief of his family, and the tears of hundreds of his dependants.

The intense strain upon Mr. Mort's powers, during the six or seven years after the gold discovery, made it necessary that he should seek rest and change of scene, and in 1857 he sailed for England, where he remained until 1859, living very quietly. During that visit, Mr. Mort gathered a collection of paintings by a variety of the old masters, which upon his return to the colony, were arranged in the picture gallery of Greenoaks, and thrown open to the public. He also from this time devoted much attention to the introduction of various rural industries, such as the cultivation of silk, cotton, and sugar. Upon the last-named he spent nearly £20,000.

From 1859 to 1863 he was much harassed by an action at law which was known as the case of "Wentworth v. Lloyd," arising out of the sale of some stations by plaintiff to defendant, through Mr. Mort. Mr. Wentworth moved to have the sale declared void, on the ground that the auctioneer took an interest in it not previously known to the vendor. Mr. Mort's defence was, that his share in the purchase was well known to Mr. Wentworth, and publicly also at the time. After close contentions in the local Courts, the cause came before the Master of the Rolls, in England, who, on April 17, 1863, delivered judgment for the defendant, Lloyd, entirely clearing Mr. Mort from the imputation raised against him.

During 1862 and 1863 Mr. Mort took a leading part in the formation of the afterwards celebrated Peak Downs (Queensland) Copper-mining Company, and the Waratah Coal-mining Company (Newcastle, N. S.W.) The former has yielded copper worth considerably more than £1,000,000 sterling, and the latter is now one of the largest collieries in Australia. In 1867 Mr. Mort became a partner in the "Munn's Maizena" factory. The last great project of Mr. Mort's life was the transport of fresh beef and mutton from Australian pastures to the meat markets of Europe. In this venture the capital of Mr. Mort was joined to the scientific ability of Mr. E. D. Nicolle, with whom he had previously established Ice-works in Sydney.

In 1843, Mr. Mort tried to establish an export trade in beef cured in the ordinary way. The project now was to land the meat as sound and fresh, and natural in appearance, as if it had been killed at the place of delivery. Mr. Mort's knowledge of the prospects of pastoral industry enabled him to forecast a magnificent future for a trade of this sort. Mr. Nicolle's experiments were constant, and he received from Mr. Mort a generous confidence which placed all this gentleman's resources at his disposal. The first point was to invent a cheap means of producing artificial cold, and this difficulty was after many trials overcome by the experimentalists in discovering the possibility of the repeated use of the same ammonia. In this respect also Messrs. Mort and Nicolle went ahead of European science. According to the first authorities in the old world, "meat frozen was meat spoiled." But partial freezing, it was found, would never do, the meat became so rapidly bad when exposed. Mr. Nicolle at last demonstrated that in Australia at any rate, meat could be thoroughly frozen, that its quality was not thus injured, and that it kept longer after thawing than did other meat after being killed. This was another decided advance upon old world science.

Feeling convinced that the results of Mr. Nicolle's experiments in this particular had made the project practicable, Mr. Mort entered upon it with enthusiasm. A large establishment rose upon the margin of Darling Harbour, in a southern extremity of Port Jackson, and it was connected with the Government railways. Costly machinery, in duplicate, was erected, and the "freezing chamber" was covered with five miles of iron piping, through which the liquid ammonia was kept in circulation. A series of most interesting experiments showed that the freezing power could be successfully applied to game, fish, and various sorts of fruit, as well as live stock; and it was a novel sensation to find oneself suddenly transferred from the sultry atmosphere of an Australian summer's day into a region of ice and snow, abounding in oxen and sheep, poultry, wild game, and fish, butter and milk, all as hard as rock, their natural qualities kept in complete suspension until the time should come to thaw, cook, and consume them. The belief that the process injured their quality was shown over and over again to be unfounded.

Mr. Mort then erected slaughter-houses in the Lithgow Valley, amongst the Blue Mountains, on the Great Western Line of Railway, 96 miles from Sydney. This site was chosen to save the cattle the journey over the mountains, which much injured their quality. The buildings and yards were on the most complete plan conceivable. When both establishments were finished Mr. Mort invited, on September 2, 1875, a large number of colonists to an excursion to Lithgow Valley, beginning with an inspection of the freezing works at Darling Harbour. The party proceeded by special train from the freezing works to the Valley, and there sat down to a luncheon composed of varieties of fish, game, and meat, all of which had been frozen for considerable periods before being cooked. The whole repast was a thorough success, and congratulations were showered upon the Chairman and Mr. Nicolle from all sides. The Premier, Mr. John Robertson, made a speech full of laudationion the undertaking. Mr. John Hay proposed "Success to the enterprise," in terms similarly enthusiastic. In replying to these congratulatory speeches, Mr. Mort said— "There shall be no more waste! Yes, gentlemen, I now feel that the time has arrived, or at all events is not far distant, when the various portions of the earth will give forth their products for the use of each and all; that the over-abundance of one country shall make up for the deficiency of another; the super-abundance of the year of plenty serving for the scant harvests of its successor, for cold arrests all change (cheers). Science has drawn aside the veil, and the plan stands revealed. Faraday's magic wand gave the key-note, and invention has done the rest (cheers). Climate, seasons, plenty, scarcity, distance will all shake hands, and out of the...[more]


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Sources of Information

  1. 1879 Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time by J. H. Heaton