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James Harrison

James Harrison (April 1816 - 3 September 1893) was an Australian newspaper printer, journalist, politician, and pioneer in the field of mechanical refrigeration.

Contents

Early life

Daniel Harrison was born at St Johns (near Renton), Dunbartonshire, Scotland, the son of a fisherman. He trained as a printing apprentice in Glasgow and worked in London before emigrating to Sydney, Australia in 1837 to set up a printing press for the English company Tegg & Co. Moving to Melbourne in 1839 he found employment with John Pascoe Fawkner as a compositor and later editor on Fawkner's Port Phillip Patriot. When Fawkner acquired a new press, Harrison offered him 30 pounds for the original old press to start Geelong's first newspaper. The first weekly edition of the Geelong Advertiser appeared 21 November 1840: edited by 'James Harrison and printed and published for John Pascoe Fawkner (sole proprietor) by William Watkins...'. By November 1842, Harrison became sole owner.

Harrison was a member of Geelong's first town council in 1850 and represented Geelong and Geelong West in the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1859-60. As an editor he was an early advocate for tariff protection which later be brought to prominence when he was editor of The Age under the proprietorship of David Syme. But his rise ceased abruptly in 1854 after a controversial libel suit was brought against him by the Crown Prosecutor George Mackay whose evident drunkenness on duty Harrison had editorially deplored. The jury brought in a verdict for Mackay with Harrison to pay £800 damages. In 1862, although his assets were worth £22,000, he had to sell the Advertiser to escape bankruptcy.

It was while he owned this paper from 1842 to 1862 that his interest for refrigeration and ice-making began to develop. Whilst cleaning movable type with ether, he noticed that the evaporating fluid would leave the metal type cold to the touch.

Pioneer

Harrison's first mechanical ice-making machine began operation in 1851 on the banks of the Barwon River at Rocky Point in Geelong. His first commercial ice-making machine followed in 1854, and his patent for an ether vapor-compression refrigeration system was granted in 1855. This novel system used a compressor to force the refrigeration gas to pass through a condenser, where it cooled down and liquefied. The liquefied then circulated through the refrigeration coils and vaporised again, cooling down the surrounding system. The machine employed a 5 m (16 ft.) flywheel and produced 3,000 kilograms (6,600 lb) of ice per day.

Though Harrison had commercial success establishing a second ice company back in Sydney in 1860, he later entered the debate of how to compete against the American advantage of unrefrigerated beef sales to the United Kingdom. He wrote Fresh Meat frozen and packed as if for a voyage, so that the refrigerating process may be continued for any required period, and in 1873 prepared the sailing ship Norfolk for an experimental beef shipment to the United Kingdom. His choice of a cold room system instead of installing a refrigeration system upon the ship itself proved disastrous when the ice was consumed faster than expected. The experiment failed, ruining public confidence in refrigerated meat at that time. He returned to journalism, becoming editor of the Melbourne Age in 1867.

Harrison continued to work on refrigeration, with the emphasis on producing a system that would allow the export of meat from Australia to England. At the Melbourne Exhibition of 1872-73, Harrison showed his proposal, where meat would be frozen in the refrigeration plant and then stored in an insulated "cold bank" on board the ship.

An experiment was launched in July 1873 with ice used to keep the "cold bank" temperature down and the meat frozen. But the experiment ended in disaster when there was not enough ice to complete the journey. The meat thawed and had to be thrown overboard. Harrison was ruined and again went back to journalism at The Age. His journalism included Scientific Gossip, signed "Oedipus" (mythical solver of the Sphinx's riddle), reported local scientific news, discussed Darwinism and other international controversies of the day, invited correspondence, and included a section on current patents.

Harrison's work helped in the continued development of refrigeration and it wasn't long before meat and other products were successfully transported through the tropics using it.

Harrison returned to Geelong in 1892 and died at his Point Henry home in 1893.

Legacy

The James Harrison bridge over the River Barwon

The James Harrison Museum committee have acquired land at Rocky Point (the site of the first ice making machine in the world) and are endeavoring to build a museum there.

The Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating most distinguished award is the James Harrison Medal.

The James Harrison bridge spanning the Barwon River in Geelong is named in his honor.

Further reading

  • Lang, William Rawson James Harrison, Pioneering Genius. Neptune Press, Newtown, 1982
  • Morrison, Elizabeth James Harrison: Inventor and Science Journalist Australasian Science vol 19 no. 10, 1998
  • W. R. Brownhill The History of Geelong and Corio Bay. Melbourne 1955.
  • R. T. B. McKenzie Father of Refrigeration, Refrigeration Journal, Sept 1956.

References

See also

  • Thomas Sutcliffe Mort - another Australian refrigeration inventor
  • Jacob Perkins - American inventor who patented an ether cycle machine in 1836.
  • Alexander Twining - an American contemporary who patented a similar machine in 1850 and 1853.
  • John Gorrie - American physician and inventor, another pioneer of refrigeration.
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