Interesting Facts About James Harrison: A Pioneer In All Kinds Of Refrigeration

James Harrison (1816?-1893), journalist and inventor, was born at Bonhill near Renton, Dunbartonshire, Scotland, the son of a fisherman. James was apprenticed to a printer at Glasgow where he managed to attend the Evening College founded by Professor John Anderson (Anderson’s University) and later the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution, where he specialized in chemistry and won two prizes for his essays.
He went to London in 1835 and worked as a compositor. Engaged by Tegg & Co., publishers and booksellers of Cheapside, he sailed for Sydney in 1837 with printing equipment for the Literary News to be edited by William a’Beckett.
After five months with this journal, Harrison repaid his passage money and became foreman of the Sydney Monitor; he also contributed to it a refutation of Dr William Bland’s specific against spontaneous combustion in wool, and worked for the Sydney Herald.
We are now going to look at FIVE interesting facts about James Harrison:
1. Harrison’s greatest achievement and much of his financial failure stemmed from his inventions: he was a pioneer in all kinds of refrigeration. At Geelong he designed and built the plant for the first Australian manufacture of ice and began production at Rocky Point, taking out a local patent in 1854.
2. In 1839 Harrison joined the Port Phillip Patriot under John Pascoe Fawkner who next year commissioned him to found and edit the weekly Geelong Advertiser. In partnership with John Scamble he bought this newspaper in 1842; together they also produced a Geelong Almanac, but Harrison soon became sole owner and emerged as a journalist of power and parts.
His standards were high, his policies broad and progressive; he was a fearless humanitarian, devoid of humbug and sectarian prejudice, with natural and acquired width of knowledge.
3. Before 1870, as his finances recovered, Harrison began pioneering work on the refrigeration of ships for the export of meat, while competitors were still thinking only of direct freezing. In 1873 he won a gold medal at the Melbourne Exhibition by proving that meat kept frozen for months remained perfectly edible and that it might be shipped to England for 7s. a ton.
As a result he was given £2500 for an experiment: in July the Norfolk sailed with twenty-five tons of beef and mutton. Unfortunately lack of funds for adequate machinery, rough handling and ignorance that beef should only be chilled made the cargo unusable.
4. In 1856 Harrison went to London where he patented both his process (747 of 1856) and his apparatus (2362 of 1857) and had talks with Faraday and Tyndall. Siebe Brothers of Holborn used his designs to make improved machinery which was shipped to Victoria in 1859. A short trial at new works convinced Harrison that Geelong could not use three tons of ice each day, so he moved to Melbourne where his daily output of ten tons also exceeded demand.
5. Harrison was a member of Geelong’s first town council in 1850 and represented Geelong in the Victorian Legislative Council from November 1854 until its abolition in March 1856. Harrison then represented Geelong 1858–59 and Geelong West 1859–60 in the Victorian Legislative Assembly.
As an editor he was an early advocate for tariff protection which later he 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.

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