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Geelong Historical Character
James Harrison
 • Founder of The Geelong Advertiser
 • Inventer of refrigeration

James Harrison was born at Dunbartonshire, Scotland in 1816. He trained as a printing apprentice in Glasgow and worked in London before immigrating to Sydney in 1837 to set up a press for an English company.

Moving to Melbourne in 1839, he was employed first as a compositor and then editor of the “Port Phillip Patriot”. When his employer acquired a new press, Harrison bought the old one for 30 pounds and started Geelong’s first newspaper. The Geelong Advertiser’s first edition appeared on the 21st November 1840. By November 1842, Harrison became sole owner.

In 1850, Harrison became a member of the first Geelong Town Council and represented Geelong in the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1859-1860. In 1862 he had to sell the ‘Advertiser’ to escape bankruptcy after a libel suit by the Crown Prosecutor George Mackay, whose evident drunkenness on duty Harrison had editorially deplored.

While operating the ‘Advertiser’ between 1842 and 1862 his interest in 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 touch.

In 1851 Harrison’s first mechanical ice-making machine began operation on the banks of the Barwon River at Rocky Point in Geelong. In 1854 his first commercial ice-making began production and in 1855 he was granted a patent for an ether vapour-compression refrigeration system.

Harrison continued to develop refrigeration with the goal of producing a system to allow export of meat from Australia to England. In 1872-1873, at the Melbourne Exhibition, Harrison proposed a system where meat would be frozen in a refrigeration plant and then stored in an insulated “cold bank” on board a ship. His exhibit carried the sign: “Fresh Meat frozen and packed as if for a voyage, so that the refrigerating process may be continued for any required period,”

In July 1873 Harrison prepared the sailing ship Norfolk for an experimental beef shipment to the United Kingdom. His choice of a cool room rather than the installation of a refrigeration system proved to be disastrous because the ice was consumed faster than expected while travelling through the tropics. The rotting meat had to be dumped overboard.

Public confidence was ruined. After the failure Harrison returned to journalism at The Age newspaper. His journalism included Scientific Gossip, signed “Oedipus” (mythical solver of the Sphinx’s riddle), reported scientific news, discussed Darwinism and other international controversies of the day, invited correspondence and included a section on current patents.

Harrison’s interest in the development of refrigeration continued, and it wasn't much longer before meat and other products were successfully transported to Europe using refrigeration. Harrison returned to Geelong in 1892 and died at his Point Henry home in 1893.

His Legacy
• The James Harrison Museum committee have acquired land at Rocky Point and are endeavouring to build a museum there.
• The Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating’s most distinguished award is the James Harrison Medal.
• The James Harrison bridge spanning the Barwon River in Geelong is named in his honour.



Top Image: Plaque commemorating the invention of refrigeration outside the offices of the Geelong Advertiser in Ryrie Street.
Middle Image: The bollard depicting James Harrison near Griffins Gully Jetty on Western Beach.
Above Image: A portrait of James Harrison





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