James Harrison: Journalist, Inventor & Visionary
James Harrison was a man of huge energy. Born in Scotland in 1816, he arrived in Australia in 1837 and worked for the Sydney Morning Herald. He then moved south and in 1840 founded the Geelong Advertiser for John Pascoe Fawkner.
But Harrison was much more than a newspaper man. Whilst cleaning the print type with Sulfuric ether, he realised that the chemical could have other uses. In 1857 he created the world's first large-scale refrigeration machine and his evaporation technique is used as the basis for modern air conditioning.
NARRATOR: James Harrison, a largely unacknowledged but major contributor to the foundations of the city of Geelong, was a man of huge energy, who seemed to be able to turn his hand to anything and everything.
[Portrait of James Harrison]
NARRATOR: Who, for example, would know that Geelong can claim as one of its own the man who produced the world's first large-scale refrigeration machine in 1857, or that James Harrison was the founder of the Geelong Advertiser, publishing its first edition in 1840, and, as the paper's publisher and editor, that he was a vigorous and effective champion of the interests of the city and its region for the next 26 years?
[Old map of Scotland]
NARRATOR: Born in Scotland in 1816, Harrison was only 12 when he began a printing apprenticeship in Glasgow, working six days a week, 12 hours a day. And after that 12-hour day, he went at night to the Glasgow Mechanics' Institute, where he developed the literary and inventive skills that served his broad and diverse future career.
[Jim Harrison, Grandson of James Harrison]
Jim Harrison: He arrived here in 1837 and landed in Sydney. And he worked there for the Sydney Morning Herald and two or three papers.
[Old map of Melbourne]
NARRATOR: Melbourne - the newly named settlement on the Yarra - was only four years old when Harrison moved there in 1839.
[Black-and-white view of Geelong, 1810s]
NARRATOR: The town's population then numbered around 3,000 and there were about another 2,000 people living in the Geelong and Portland region.
Jim Harrison: He went down there to start the newspaper for John Pascoe Fawkner.
[Black-and-white portrait of John Pascoe Fawkner]
Jim Harrison: But John had sold him a very old press, which he called 'a load of rubbish', but, within 12 months, my grandfather owned the Advertiser and ran it for 26 years, I think.
NARRATOR: The 1851 discovery of gold in Victoria brought dramatic changes across all regions.
[Modern images of goldmining]
NARRATOR: But the increased demand from the Gold Rush had been a boost for primary industry in the Geelong region.
[Vision of sheep in paddock]
NARRATOR: It had expanded down the Bellarine Peninsula and now produced more than the region could utilise. Farmers were looking for new markets.
Jim Harrison: Well, I guess, as a publisher and as an editor of a paper, he was very aware of the fact that Australia had a lot of primary produce, but we couldn't export it due to the fact that they couldn't keep it on the long journey. He got to thinking of what could be done and, of course, as a printer, he had to keep the type clean and he used sulphuric ether to clean the type. And he found that that made his fingers very cold, and when he blew on the type there were ice crystals formed.
[Image of Rocky Point, Barwon River, Geelong]
NARRATOR: He learned from failures in the prototypes of other inventors and through his own, sometimes explosive, experimentation in a cave at Rocky Point.
[Man with gloves handles a block of ice]
NARRATOR: In 1857, he became the first person in the world to design, patent and manufacture a machine that actually made ice.
Jim Harrison: Yes, his first experimental machines worked on compression and evaporation.
[Detailed sketch of the machine]
Jim Harrison: And that... he never varied from that. And the refrigerator in your kitchen today still works on, basically, that principle. Colonial engineering was pretty simple at that stage, so he went to England to seek out the help of steam engineers, which he did.
[Replica of the machine]
Jim Harrison: And that was when he went to Siebe & Co.
NARRATOR: While in England, he had two large machines built - one for a paraffin works and the other for a brewery. These were the first large and successful refrigerating machines to be sold.
Jim Harrison: When he went to England, he had left the business in the charge of his brother. And his brother, not hearing anything of success or otherwise, assumed that there had been success and he built a new printing office, and so forth and so forth.
[Black-and-white image of New Geelong Advertiser Offices 1858]
Jim Harrison: And, of course, James came back without too much money because he had hoped to sell his patents in England, which he didn't.
NARRATOR: Harrison arrived back in Geelong in November 1858 and immediately directed his energies into the production of ice.
[Man with gloves handles a block of ice]
NARRATOR: Within three months, his machine was in full operation in a not-yet-completed building on a corner of Victoria and La Trobe Terraces. Later, to encourage consumers, Harrison offered domestic ice chests at cost price.
[Old refrigerator label and instructions]
NARRATOR: Unfortunately, the public was slow to take up the home refrigeration idea, and they didn't like the frosty whiteness of the artificial ice. Harrison took on a massive campaign to promote the uses and virtues of ice.
[Article titled 'Ice, natural and artificial']
NARRATOR: But the public remained reticent and business was slow. At the same time, Harrison's debts from his commitments in the production of ice-making machines continued to mount.
[Man acting as James Harrison]
NARRATOR: In October 1861, the Geelong Advertiser included James Harrison as one of 71 cases listed for the insolvency court. But Harrison was not a man easily beaten. For the next phase of his determined career, he relocated to Melbourne, where he was employed as a journalist and editor with the Melbourne Age, and his passion to prove the worth of refrigeration in the service of agricultural export markets was still just as keen.
[Farewell letter to James Harrison from the people of Geelong 1866, printed on silk]
NARRATOR: His solution was to build the forerunner of modern refrigerated containers.
Jim Harrison: He pre-froze tonnes of meat and put inside these containers and then covered them over with many, many more tonnes of ice, and he had a circulating system to circulate brine into the containers.
[Old map of Africa]
Jim Harrison: Somewhere as they were going around Africa, the containers broke down and let water into the insulation, which ruins its quality or its purpose as an insulator. And the whole lot had to be thrown overboard. So he arrived in England a broken man.
[Man acting as James Harrison sketching]
Jim Harrison: He spent many years, nearly 20 years, in England preparing further patents on improvements of refrigeration and particularly on containers.
[View of a boat in Geelong bay]
Jim Harrison: And he came back in 1892, mainly because, I think, probably his youngest son had consumption and he brought him back for health-wise, and he died. And then, of course, a year later Grandpa died of the same problem.
[James Harrison's gravestone]
NARRATOR: James Harrison died in 1893. The Geelong community paid for his gravestone at the East Geelong cemetery.
Jim Harrison: He died at Point Henry. He used to write articles for The Age.
[Images of a wind pump]
Jim Harrison: All the time he was in England, he reported to The Age. He was dictating one of those to my Aunty Queenie, who was his second daughter of the third marriage, when he died.
['One soweth, another reapeth', inscription on James Harrison's grave]