James Harrison

The monument of James Harrison has a striking inscription, full of significance, which reads “One soweth – another reapeth.”

Today, people might only recognise James Harrison from the bridge over the Barwon that was named in his honour. However, we learned that there’s much more to him than that – he was also a successful journalist, politician and inventor.

James founded, owned and ran Victoria’s oldest morning newspaper, the Geelong Advertiser, which he started in 1840. He ran and edited The Advertiser for its first 25 years. It was while working at the advertiser that he experimented with refrigeration. 

This actually started when he was cleaning the ink from the press after printing his newspaper. He noticed that the chemicals used to clean the ink made the metal cold to the touch. He reasoned that if he could capture that reaction, by enclosing the chemical gas in metal tubes and circulating it through coils, he would then be able to create ice. It took a lot more research working in his sheds alongside the Barwon River to develop this system, but that method is essentially the same method that is used today in our supermarket cabinets, or our home kitchen refrigerators.

We also learned that even though extremely busy with his paper and experiments, Harrison still found time to experiment with creating salt by evaporating seawater at Point Henry. On top of this, he was Geelong’s postmaster from 1842 to 48, a member of Geelong’s first council, and he sent the first shipment of frozen meat to England. However the meat went bad when a pump failed in mid-ocean and as a result he was declared bankrupt and required to sell all his possessions to pay his debtors.

He lived in England for 20 years, working to pay off that debt, then returned to Australia, where he worked as a journalist for The Age, and even became the Member of Parliament for Geelong in State parliament before he died at his home at Pt. Henry in 1893. James led a full life indeed, and from all this he was remembered as ‘The Father of Refrigeration’.

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