Thomas Sutcliffe Mort was an Australian pastoralist, and a pioneer of preserving food for export by freezing.

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort.

In September 1875 he organized a picnic lunch for 300 influential people (all men of course 😎) at Lithgow, where he had established a vast meat works and chilling complex. Both food and guests were transported from Sydney across the Blue Mountains by steam train. This was an exercise in public relations, as Mort wanted to demonstrate just how successful his process was. The occasion represented many years of effort and a huge personal investment.

Meat works established by Thomas Mort at Lithgow.

Before boarding the train to Lithgow there had been a tour of the freezing plant, which Mort had established in Sydney’s Darling Harbour,

The meat freezing plant at Darling Harbour 1876.

The guests enjoyed a sumptuous feast. It was explained to them that everything on the menu had been frozen for a considerable period. For example, the native Wonga pigeons had been shot eighteen months earlier, in March 1874.

Menu for the picnic held by Thomas Mort.

Just look at the illustrious guest list. Virtually every New South Wales politician was there (note the name Henry Parkes, future Father of Federation) plus men of business, agriculture, law, the medical profession and the military.

Guest list for the picnic held by Thomas Mort in 1875.

After luncheon the guests retook their seats in the train and returned to Sydney, which was not reached, owing to delays on the road, until between one and two o’clock in the morning. (Maitland Mercury, Sept 7 1875)

The picnic fare was recreated by Sydney Living Museums in 2018, but thankfully no sweet Wonga pigeons were on the menu.

Wonga pigeon was eaten at the picnic held by Thomas Mort in 1875,
Recreation of Thomas Mort's picnic at Lithgow.

Thomas Mort died in 1878 aged 61. Two years later the first shipment of frozen meat to Britain took place. His indefatigable efforts had shortened his life, but his legacy in many aspects of Australian industry and agriculture was extraordinary. He was also a kind and generous man. RIP Mr Mort. 💛


  1. Hello Pauline,
    Another of your great literary works, that I always enjoy reading . I looked on the list to see if any of my relo’s were on it ? no luck there. Some of them were Butchers in Sydney. Now I know what you have been doing during lockdown. Have a lovely Christmas

    Larraine H

    • Pauline

      Thanks Larraine. Yes, have been hiding away even more than usual in these troubled times, writing and gardening and doing a massive declutter as we move finally into the house. Hope you are happy and healthy. Merry Christmas to you and your family. 🎄 😍

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