Deposit 11 - The Bodalla Company Limited deposit 1

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The Bodalla Company Limited deposit 1


  • 1856 - 1949 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

8 m

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Name of creator

(1887 - 1994)

Administrative history

The Bodalla Company was formed in 1887 by the Executors and Trustees of the Will of Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, who died in 1878, to run this pastoral estate for the beneficiaries (mainly members of his immediate family) under the terms of his will. It is situated on the South Coast of N.S.W., south of Moruya and originally comprised about 13,000 acres when acquired by T.S. Mort in 1856 from John Hawdon. Mort purchased a further 4,000 acres of the neighbouring property, Comerang, from Philip Jeffrey, which became the home farm and the house Mort’s country home. The estate eventually totalled 56,000 acres. Mort had developed the property as a mixture of dairy cattle and agriculture, draining land, clearing heavy timber and fencing and installing tenant farmers. He increased his herd of dairy Shorthorns and began dairy production in 1861. A three-storey cheese factory was built at Comerang in 1874. Mort originally worked the property on a share-farming system, but in the early 1870s he took back the whole estate and ran it as three farms with hired workers. Mort took interest in several areas, developing methods of getting milk, butter and cheese to market, investing in refrigeration, developing piggeries and promoting the use of maize in bread manufacture leading to the establishment of a corn flour mill at Merimbula.
When the main road crossing of the Tuross River was moved from Widget to Trinketabella, Mort moved the Bodalla village to its present site in 1870.
Mort had 10 children, 8 children from his first marriage to Theresa Shepheard née Laidley and 2 sons from his second marriage to Marianne Elizabeth Macaulay.
In his will Mort appointed as trustees of his estate his wife Marianne Elizabeth Mort, his eldest son James Laidley (Laidley) Mort (who later renounced his trusteeship) and his friends Benjamin Buchanan, Leslie G. Herring and Charles James Manning. The Bodalla Company was incorporated on 23 July 1887, under the ‘Bodalla Estate Act’, to put on a business footing the main asset of the Estate. The capital was £200,000 divided into 2,000 shares of £100 each, although this was later reduced to £85. By the Act, the beneficiaries were given one-tenth shares in the Bodalla Company, the shares for the younger sons being held in trust.

Name of creator

Biographical history

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort (1816-1878), businessman, was born on 23 December 1816 at Bolton, Lancashire, England, second son of Jonathan Mort and his wife Mary, née Sutcliffe. His father was not succesful in Manchester and when he died in 1834 his estate was not sufficient to provide fully for his sons. For many years the eldest son William met outstanding demands on the estate from his clerk's salary. Mort too worked as a clerk until he was offered a position in Sydney which he saw as a way to restore the family fortunes. In February 1838 he arrived at Sydney in the Superb and was later followed by his younger brothers Henry (1818-1900) and James (d.1879).
Mort became a clerk in Aspinall, Browne & Co., later Gosling, Browne & Co., and gained extensive experience in local and international commerce with an eventual salary of £500. He married Theresa Shepheard, daughter of James Laidley, in October 1841. In September 1843 he set up as an auctioneer and soon prospered in general and wool sales. While he was not the first to auction wool in Sydney he innovated regular sales where wool alone was offered, drawing specialized sellers and buyers together in an orderly manner. In the late 1840s he auctioned livestock and pastoral property at specialized sales, gave credit to selected purchasers and later provided finance for running expenses. In the 1850s he provided facilities for growers to consign wool through him for sale in London. These additions completed an integrated set of services to pastoralists that formed the pattern for later wool-broking firms.
In 1848 Mort was associated with the Australian Mutual Provident Society and in 1849 he joined a committee to found a company to promote sugar growing at Moreton Bay and the following year was a member of the Sydney Exchange Co., a director of the Sydney Railway Co. in 1851, floated the Great Nugget Vein Mining Co. in 1852, helped to finance the Empire of Henry Parkes, and subscribed to the Sydney Gold Escort Co. By 1850 Mort had become the premier auctioneer in Sydney, and experimented with partnership arrangements hoping eventually to retire from active business. In 1850-51 he was in partnership with Alexander Campbell Brown as Mort & Brown. In 1855 Mort & Co. was formed to run the wool sales and consignments which were handled in London by his brother William; its partners originally included his brother Henry and J. V. Gorman and in 1860 Benjamin Buchanan. Mort & Co. was reformed in 1867 with Mort, his son Laidley, Henry and Buchanan as partners. Between 1856 and 1867 pastoral financing was undertaken by T. S. Mort & Co. in which his partner was Ewan W. Cameron. Mort's wealth was multiplied many times in the 1850s as a result of inflation and successful speculation in pastoral properties.
In March 1855 Mort's dry dock at Waterview Bay (Balmain) opened for business; by 1856 he had sunk some £80,000 into it. Built to accommodate the largest vessels then expected to enter the port, it provided facilities sufficient to induce the companies operating the regular overseas mail services to put steamers on the Australian run and make Sydney their terminus. However, for many years profits were disappointing. Owned until 1861 by a partnership that included Captain T. S. Rowntree, the dock was leased to various shipping companies, ship-repairers and engineers.
In 1860 Mort somewhat unwillingly had acquired the Bodalla, originally Boat Alley, Estate near the mouth of the Tuross River. Still recovering from long ill health and debilitating hypochondria started by a riding accident in 1855 and intensified on his visit to England in 1857-59, he saw in Bodalla both a potential country estate for his retirement and a challenge to his concept of the productive purposes of capital. He planned to make it into a model of land utilization and rural settlement: a tenanted dairy estate run as an integrated whole. He had the beef cattle on Bodalla removed, land cleared, river swamps drained, fences erected, farms laid out, imported grasses sown, provided milking sheds and cheese- and butter-making equipment and selected tenants. Butter and cheese of steadily improving quality were produced for the Sydney market. In the early 1870s Mort took back control of the whole Estate which was then run as three farms with hired labour which replaced the tenant farmers. Specialized labour, first-class facilities, efficient stock control, careful stock-breeding programs and controlled blending of milk from different breeds and farms all paid off in higher quality products.
In 1862 Mort was a founding director of the Peak Downs Copper Mining Co. in Queensland and the Waratah Coal Mining Co. at Newcastle. In 1866 he decided to make direct use of the dock himself, put in even more capital, added iron and brass foundries, a patent slip and new facilities for boiler-making, blacksmithing and engineering. He brought in Thomas Macarthur, a marine engineer, as working partner and renamed the firm Macarthur & Co. Upon Macarthur's death in 1869 Mort developed the general engineering side. His dock manager was James Peter Franki whose experience in railway and mining engineering drew orders to build bridges, crushing machinery and retorts. They assembled imported railway locomotives and in 1870 put into service the first wholly locally produced locomotive. As sole owner of the dock, Mort offered his employees in 1870 a half-share in it to improve labour relations. Some agreed to buy shares and for two years the dock's affairs were managed by a committee of Mort, Buchanan, Franki and four leading hands. The arrangement was made formal in 1872 by the creation of Mort's Dock and Engineering Co. with those men as shareholders and in 1875 the company was incorporated with limited liability. In 1874 he had become a director of the new Sydney Exchange Co. and built a tin-smelting works at Balmain.
In the mid-1860s Mort began to look to refrigeration as a possible solution to three main problems: as a pastoral financier he was vulnerable to falling wool prices on the value of pastoral assets; as owner of a large engineering plant, he was anxious for manufacturing orders; and as a milk and butter producer he wanted better access to the Sydney market. From 1866 until 1878 he financed experiments by E. D. Nicolle to design and produce refrigeration machinery suitable for use in ships, trains and cold-storage depots. Successful land trials prompted a premature public subscription to finance a trial shipment of frozen meat to London in 1868; another subscription was opened in 1875 for a shipment that was loaded in the Northam in 1877 but removed before sailing because of a mechanical defect. Although their machinery was never used in the frozen meat trade, Mort and Nicolle developed commercially viable systems for domestic trade which were brought together in the New South Wales Fresh Food & Ice Co. formed in 1875. They included a slaughtering and chilling works at Bowenfels in the Blue Mountains, a cold store at Darling Harbour, milk depots in the Southern Tablelands, and refrigerated railway vans for meat and milk.
Mort died on 9 May 1878 from pleuro-pneumonia at Bodalla where he was buried; he was survived by five sons and two daughters of his first wife and by his second wife Marianne Elizabeth Macauley, whom he had married in January 1874, and by their two sons. His goods were valued for probate at £200,000 but the income and capital realizations distributed to his beneficiaries totalled some £600,000. On 14 May a meeting of working men in Sydney resolved to show the esteem and respect in which they held his memory; as a result his statue, sculpted by Pierce Connolly, stands in Macquarie Place.

Name of creator

(1878 - 1887)

Administrative history

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort died in May 1878 at his home on the South Coast of New South Wales, Comerang House, Bodalla. By his will, dated 28 February 1878, he left his property to his wife and children, in trust for those under the age of 24. The Will appointed as Trustees his wife, Marianne Elizabeth Mort, his eldest son, James Laidley Mort and T. S. Mort's friends Benjamin Buchanan, Lesley G. Herring and Charles James Manning. Laidley Mort later renounced his Trusteeship. Marianne Elizabeth Mort continued to take an active interest in the affairs of the Estate for many years. She died on 7 October 1909.

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The material consists mainly of volumes relating to the running of the Bodalla Estate, its farms, cheese and milk factories and co-operatives and the firms licensed to cut timber on the Estate. Included are letter books, journals, wages and cash books, day books, milk books and miscellaneous correspondence and papers (1894 - 1900) received by the resident manager. These were received by the ANU Archives from the Bodalla Office of the Company. Further material was received from the Sydney Office and these include the minute books of the Company, ledgers, journals, cash and account books. There is also material dealing with the work of the Executors and Trustees of the Will of Thomas Sutcliffe Mort.


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Entered from deposit description in October 2012




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