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Eugène Dominique Nicolle (1823–1909)

by Alan Barnard

This article was published:

Eugène Dominique Nicolle (1823-1909), refrigeration engineer, was born at Rouen, France, son of Pierre Nicolle, florist. His scientific training in Rouen was thorough and after experience with French and English engineering works he arrived in Australia in 1853. On 27 July 1848 at St James's Church, Westminster, London, he had married Catherine Henrietta Jacobine Schick (d.1862). By 1855 he was practising as an engineer in Sydney and married a widow Jane Williamson, née Shearman, on 5 April 1862; their first child was born in Sydney.

Nicolle was managing the Wilkinsons' sawmill in Sydney when his first ice-making patent was registered in 1861 in the names of himself and Richard Dawson. Next year Nicolle, Dawson and the Wilkinson brothers bought the Sydney Ice Co. from (Sir) Peter Russell and James Harrison of Geelong with the franchise to use Harrison's machine in New South Wales. They moved the factory from George Street to land leased by Nicolle and Dawson in Paddington and began producing ice with Nicolle's machine in 1863. He had built an improved machine when the enthusiasm of Augustus Morris diverted him to designing refrigerating machinery for ships. Plans were prepared and a public meeting in 1866 unsuccessfully appealed for subscriptions to finance the construction and trial of a model. In the summer of 1866-67 Nicolle and Morris persuaded T. S. Mort that the scheme was practical.

With Mort's support at the renamed New South Wales Ice Co. Nicolle demonstrated in 1867 that with his machinery food could be frozen for long periods, thawed, cooked and eaten. A public subscription for a trial shipment of meat to England in 1868 proved premature as shipboard refrigeration posed problems not met on shore. Mort continued his support over the next ten years. In that time they designed, patented and produced a variety of refrigerating devices, including one for domestic use and another for making powdered milk, equipped a large cold-store at Darling Harbour in 1872, and produced refrigerated railway vans for meat and milk, but failed to develop a machine ideally suited to ships. The seven main apparatuses Nicolle constructed relied, successively, on systems based on ammonia absorption, air expansion, low pressure ammonia absorption and ammonia reabsorption. He was a pioneer in developing these heat exchange systems and the mechanical contrivances by which they were made effective.

In 1875 Nicolle sold Mort his interest in all their patents except one, together with the lease of the ice-works; Mort made them over to the newly-formed New South Wales Fresh Food and Ice Co., at the same time guaranteeing Nicolle a three-year appointment as consulting engineer. In 1877 the Northam sailed without the trial shipment of frozen meat financed by public subscription, but with the ineffective refrigerating equipment installed by Nicolle and the company. Next year his contract expired and Mort died. Nicolle went to England and France with his family and on the return voyage his wife died in 1879 and was buried in Adelaide. He retired to a 300-acre (121 ha) property he owned near Wollongong. He died on 23 November 1909 and was buried in the Anglican cemetery at Wollongong. He was survived by a son, twin daughters and a stepdaughter. His estate was sworn for probate at £18,000.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Barnard, Visions and Profits (Melb, 1961)
  • N. Selfe, ‘A pioneer refrigerating engineer’, Ice and Refrigeration, Apr 1899
  • J. Jervis, ‘Notes on the lives of Augustus Morris and Eugene Dominique Nicolle’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 34 (1948).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alan Barnard, 'Nicolle, Eugène Dominique (1823–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Eugene Nicolle, n.d.

Eugene Nicolle, n.d.

Wollongong City Libraries, P13466

Life Summary [details]


Rouen, France


23 November, 1909 (aged ~ 86)
Lake Illawarra, New South Wales, Australia

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