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Thomas Sutcliffe Mort and his wife Theresa
, c.1847

by an unknown artist

daguerreotype (case: 8.1 cm x 6.9 cm depth 0.5 cm, sight: 6.7 x 5.5)

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort (1816–1878) was one of nineteenth- century Sydney’s most prominent businessmen. Born in Lancashire and raised in Manchester, Mort emigrated to New South Wales in 1838, believing that the colony presented ‘a better opening for his industrious habits and his business abilities than there was in the land of his birth’. Within five years he had started his own business as an auctioneer of wool and other commodities – a profession for which his ‘suavity of demeanour, and imperturbable good temper, rendered him eminently fit’. By 1850, he was the premier auctioneer in Sydney and had interests in insurance, agriculture, railway and mining ventures, among others. But he is perhaps most remembered for other initiatives, such as the dairy farms he operated on the estate he acquired at Bodalla in 1860; and the dry dock he helped to establish at Balmain in 1855, which he progressed from shipbuilding to locomotive production and general engineering. He also funded experiments in freezing and refrigeration technology, forming the New South Wales Fresh Food and Ice Company in 1875. Mort donated some of his substantial wealth to community causes, contributing to the building of Sydney’s St Andrew’s Cathedral and the University’s St Paul’s College. Following his death in May 1878, the city marked its esteem for him with a statue in Macquarie Place and Balmain’s Mort Bay was named in his honour.

Theresa Shepheard Mort (née Laidley, 1820–1869) was eight years old when she came to Sydney, her father, James Laidley (1786–1835) having been appointed to the position of deputy commissary general. The eldest of eight children, she was educated at home and received art lessons from Conrad Martens and the ex-convict portraitist, Charles Rodius. Theresa was around twenty-one when she married Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, and twenty-three when her first child, James Laidley Mort, was born. Theresa had eight more children over the next seventeen years; seven of them survived to adulthood. She spent much of her married life at Greenoaks, the Darling Point home established by Mort in 1843. Theresa has been described as a devoted wife and mother and Thomas was devastated by her death from cancer at the age of forty-nine. Mort, however, later remarried, and was to have two more sons before he died.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2001
Accession number: 2001.60