• Museum of Fire Curatorial Team

Shand Mason and Co.’s Steam Fire Engine in Australia

Shand Mason and Co. was originally founded in 1774 by James Philips and Samuel Hopwood in England as a company dedicated to the creation and production of firefighting apparatus.


Shand Mason Steam Fire Engine, 1873

The company was renamed several times until it was inherited by two brothers-in-law James Shand and Samuel Mason in 1850 at which point their names were combined to create the “Shand Mason and Co. Company” which then transformed into one of the two major firefighting innovation behemoths of the steam engine era, until ultimately being purchased by Merryweather and Sons Ltd in 1928.


During their 78 years in operation as Shand Mason and Co., the company won countless accolades. The most impressive being a prize medal at the Great Exhibition of 1863 at the Crystal Palace, a historic event showcasing industrial technological innovation from over 28,000 exhibitors from 36 countries.


Manufactured in England, Shand Mason and Co. produced a wide array of firefighting products, and distributed all over the world, from Australia to Egypt. They began by modifying floating hand-cranked pumps on the river Thames with steam engines in 1855, and by 1858 sold their first portable land-based steam-powered water pump system to St Petersburg, Russia, with fantastic results.


Over the next several decades many products were released to high success, such as stationary steam pumps, hand-drawn steam pumps, horse-drawn carriage steam pumps with increasing passenger capacity, horse-drawn curricle ladders, boilers, fire engine boats and adaptable appendages for both fresh and saltwater.


Shand Mason and Co. products were imported extensively throughout Australia. The Shand Mason and Co. Illustrated Catalogue series ca. 1910 gives evidence of purchases of hand-drawn carts, fire engines and fire engine boats by firefighting organisations in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.


Pumping Exercise using the Shand Mason at the Harbour

Shand Masons were also used extensively in Adelaide, with the first arriving on the 10th of April 1896. As seen in Sydney, the Adelaide Fire Brigade had a legion of trained horses, ready to transport the “Shand Mason” and a team of four firefighters and a driver around the cit. While the steam fire engine was largely replaced by petrol mechanical engines in the following decades by the fire department, the pump was used by the Air Raid Precautions organisation during the war and continued to be used by volunteers until 1947.


The Museum of Fire has in its collection several Shand Mason and Co. vehicles, including an 1891 No. 18 steamer, known as Big Ben. This fire engine was ordered in 1891 to combat Sydney’s growing need for high strength pumps to be able to reach multi-story buildings. Originally pulled by horses, but towed by a vehicle from 1913, Big Ben remained in active service until 1929 and was officially retired in 1937. Big Ben participated in the 1901 Federation Parade and was the only participant to also be present at the Centenary of Federation Parade in 2001.

Big Ben at Centenary of Federation Parade Sydney, 2001

Shand Mason and Co. as both a company and a product have had a significant impact on firefighting in Australia. During the transitions from Insurance Fire Brigades to Volunteer Fire Brigades and then to the NSW State-run service, Shand Mason provided cutting edge technology that helped create and sustain a vital institution.


-Story and research by Museum of Fire Volunteer Heaven Ryan.

Prior to the lockdown Heaven was working alongside our Curator Laura to catalogue the Museum's archival collection. During this process she came across many files on the Shand Mason which inspired this blog.

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