Shand Mason Fire Engine (1891) | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Shand Mason Fire Engine (1891)

Item details

Name of item: Shand Mason Fire Engine (1891)
Other name/s: Big Ben; No. 18 Steamer (within Museum of Fire)
Type of item: Movable / Collection
Group/Collection: Utilities - Fire Control
Category: Fire Control Objects (movable)
Location: Lat: -33.74771823 Long: 150.6933091
Primary address: Museum Drive, Penrith, NSW 2750
Local govt. area: Penrith
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Deerubbin


The SHR curtilage boundary is limited to the item itself and does not include the land it is located on or the structure it is housed within.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Museum DrivePenrithPenrith  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Museum of FireCommunity Group 

Statement of significance:

The 1891 Shand Mason Steamer is a fine example of 19th century, horse-drawn, steam-powered technology, innovation and workmanship. Although it has much in common with other steamers, and is therefore representative of its type, it stands alone with regard to its power and capacity. In addition to its outstanding size, the fact that it is the only one of its type ever to be used in NSW (and Australia), qualifies it to be regarded as a rare item. Affectionately known as "Big Ben", the appliance is held in high esteem by Fire Engine enthusiasts and this is evidenced by the care and maintenance carried out by volunteer workers at the Museum of Fire where it is now located. This steamer has a continuity of association with an important event of national significance – Federation. It has participated in both the Federation Parade of 1901, as well as the Centenary of Federation Parade in 2001. From the date of its purchase and importation from the London, England manufacturers, the 1891 Shand Mason Steamer has been the property of the NSW Fire Brigades (formerly Metropolitan Brigade).
Date significance updated: 26 Oct 04
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Shand Mason & Co of London
Builder/Maker: Shand Mason & Co of London
Construction years: 1891-1891
Physical description: The steam pump is set upon a four wheeled carriage, pulled by two to four horses. The carriage is 4600mm long x 3250 high including the steamer's chimney. On top at the front of the carriage is the driver's seat. Attached to the underside of the driver's footrest is a foot operated alarm bell. Behind the driver's seat is a storage box with a seating lid for six (6) men - three (3) on either side -the front man on either side being the brake operator. At the rear and immediately behind the storage box, is the coal fired steam pump, fixed to the carriage. It features an inclined water tube boiler, and an equilibrium type steam engine, fitted with three steam cylinders, three double acting pumps, has a suction of 7 ½ inches and five deliveries, four of the latter are for 2 ¾ inch hose, and one for 3 ½ inch hose. The boiler assembly incorporates a water pressure gauge, steam pressure gauge and water level gauge. Two air chambers have been included to eliminate water pulsation caused by the action of the pistons. At the rear of the appliance are a water reservoir and a coal box situated to the right and left of the pump respectively. Connected to the front wheel axle is a large coal box. The vehicle weighs five (5) ton, the bulk of the weight being supported by the rear axle
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical Condition – Excellent
Archaeological Potential - Low
Date condition updated:29 Jul 04
Modifications and dates: 1891 – Date of manufacture.
1906 – New boiler manufactured in Sydney by Clyde Engineering to original specifications.
1920 – The boiler was dropped and inspected. It was found necessary to fit 22 tubes to replace those fractured by improper use.
Circa 1961 - Fire Magazine records that restoration work was carried out by the Board workshops prior to handing the appliance over to the Museum of Applied Arts and Science in 1962. However, no details are included except the statement that: “Big Ben was restored to its former glory, in pumping capacity and glittering appearance, by the Board’s Workshops, under the supervision of Mr Jack Campbell…” – (FIRE 1962:8)
Further information: The Shand Mason Steamer was, at the time, the largest capacity land based steamer in Australia. It could generate a pump pressure of 1550kPa (225psi) with a steam pressure of 800kPa (120psi) and could throw a jet of water to a vertical height of 58 metres (200ft). It could raise 700kPa (100psi) steam pressure from cold in less than ten (10) minutes
Current use: Museum display, event display item
Former use: Fire Fighting Appliance


Historical notes: In 1890, the City of Sydney was still relatively small. However, Superintendent Alfred Bear of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade recognised the growing potential fire risk in an expanding city area. An extract from the Brigades Eighth Annual Report for the year 1891 mentions the: - ‘… ever increasingly lofty blocks of buildings which, for want of a proper Building Act, continue to be erected in the metropolis…” – (MFBAR 1891:2). With multi-story buildings becoming a common occurrence, a fire appliance was needed which could cope with these high rise demands.

In 1890, the Brigade ordered a steamer, affectionately known as "Big Ben", to be manufactured by Shand Mason & Co. of London. The following criteria were established: - 1) It should achieve 100psi in ten (10) minutes from a cold start; 2) It should pump 900gpm of water at a pressure of 200psi; 3) It should throw a jet of water to a vertical height of 200 feet. At a cost of over £1400, the vehicle was completed and tested at the premises of Southwark 7 Vauxhall Westerworks Commission before Sir Saul Samuel, E.C.B, Agent-General for NSW on October 1st, 1891. On January 4th, 1892, Big Ben arrived in Sydney on the S.S. Port Douglas and was tested on February 19, 1892, at Man-o-War Steps, Fort Macquarie before being placed in service at Headquarters on March 12th, 1892. Extracts from the Brigade’s Eighth Annual Report for the year 1891 boasted that “…it stands unrivalled as the most powerful land steam engine that has yet been produced.” Also, "At the tests made at the works, prior to shipment, 100 lb of steam were obtained from cold water in 9 minutes 55 seconds; and from a steam pressure of from 110 to 120 lb a 1 ¾ inch jet of water was thrown horizontally to a distance of 318 feet. This engine… is calculated to work at a steam pressure of 100 to 125lb per square inch, but is capable of being worked much higher; it discharges 1000 gallons of water per minute, and will project a 1 ¾ inch jet to a height of 200 feet." – (MFBAR 1891:2).

On 28th February, 1899, “Big Ben” took part in a spectacular demonstration with another “new” Brigade steamer (No. 25) at Town Hall, and to the cheers of the crowd, Big Ben threw water 20 feet above the 198 foot clock tower. “When the trial was finished the firemen gave the front and sides of the municipal building a much-needed wash. The trials were made under the supervision of Superintendent Webb and Deputy Superintendent Sparkes….” On the occasion, Superintendent Webb said: “… The trials of this morning show that we cold throw water over the highest building in Sydney, which is the Hotel Australia, 160 ft high.” - (SMH 1899: 7).

In 1901, Big Ben was involved in the extinguishment of one of Sydney’s major fires, the “Anthony Hordern’s fire”, which threatened the three gasometers of AGL. One hundred and seventy fireman and ten steamers were required to extinguish this fire, which claimed the lives of five men.

By 1915, big Ben was “… now pulled by truck.” (FF1984:168). In July 1919, a report from the Principal Mechanic refers to the possibility of purchasing “Front Wheel Drive Tractors for Steam Fire Engines – nos. 18 and 25 respectively”. After receiving quotes from “American La France”, “Wedlake – Lamson and Co” and “American and British Mfg Co.” ranging from £1952 to £3090, it was decided that: “As the cost is prohibitive, it would be better to procure a motor pump, and make and rely on towing arrangements for the present.”

Big Ben and No. 25 were to perform together again years later at the George Hudson Timber Yard fire on 8th March, 1928. This was big Ben’s last major pumping job. Both steamers operated so successfully that the Chief Officer of the day, Mr T. Nance, stated in his report “that at the recent fire at George Hudson Ltd, both of these appliances proved their worth and as regards their pumping capacity and reliability are miles ahead of any motor in the service.” – (FIRE 1962:8).

The vehicle was the major fire fighting appliance of the brigade until its retirement in 1929, when it was replaced by the Ahrens Fox PS2 Pumper as the brigade's glamour vehicle. Big Ben was kept as a "stand-by" vehicle until 1934 when it was set aside for preservation. In 1962, Big Ben was restored, in both pumping capacity and appearance, by the board’s workshops and was presented to the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, (now called the Powerhouse Museum), for display purposes. In the yard at Headquarters, on the occasion of being presented to the Museum, Big Ben was put through its paces and proved that it was still capable of pumping 1000 gallons per minute, something that many of the “new” motorised pumpers could not achieve. – (FIRE 1962:8). After the display, Mr B.F. Andrews, on behalf of the board, presented Big Ben to Mr H.G. McKern, acting director of the museum. The vehicle was reclaimed by the Fire Brigades on formation of the Fire Service Museum, Alexandria and finally presented to the Museum of Fire at Penrith for preservation in 1985. In 2001, “Big Ben” took part in the Centenary of Federation Parade, which was significant due to the fact that it also took part in the original Federation Parade in 1901.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The 1891 Shand Mason Steamer demonstrates the progressive development of the Brigade’s pumping appliances and equipment in order to cope with new demands and challenges brought about by a growing and developing City of Sydney. The development of fire fighting technology is an ongoing process which continues today and this appliance is an important part of that process. The appliance is associated with the development and growth of Sydney: its design and production was a direct response to the Brigade’s concern over what it perceived to be a “reckless” increase in high rise buildings without a proper concern for fire safety precautions and without an adequate “Building Act”.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The appliance has a strong associative link with the state’s celebrations of Federation. It took part in both the 1901 Federation Parade and the 2001 Centenary Federation Parade.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The fabric, design and layout of the appliance provide evidence of state-of-the-art fire fighting technology of the late nineteenth century. It was innovative because Shand Mason & Co had to overcome technical difficulties associated with the production of so powerful an engine on a new pattern.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Affectionately known as "Big Ben", the appliance is held in high esteem by Fire Engine enthusiasts and this is evidenced by the care and maintenance carried out by volunteer workers at the Museum of Fire where it is now located. The social significance was recognised by the Board Of Fire Commissioners of NSW when, in 1932 they approved the retention of Big Ben for “museum purposes”, but at the same time, sold No. 25 steamer for £100.
SHR Criteria f)
This appliance demonstrates the now defunct technology of steam powered pumping appliances. Today, It is the only example of the largest steam-powered pumping appliance ever used in NSW and probably, Australia. Its integrity is of a high standard.
SHR Criteria g)
It is an excellent example of a late nineteenth century, steam powered pumping appliance. In line with other vehicles of this class, it demonstrates an evolutionary process of fire appliance design toward the early years of the twentieth century. It is typical of the workmanship and technology of the Shand Mason Co. of London from whom the Brigade purchased other steamers. It is outstanding due to its power, capacity and size, as well as the esteem in which firefighting enthusiasts hold this appliance, which is regarded as the “glamour” vehicle of the NSW Fire Brigades. This is evidenced by, the articles which have appeared in various publications both from within, and independently of, the NSWFB, as well as the maintenance work carried out regularly by volunteers / enthusiasts at the Museum of Fire, Penrith where this vehicle is now located.
Integrity/Intactness: High Degree of original fabric. The running gear is in excellent condition. The pump is operational. However, the steam boiler is no longer operational.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

No action, follow existing management controls.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0171603 Dec 04 1968960

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismMuseum of Fire2007Museum of Fire View detail
TourismTourism NSW2007Museum Of Fire View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5055579
File number: S96/00935

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

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