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B1573 Steam portable engine, S.N. 18060, single cylinder, four horsepower, 165 rpm, steel / cast iron / brass / paint, made by Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies, Orwell Works, Ipswich, England, 1904, used by E P McPherson, Blacksmith and Engineering Works, Parkes, New South Wales, Australia. Click to enlarge.

Ransomes Sims & Jefferies portable steam engine, 1904

Made by Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Ltd in England, 1904.
The exhibition of Ransomes' first portable engine at a Royal Agricultural Society show in 1841 marked the beginning of the era of steam on the farm, although it took some time to come into widespread use. The firm later changed its name to Ransomes Sims & Jefferies, and it made this engine in 1904, when steam and horses still provided most motive power on farms.

The introduction of portable engines opened a wider market to the use of steam power. Steam engines had previously been stationary and often dedicated to a single task; they required investment in a separate boiler to supply steam; and they had to be dismantled before being relocated. A land-owner could purchase a portable engine and so obtain a power plant, with self-contained boiler, that could be moved about the property to power different tasks according to the season; or a contractor could purchase an engine and hire it out for use on different properties.

Richard Trevithick introduced the practice of employing high-pressure steam. Around 1812 he designed the first portable engines, but they did not achieve commercial success. After the Ransomes portable was introduced, several other English firms made variations on the same basic design. Companies in other countries, including Australia, later began manufacturing similar engines.

Many thousands of portable steam engines were made between the 1840s and 1920s. Most were used in agriculture, and some were used to drive equipment in mills or factories. Unfortunately, we do not know what work this engine did or where it worked. The last phases of the engine's lifetime were typical: left outdoors, it was allowed to decay, and some parts were removed; and then it was rescued and restored. The restorer researched and used appropriate materials, techniques, and finishes, including application of a company transfer. The transfer represents the maker's pride in its workmanship, as proven by the numerous medals it had won at various exhibitions.

Debbie Rudder, Curator, and Noel Svensson, Powerhouse Volunteer, 2012


Object No.


Object Statement

Steam portable engine, S.N. 18060, single cylinder, four horsepower, 165 rpm, steel / cast iron / brass / paint, made by Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies, Orwell Works, Ipswich, England, 1904, used by E P McPherson, Blacksmith and Engineering Works, Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

Physical Description

Steam portable engine, S.N. 18060, single cylinder, four horsepower, 165 rpm, steel / cast iron / brass / paint, made by Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies, Orwell Works, Ipswich, England, 1904, used by E P McPherson, Blacksmith and Engineering Works, Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

The object comprises a steam boiler with a single cylinder steam engine mounted on top. The whole is mounted on two axles with four wheels to render it portable, for which purpose it may be manoeuvred into position by horses or tractor. A pulley for the belt drive to other machinery, such as a thresher or chaffcutter, may be fixed to a crankshaft extension.

The major structural feature comprises the fire box and ash pan, the boiler shell and the front smoke-box with chimney. Lying atop the boiler shell is the exhaust steam pipe which feeds exhaust steam into the base of the chimney in order to create the draught to draw combustion air through the fire tubes in the boiler. The boiler is designed to use either coal or firewood.

The steam engine is bolted to the top of the firebox whilst the crankshaft bearings are located by wrought iron plates riveted to the boiler shell. On the right-hand side a rod connects the engine cylinder with a crankshaft bearing housing in order to maintain the correct geometrical relationship between the cylinder and the crankshaft, in spite of thermal distortion due to the heated boiler shell. The crosshead slide protrudes forward from the cylinder head and is supported by a bracket fixed to the top of the boiler shell. The slide valve for steam admission and exhaust is driven by an eccentric mounted to the right of the crank, and further out is a belt drive to the speed governor. The slide valve eccentric is arranged so that the engine can run in either direction.

The Watt type governor is a high speed type, with light balls, that regulates speed via the spring surrounding the governor spindle. The movement of this sleeve is transferred to actuate the throttle valve that controls steam supply to the engine.

To the right of the boiler is another eccentric, with downward directed rod, for operating a pump to supply water to the boiler from an external source.

The boiler and engine are painted green with red, yellow, black and white lines and features. The firebox, smoke-box and chimney are painted black, and the wheels are red with white lines. A transfer attached to the boiler features a large number of medals on a light green background both inside two overlapping five-pointed stars and between the stars and a rope-patterned circle; the area between this circle and a rope-patterned outer circle is red and bears the company name and other details.

A list of parts follows.
Steam engine
Wheels (4).
Original fittings as follows (reproductions fitted):
Exhaust pipe
Steam inlet pipe
Piston and rings
Firebars (2)
Fusible plug
Hand hole cover
Steam chest studs (27)
Throttle valve spindle
Governor clevis pins (7)
Governor drive spindle
Steam chest hold down bolts
Piston rod bush
Bearing adjustment bolt
Bearing support bar nut
Bolt and studs (use unknown)
Horse shaft.


Engine No: 18060.
Casting numbers on fire box: 4/C361 and on fire box door: 4N248.
Stamped on inspection plate surround: 62835.
Transfer on side of boiler: RANSOMES SIMS & JEFFERIES LD / IPSWICH ENGLAND, plus PRIZE MEDALS (twice) within ribbon devices on each side, plus ESTABLISHED 1785 at the bottom of the circle above a leaf device.
On firebox door: RANSOMES SIMS & JEFFERIES LD / IPSWICH / ENGLAND / PATENT; and the company logo, with lion and unicorn, above the word PATENT.



2400 mm


1740 mm


3280 mm


2000 kg



Ransomes, Sims and Jeffries Engineers of Ipswich was a major British agricultural machinery maker. Its most famous products were traction engines, ploughs and other tilling equipment, and the first powered lawnmower.

The company, then called Ransomes, was founded in 1789 by ironfounder Robert Ransome in Norwich. He later moved to Ipswich, where he started casting ploughshares in a disused malting at St Margaret's Ditches. As a result of the accidental breaking of a mould in his foundry, molten metal came into contact with cold metal. Noting that this made the metal surface extremely hard, he patented the process of chilled casting and advertised his ploughs as 'self-sharpening'. Following this development, the company became very successful. It began making portable engines in 1841.



The engine was imported to Australia by F Lassetter and Co Ltd of Sydney in March 1906. Details of its ownership and working life are unknown. It was purchased by the museum from E P McPherson, Blacksmith and Engineering Works, Parkes, NSW, in September 1964.

In the early 1980s, contractor Graham Clegg restored the engine under the supervision of Museum employee Bill Bannister, with the aim of displaying it working on compressed air. He stripped and rebuilt it and restored it to its original appearance, but the boiler could not be restored to work on steam. Later work at the Museum made it possible to run the engine on steam from an external source, which bypasses the boiler, and the object was placed on display in the Steam Revolution exhibition in 1988.

Frederic Lassetter (1828 - 1911), merchant, was born at Taunton, Somerset, England, in 1828, and in 1832 his family migrated to Sydney. In 1845 he moved to Melbourne and worked as a sales clerk for auctioneer William Easey.

On 10 June 1850 he joined L Iredale & Co, a hardware and general merchant firm in George Street, Sydney. Lassetter revitalised the business, beating its competitors to buy goods from incoming ships by arranging for early receipt of signals and having a horse and row-boat constantly ready. He also devised a novel system of advertising and in 1851-52 travelled to the goldfields with large loads of goods. On 7 September 1863 the firm became F Lassetter & Co and moved to large new premises in George Street with a gala opening attended by the governor, premier and other notables.

An outstanding innovator, Lassetter formed a limited company in 1878 and by 1890 was the head of one of the biggest hardware firms in Australia, with warehouses in York and Clarence Streets. In 1894 he enlarged his George Street show-rooms to occupy much of the western block between Market and King Streets and transformed his firm into a general emporium. His Monthly Commercial Review, a 'complete general catalogue', circulated throughout Australia giving details of the vast array of goods in stock.


G Clegg, article in 'Steam Restorer' magazine, September 1984
'F. Lassetter & Co. Ltd, Sixty Years an Employer', Sydney, 1910
Retail Traders' Assn of New South Wales, Journal, July 1923
Town and Country Journal, 22 June 1910
Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Sept 1911, 18 Feb 1926.


Credit Line

Purchased 1964

Acquisition Date

24 September 1964

Cite this Object


Ransomes Sims & Jefferies portable steam engine, 1904 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 9 July 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Ransomes Sims & Jefferies portable steam engine, 1904 |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=9 July 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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