Although largely unacknowledged today, James Harrison was a major figure in the history of the city of Geelong. A politician, engineer, inventor, publisher and journalist, he was a man of huge energy and diverse talents.

In the 1850s he invented the worlds first ice-making machine from experimentations begun along the Barwon River in Geelong. He was also the founding editor of the Geelong Advertiser, after purchasing an old press from John Pascoe Fawkner and he was an important public commentator in the colony. He was a member of Geelong's first town council and represented Geelong in the colony of Victoria's Legislative Assembly.

Although travelling to Britain, and producing the first large commercial ice making machines, his business enterprises were not a success. He pioneered the development of a precursor to the modern refrigerated transport container but it failed during an experimental shipment of refrigerated beef to England and he was financially ruined.

After his death at Point Henry, Geelong in 1893 the people of Geelong paid for his tombstone and it was inscribed with the biblical quotation "one soweth, one reapeth".