one day at a time…
Thursday, 16 October 2003

Pix Of The Day: Aeronautical Inventors Fly Kites
CREDITS: © CTIE/Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Thumbnail click pops-up larger images on original source page.

Hargrave & Bell © CTIE Monash UniversityFollowing a recent item about Alexander Graham Bell and his experiments with kites five years after the Wright brothers first flew, Australian reader Eric Shackle alerted us to the contributions to aviation made by Lawrence Hargrave (1850-1915). One of those 'amateur' scientific gentlemen that England is so good at producing, he was born in Greenwich, London, but was educated at Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale, in the English county of Westmorland, which has since been absorbed into the county of Cumbria. This fact in and of itself is sufficient to explain his genius, but must also have contributed to his generosity of spirit: he never patented any of his inventions, preferring to see them as contributions to the advancement of science and the general good.

At the age of fifteen Hargrave sailed to Australia to join his father, who had moved to New South Wales in 1866 to pursue a legal career. Young Lawrence was not destined to follow in his father's career footsteps, because he failed his matriculation examination, and in 1867 was apprenticed in the engineering workshops of the Australasian Steam Navigation Company. The cause of his failure is usually seen as his decision to circumnavigate Australia as a passenger in the schooner Ellesmere soon after his arrival in the colony, rather than spend time in study.

The circumnavigation seems to have awakened in Hargrave an interest in exploration and scientific discovery because over the next decade he joined several expeditions to New Guinea, beginning with the ill-fated journey of the brig Maria which sank with great loss of life off the coast of Queensland. Our research into this episode casts doubt on Hargrave's presence on board at the time of the disaster.

Later Hargrave joined Macleay aboard the Chevert, leaving it prematurely to join Octavius Stone aboard the Ellengowan. Although regarded as the expedition's engineer Hargrave made detailed notes of his observations of people, their homes, habits, technology, and language. His last expedition to New Guinea was as engineer to the Italian naturalist, Luigi Maria d'Albertis [NB: 'Maclay' in that last article is not the previously mentioned 'Macleay'] aboard the launch Neva. Hargrave mapped the Fly River and collected specimens of scientific interest.

In 1877 he decided to settle down, and was elected a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales. In 1878 he was appointed an assistant astronomical observer at Sydney Observatory, a post that he held until 1883, when he retired to devote the remainder of his life to research work into problems connected with human flight. His son and fellow experimenter, Geoffrey Lewis Hargrave, was killed at Gallipoli in May 1915. Following this tragic news Hargrave became seriously ill with peritonitis, and he died in a hospital on 6 July 1915. He was buried in Waverley Cemetery in Bronte, New South Wales. More biographical details are available on a CTIE Monash University web site devoted to Hargrave. The AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics, Inc.) has a detailed biographical article on Hargrave written by Ian Debenham, Curator of Transport at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia.

Perhaps Hargrave's most important contribution was the double box kite: this seemingly mundane development allowed the development of the type of machines flown by the Wright brothers. Certainly they knew of Hargrave's work, but possibly because of political and patent considerations, they never acknowledged the debt.

On 12 November 1894, Hargrave linked four of his kites together, added a sling seat, and flew sixteen feet. By demonstrating to a skeptical public that it was possible to build a safe and stable flying machine, Hargrave opened the door to other inventors and pioneers. The Hargrave-designed box kite, with its improved lift-to-drag ratio, provided the crucial theoretical wing model that allowed the pioneering development of configurations for the first generation of airplanes.

The first successful aircraft incorporated three crucial aeronautical concepts studied by Hargrave: the cellular box-kite wing, the curved wing surface, and the thick leading wing edge or aerofoil. Some European pioneers did acknowledge their debt to Hargrave, and in one diagrammatic representation (Shaw, W. Hudson and Ruhen, Olaf, 1977) of the development of the factors and technologies that enabled the Wright Flyer of 1903, Hargrave's name appears eight times.

The Power House Museum in Sydney is often identified as the final repository of Hargrave models, papers [on that page, input 'HARGRAVE' then click the SEARCH button], and effects, but there does not seem to be any easy way for lay people to easily access these resources. On the web, a Google site specific search for "HARGRAVE" returned a disappointingly impoverished selection. Perhaps our searching skills need honing: we will keep trying, and report back if we find anything gripping. Limitations on spending must prevent many institutions from staging exhibitions of the treasures in their collections, but surely the web is an acceptably low cost alternative to allowing dust to gather in neglected archives?

Today's feature picture, taken in 1910, shows Lawrence Hargrave arm in arm with Alexander Graham Bell, from the Monash gallery page. In that year, on 21 May, Wilbur Wright made his last flight as a pilot in the United States, when he flew at Simm's Station in Dayton, Ohio. On 25 May, Orville and Wilbur Wright made a short flight at Huffman Field, Dayton, Ohio. It was the only time the Wright brothers were in the air together. Pioneering history was beginning to change into flight development history. Within sixty years a man walked on the surface of the moon.

On This Day In 2002: Holiday Snaps - Wed, 16 Oct 2002
CREDITS: © Tony Richards/LakelandCAM.co.uk
MAPS: [1] Region [2] District [3] Location

Loch Doon © Tony RichardsPhotographer Tony Richards is having a break too. Rather than visiting the fleshpots of some God forsaken city, Tony opted for the place they call 'God's Ain Country'. Specifically Tony is touring the Galloway Region of Southwest Scotland. This area is just across the Solway Firth (the latter being the Scottish name for an arm of the sea) from Tony's usual stamping grounds in the Lake District of the English county of Cumbria, where he runs LakelandCAM.co.uk

The featured photograph is of 'The Merrick', Southwest Scotland's highest hill, seen across the waters of Loch Doon, which is actually in Ayrshire to the north. Our favorite bit of topography thereabouts is 'The Dead Hand', which is made up from five ridges that descend from one of the hills. Historically the interior of this countryside became known as 'The Wild Recesses of Galloway': Robert the Bruce hid a whole army here while weathering out some difficult times.

Loch Dee, Galloway © Douglas E. WilcoxSome time ago we featured another Galloway picture, on that occasion of Loch Dee. Loch Dee Sunset is very evocative of those haunting landscapes. the original may be viewed as a high-res panorama if you have the resources.

The Scottish Mountain Photo Gallery is maintained by Douglas E. Wilcox and is also home to the Morss Collection of aerial photographs of the mountains and islands of Scotland. Highly recommended if you are interested in any of the Scottish mountains, or just enjoy looking at landscapes. The site has lots of additional material to enjoy - check out the Landstat image of the Cuillin Mountains, Isle of Skye.

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Jules Laforgue (1860-1887)
"Ah! que la vie est quotidienne."
Oh, what a day-to-day business life is.
'Complainte sur certains ennuis' (1885)