Model aero engine, three cylinder rotary replica, metal / wood / paper, designed by Lawrence Hargrave 1889, made by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1976
The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences holds the largest collection of material internationally of the aviation pioneer, Lawrence Hargrave. While no single individual can be attributed to the invention of the aeroplane, Hargrave belonged to an elite body of scientists and researchers (along with Octave Chanute, Otto Lilienthal and Percy Sinclair Pilcher) whose experiments and inventions paved the way for the first powered, controlled flight achieved by the Wright Brothers on December 17, 1903.
Hargrave's greatest contribution to aeronautics was the invention of the box or cellular kite. This kite evolved in four stages from a simple cylinder kite made of heavy paper to a double-celled one capable of lifting Hargrave sixteen feet off the ground. The fourth kite of the series, produced by the end of 1893, provided a stable supporting and structural surface that satisfied the correct area to weight ratio which became the foundation for early European built aircraft. For example, Hargrave's box kite appears to be the inspiration for Alberto Santos Dumont's aircraft named '14bis', which undertook the first powered, controlled flight in Europe in 1906. Similarly, Gabriel Voisin states in his autobiography that he and his brother Charles, who manufactured the first commercially available aircraft in Europe, owe their inspiration to their construction to a Hargrave box kite, while via correspondence with Octave Chanute, there is also evidence for Hargrave's box kite influencing the aircraft used by the Wright Brothers during their historic flight in 1903.
Hargrave's contribution to aeronautics can also be observed in other ways. For example, he conducted important research into animal movement and produced a number of flapping models which successfully demonstrated a means of propulsion. However, the flapping wing models were unable to ascend or lift from ground level with manpower alone. This prompted Hargrave to design and produce alternative power sources including a variety of engines, the most influential being his three cylinder radial rotary engine. This arguably formed the basis of the idea for the famous French Gnome engine, which became the primary source of aircraft power for the French Allies in World War I.
Beyond aviation, Hargrave is also significant for his exploration work in the Torres Strait and New Guinea. In 1876, for example, he joined Luigi d'Albertis' expedition to the Fly River and on completion, was regarded as an expert cartographer who held an unrivalled knowledge of the region. Hargrave also contributed to the study of astronomy with his development of adding machines to assist Sydney Observatory in their calculations. He similarly researched and wrote on Australian history and was an early proponent for the establishment of a bridge across Sydney Harbour.
Adams, M., "Wind Beneath His Wings - Lawrence Hargrave at Stanwell Park" (September 2004)
ADB Online, "Lawrence Hargrave", http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A090194b.htm (Downloaded 18/7/2007)
Grainger, E., "Hargrave and Son - A Biography of John Fletcher Hargrave and his son Lawrence Hargrave" (Brisbane, 1978)
Hudson Shaw, W & Ruhen, O., "Lawrence Hargrave - Explorer, Inventor & Aviation Experimenter" (Sydney, 1977)
Roughley, T.C., "The Aeronautical Work of Lawrence Hargrave" (Technological Museum, Sydney Bulletin No.19, 1939)
This replica rotary engine was made by the Powerhouse Museum in 1976 to the design of Lawrence Hargrave's 1889 example. It is made from tinned iron plate, brass and paper with a plywood support stand. According to Hargrave, "the idea was conceived that a three-cylinder screw engine could be made by turning the boss of the propeller into an engine, thus allowing the cylinders to revolve on the crank-shaft, the shaft and crank-pin being stationary, and the thrust coming direct on the valve face."
The name 'rotary engine' refers to the arrangement of cylinders on the blades of the propeller. The Museum was able to reproduce the engine from Hargrave's original drawings and photographs.
In mid 1887, Hargrave began to concern himself with forms of motive power (after his experimentation with India rubber powered models), making contact with the London engineers H.V. Ahrbecker, Son & Hawkins for details of engines available for aviation purposes and Major Penrose of the Royal Engineers in Sydney for details of the Brotherhood three cylinder radial compressed air engine which powered the Whitehead torpedo. This inspired Hargrave from the first half of 1888, to commence work on the design and construction of his own engines for flying machines. The first type he produced were single cylinder compressed air motors which were used to drive two flappers (in his flapping wing machine models). After finding this type of engine to be unsatisfactory, however, Hargrave began work on engines powered by petrol vapourised in a second boiler, gun-powder and steam driven engines and his more famous, three-cylinder radial rotary engine.
The radial rotary engine, as demonstrated here, was one of the greatest inventions of Hargrave's career. Not only did it work well, but the principle of the engine formed the basis of several of the most successful early aeroplane engines built internationally, including the famous French Gnome engine. The first Gnome, which was built in 1908, was a five cylinder model developing 34 hp at 1300 rpm. It was constructed by M Sequin.
The second of four children of John Fletcher and Ann, Lawrence Hargrave was born at Greenwich, London on January 29, 1850. In 1856, Lawrence's father, eldest brother Ralph and uncle Edward emigrated to Australia in what appears to be a consensual marital separation between John and Ann. They were bound for Sydney to join a third brother of John and Edward, who was a member of the Legislative Assembly for New England (named Richard), while Ann, Lawrence and her two other children, Alice and Gilbert, stayed in Kent, England.
During his early years, Lawrence was educated at the Queen Elizabeth's School in Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmoreland, before he sailed to Australia in 1865 to join his father, brother and two uncles. John Fletcher, who was a distinguished judge in the New South Wales Supreme Court living at Rushcutters Bay House, anticipated a career for Lawrence in law. Despite organising tuition for him, Lawrence failed to matriculate, but was subsequently accepted to begin an apprenticeship with the Australasian Steam Navigation Company (ASN Co) in 1867. For five years he worked as an apprentice, gaining invaluable skills in woodworking, metalworking and design.
The circumnavigation voyage of Australia aboard the 'Ellesmere' (offered to Lawrence by another passenger en route to Australia from London) obviously stimulated an interest for Lawrence in exploration. From 1871, Lawrence joined the Committee of Management of J.D. Lang's New Guinea Prospecting Association and in 1872 was on board the brig 'Maria', bound for New Guinea in search of gold, when it sunk off Bramble reef, north Queensland, causing great loss of life. After returning to Sydney to work for the ASN Co, and later the engineers P.N. Russell & Co, Lawrence participated in several more exploratory voyages to the Torres Strait and New Guinea, accompanying figures like William Macleay, Octavius Stone and Luigi d'Albertis along the Fly River. These voyages continued until 1876, at which time Lawrence worked at the foundries of Chapman & Co, before choosing to settle down with new wife, Margaret Preston Johnson in September, 1878 with whom he had seven children (Nellie, Hilda, Margaret, Brenda, Olive, Geoffrey and Brenda-Olive).
In January of the following year, Lawrence commenced work as an extra observer (astronomical) at Sydney Observatory under the Government astronomer H.C. Russell. In this role, Lawrence was able to make a number of important observations and inventions, including the transit of Mercury in 1881, the Krakatoa explosion in 1883 and the design and construction of adding machines. The income made from land bestowed to Lawrence by his father in Coalcliff, however, meant that in 1883 Lawrence was able to resign from his position at the Observatory to pursue his fascination and study into artificial flight. This interest came about from his observation of waves and animal motion, including fish, birds and snakes.
Lawrence's earliest experiments, spanning 1884-1892, involved propulsion with monoplane models built from light wood and paper. He first attempted to build a full-size machine capable of carrying a human in 1887 and in 1889 he built his most influential engine - a three cylinder radial rotary engine. Lawrence's later experimental phase, 1892-1909, involved the use of curved surfaces in his models. This research subsequently led to the development of the box kite, the most famous invention associated with his name.
Lawrence always conducted his experiments in his local area (i.e. Rushcutters Bay, Woollahra Point and Stanwell Park). He was against patenting his inventions for fear of stifling the development of aviation in the bigger picture and therefore published his results quickly and widely, particularly through the Royal Society of New South Wales. This Society helped Lawrence to gain an international reputation and brought him into contact with other aviation pioneers like Octave Chanute and Otto Lilienthal. The very first paper he gave was "The Trochoided Plane" (delivered August 6, 1884).
In Lawrence's later years he conducted research into early Australian history, postulating the theory that two Spanish ships found their way into Sydney Harbour in the late 16th century. Apart from this and of course his interests in aeronautics, Lawrence also concerned himself with the contemporary issues of patent laws, free competition, Darwinism, a bridge for Sydney Harbour, pensions, strikes and conscription.
Lawrence Hargrave died of peritonitis at Lister Hospital on July 6, 1915. Lawrence's death came only nine weeks after the death of his youngest son, Geoffrey, at Gallipoli.