HARGRAVE, Lawrence (1850-1915)

pioneer in aviation
was born in England on 29 January 1850. He was the second son of John Fletcher Hargrave (1815-1885), an English barrister, who came to Australia in 1857, and his wife Ann Hargrave. The elder Hargrave was appointed a district court judge but resigned this position to enter parliament. He was solicitor-general in the Charles Cowper (q.v.) ministry in February 1859, held the same position in the Forster (q.v.) ministry, and was attorney-general in the Robertson (q.v.) ministry from April 1860 to January 1861. He was also the representative of the ministry in the legislative council. In the next ministry under Cowper he held the same offices from January 1861 to July 1863. In the fourth Cowper ministry he was solicitor-general from February to June 1865, when he was appointed a puisne judge of the supreme court. He shortly afterwards became primary judge in equity, and in 1873 first judge of the divorce court. He retired in 1881 and died at Sydney on 23 February 1885.
When his father went to Australia, Lawrence Hargrave remained in England to finish his education at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Kirkby Lonsdale, in Westmoreland. He arrived in Sydney in 1866, but though he had shown ability in mathematics at his English school he did not enter on a university course. He obtained a position in the drafting-room of the engineering shops of the Australasian Steam Navigation Company and later on found the experience of great use in constructing his models. In 1872 he went on a voyage to New Guinea but was wrecked, and in 1875 he again sailed as an engineer on an expedition to the Gulf of Papua. From October 1875 to January 1876 he was exploring the hinterland of Port Moresby under O. C. Stone, and in April 1876 went on another expedition under Luigi Maria D'Albertis for over 400 miles up the Fly River. He returned to Sydney, joined the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1877, and in 1878 became an assistant astronomical observer at Sydney observatory. He held this position for about five years, retired in 1883 with a moderate competency, and gave the rest of his life to research work. He was much interested in the study of aviation problems and for a time gave particular attention to the flight of birds. He learnt something from this and also from the mode of progression of the common earth-worm. He made endless experiments and numerous models, and communicated his conclusions in a series of papers to the Royal Society of New South Wales. Two papers which will be found in the 1885 volume of its Journal and Proceedings show that he was early on the road to success. Other important papers will be found in the 1893 and 1895 volumes which reported on his experiments with flying-machine motors and cellular kites. He showed that on 12 November 1894 these kites had lifted the weight of a man 16 feet into the air. He claimed that "The particular steps gained are the demonstration that an extremely simple apparatus can be made, carried about, and flown by one man; and that a safe means of making an ascent with a flying machine, of trying the same without any risk of accident, and descending, is now at the service of any experimenter who wishes to use it." (Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol. 29, p. 47). This paper was read in June 1895 but part of it had appeared in Engineering, London, on 15 February 1895. This was seen by A. L. Rotch of the meteorological observatory at Harvard university who constructed a kite from the particulars in Engineering. A modification was adopted by the weather bureau of the United States and the use of box-kites for meteorological observations became widespread. The principle was applied to gliders, and in October 1906 Santos Dumont in a box-kite aeroplane made the first officially recorded flight. As late as 1909 the box-kite aeroplane was the usual type in Europe.
Hargrave had not confined himself to the problem of constructing a heavier than air machine that would fly, for he had given much time to the means of propulsion. In 1889 he invented a rotary engine which appears to have attracted so little notice that its principle had to be discovered over again by the brothers Seguin in 1908. This form of engine was much used in early aviation until it was superseded by later inventions. Hargrave's work like that of many another pioneer was not sufficiently appreciated during his lifetime. His models were offered to the premier of New South Wales as a gift to the state, and it is generally stated that the offer was not accepted. That is not correct. It is not clear what really happened, but there appears to have been delay in accepting the models, and in the meantime they were given to some visiting German professors who handed them to the Munich museum. (See the Technical Gazette of New South Wales, 1924, p. 46.) Hargrave also made experiments with a hydroplane, the application of the gyroscopic principle to a "one-wheeled car", and with "wave propelled vessels". In 1915 his only son, a young engineer, was killed at Gallipoli. It was a great blow for Hargrave who had hoped that his son would carry on his work. He died a few weeks later on 6 July 1915. He married in 1878 Margaret Preston Johnson, who survived him with four daughters. A memorial to his memory is to be erected at Bald Hill near Stanwell Park, New South Wales, not far from the beach where he made his famous ascent in a kite.
Hargrave was an excellent experimenter and his models were always beautifully made. He had the optimism that is essential for an inventor, and the perseverance that will not allow itself to be damped by failures. Modest, unassuming and unselfish, he always refused to patent his inventions, and was only anxious that he might succeed in adding to the sum of human knowledge. Many men smiled at his efforts and few had faith that anything would come of them. An honourable exception was Professor Threlfall (q.v.) who, in his presidential address to the Royal Society of New South Wales in May 1895, spoke of his "strong conviction of the importance of the work which Mr Hargrave has done towards solving the problem of artificial flight". (For a discussion on the statement that Threlfall had called Hargrave the "inventor of human flight" and the debt supposed to be owed by the Wright brothers to Hargrave, see article by Cecil W. Salier in the Australian Quarterly for March 1940). The step he made in man's conquest of the air was an important one with far-reaching consequences, and he should always be remembered as a great experimenter and inventor, who "probably did as much to bring about the accomplishment of dynamic flight as any other single individual". (Roughley's The Aeronautical Work of Lawrence Hargrave, p. 5.)
C. W. Salier, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XV; C. W. Salier, The Australian Quarterly, March 1940, reprinted as a pamphlet; Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, various volumes, 1884 to 1909; T. C. Roughley, The Technical Gazette of N.S.W., 1923-4, reprinted as a pamphlet; The Aeronautical Work of Lawrence Hargrave, bulletin No. 19, Technological Museum, Sydney, which has a list of some of Hargrave's papers; The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 February 1885 and 9 July 1915.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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