Birth of inventor Lawrence Hargrave

Australian aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargrave is best remembered for his significant contribution towards the modern flying machine.

Hargrave was born in Greenwich, England as the second of four children to John Fletcher and his wife Ann. Hargrave moved to Australia in 1866 and worked as an engineer, explorer and astronomical observer before later retiring to devote himself to his life work – aviation.

Among his most important inventions include the box kite in 1893, when he successfully managed to fly a four-box kite about five metres off the ground. Hargrave however refused to patent his inventions, believing instead in the importance of free flow of information, knowledge and ideas particularly within the scientific community.

In 1893, he wrote:

“Workers must root out the idea that by keeping the results of their labors to themselves a fortune will be assured to them. Patent fees are so much wasted money. The flying machine of the future will not be born fully fledged and capable of a flight for 1000 miles or so. Like everything else it must be evolved gradually. The first difficulty is to get a thing that will fly at all. When this is made, a full description should be published as an aid to others. Excellence of design and workmanship will always defy competition.”

While this view allowed others, including the Wright brothers, to benefit from his work, it prevented Hargrave from receiving the recognition he deserved during his lifetime.

However, today his memory lives on in the Lawrence Hargrave Drive, a gloriously scenic tourist drive between Sydney and Wollongong, to commemorate the many experiments he conducted in Stanwell Park, a northern suburb of Wollongong.

Hargrave, who was married to Margaret Preston Johnson and had six children with her, was believed to have been deeply affected by the death of his only son in Galipoli in May 1915. Hargrave passed away on 14 July 1915 in Darlinghurst and was laid to rest at the Waverley cemetery after developing peritonitis following an appendicitis operation.