An Electric Experience

Electrical Storage Battery

In 1881 Henry Sutton invented a new economical and practical electrical storage battery which bought him world acclaim. Thomas Edison stated at the time that it was the best battery in the world, Henry did not patent his battery instead he gave it freely to the world so everyone could benefit from it.

It was Henry’s battery that bought the city of Ballarat to the attention of the world, up until this Ballarat had only been known for gold but it was now known around the world as a place of scientific achievements.

The Sutton battery was exhibited at the Crystal Palace Electrical Exhibition in London in 1882 and Henry kindly donated a six cell battery to the Ballarat School of Mines for use by the students. Due to Henry’s success in 1883 Henry was invited by Mr James Oddie to become a lecturer in Applied Electricity and Magnetism at the Ballarat School of Mines, he lectured there until the end of 1889.


In 1748 Benjamin Franklin coined the term “battery” which described an array of charged plates. Inventors like Volta, Bunsen and Grove made improvements, followed by Sutton, Plante and Faure, by 1901 Thomas Edison had invented the alkaline battery and in the 1970’s lithium began being used. Today batteries are used daily by everyone and have evolved to fractions of their original size, a battery that weighed many kilo’s in the 1800’s can now fit on the tip of a person’s finger.

The Sutton Battery

The cell is composed of a sheet of lead, cleaned with dilute sulphuric acid and amalgamated thoroughly with mercury and a sheet of thin copper a little shorter.

The two sheets are perforated with a number of holes, the copper is placed uppermost and separated by bands of rubber having pieces cut out every few inches and the whole being rolled into a spiral.

Then it is immersed in a solution of cupric sulphate and the amalgamated lead made the positive electrode of a suitable source of electricity.

The speed of discharge could be regulated, a qualification which no other battery at the time could do.

A unique feature of Henry’s battery was that you could tell if it was charged by the chemical changes in the cell as the colour would change within the battery.