Book Reviews

Book Review: The Australian Institute of Science, Historical Records of Australian Science.

Henry Sutton The Innovative Man: Australian Inventor, Scientist and Engineer. By Lorayne Branch,

Branch’s book is a comprehensive and readable account of Sutton’s amazing career. Around one quarter of the text is taken up by extracts from learned society papers and other documents, some of which make heavy reading. Professor Mark Dodgson, Professor of Innovation Studies at the University of Queensland describes Henry Sutton as ‘Australia’s greatest ever inventor and

indeed, one of the greatest inventors the world has ever seen’. For everyone who has an interest in the history of invention and innovation in Australia this book is a must read.

Book Review: The Royal Society of Victoria, Transactions.

Henry Sutton The Innovative Man: Australian Inventor, Scientist and Engineer by Lorayne Branch

The Australian inventor Henry Sutton was by any account an outstanding achiever and a prolific innovator. He was certainly on a par with many of the greatest modern inventors, but few people have ever heard of him or have any knowledge of his contributions. The recent release in December 2018 of the book Henry Sutton The Innovative Man: Australian Inventor, Scientist and Engineer detailing his life and accomplishments is thus a long overdue study of a noteworthy figure in the history of science – not just in the history of Australian science, but international science generally.

Book Review: The Royal Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, Aerospace Magazine January 2019 Edition.

A biography of the Australian scientist and engineer who, after studying bird flight and

Experimenting with the mechanics of flight in the late 19th century, then made advances in the fields of wireless telegraphy, telephotography and automobiles, among other areas.

Book Review: By Roma Geurin

A most remarkable man, and in hindsight, a victim of the ubiquitous Australian Tall Poppy Syndrome. Quote from the cover notes: “Henry Sutton’s inventions and contribution to science have been a part of the evolution of many inventions, including the light globe, telephone, battery, television and wireless technology, all of which are now part of our everyday lives”.

To which must be added his vacuum pump, a unique carburettor, early experiments and the
publishing of two papers on his theory of flight, motorised cycles followed by building Australian cars which ran successfully and efficiently on kerosene. All of his inventions were made available to the world, as he felt honour-bound to share them freely so that everyone could benefit. He was internationally recognised, and welcomed into the scientific and engineering peak bodies worldwide.

He put decades of work, and personally funded, highly praised and constant improvements in telegraphy. The world’s navies tested and used everything he produced, and our Defence Department was his champion. He was unfortunately made to waste years of his life because of the short sightedness of the grand pooh-bah of communication in Australia, the Post Master General. Despite having nothing comparable to offer, the PMG seems to have suffered an excess of professional jealousy, and continued to assert territorial rights over the field. It is a tragedy that this brilliant, modest, generous man died at a relatively young age, and I have no doubt this was brought about by the unforgiveable stress placed upon him in his last years.

Footnote: Shortly before he died in 1912, he even discussed the possibility of electric cars! Such prescience!
Xmas present from Shauna, a signed copy from the author, Henry Sutton’s great granddaughter, to whom we should give much thanks for this biography of a National Treasure.
Signed: Roma Guerin

Book Review by Brett Biddington

I have just finished reading your biography of Henry Sutton and am writing to say “Thank you and congratulations”, for your record of Henry’s remarkable life.

Your book spoke to me on many levels:

  • I was born and bred in Ballarat and maintain deep affection for the city.
  • My father, now deceased, was a student at the School of Mines and made his career as a lecturer in mechanical and electrical engineering at SMB and its later instantiations – from the late 1940s until the 1980s.
  • I spent a happy summer working at Suttons music store, then in Bridge St., Ballarat in the late 1960s.
  • From 1980-2002, I was an officer in the RAAF with responsibilities including in intelligence (imagery analysis, signals intelligence and electronic warfare) and later, in capability development.  John Oddie, a former RAAF officer and contemporary of mine, is a descendant of James Oddie.
  • I have enjoyed a long association with Australia’s astronomy community, from a governance perspective.
  • I now work for myself in Canberra and spend a great deal of time helping small businesses place inventions before government, notably the Department of Defence.

So much of what you wrote in Henry’s biography has echoes in my own experience.

Your book also raised, in my mind, many questions, especially Chapter 14 on Wireless Telegraphy.  Wireless telegraphy played a vital part in the defeat of the Russian fleet by the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.  This defeat brought an end to the Russo-Japanese war, which was the first major  conflict of the 20th century.  I wonder whether Henry was at all influenced by the advantage that wireless telegraphy conferred on the Japanese and whether he even knew about it.   Had he done do, this might help to explain his later determined efforts to interest the fledgling Australian Defence forces, especially the Navy, in the capabilities he had developed.

Electronic warfare is all about measures, countermeasures, counter-counter measures, etc.  That Henry was on to this with his radio jamming device is of particular interest to me and an indicator that he really did see the world in so many different ways to his contemporaries.

I was also intrigued by the arguments you recount between the PMG and Defence.  Reading these pages was very much ‘back to the future’ for me.  These sorts of arguments still go on and Australian inventors still struggle to be heard and to be taken seriously by governments.  The Defence White Paper released in 2016, set in place a series of initiatives that are specifically designed to address this problem in order that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), as they are called today, can place their ideas and inventions in front of Defence, confident that they will not be summarily dismissed as the work of a crack-pot or a zealot (descriptions that definitely did not apply to Henry). 

Finally, you make one brief mention of Ernest Fisk.  There is a PhD thesis (copy attached) about the policy and other struggles that occurred, mainly in the decade after Henry’s death, about the process by which the Commonwealth established the Home Chain radio stations, including that at Fiskville, on the Geelong Road, south of Ballan.  The site became a CFA training centre, now closed because it is so badly contaminated with cancer causing chemicals.  However, there is one chapter in the thesis with the title The First Years of Australian Wireless, 1901-1914.  Regrettably, there is no mention of Henry Sutton.  This does not diminish the effort put into the thesis, but does go to your point that Henry Sutton’s achievements, until you put pen to paper, have been largely unremarked in Australia.

Thank you for the time and obvious love and devotion you put into your biography of Henry.  I very much enjoyed gaining a much better understanding of the man and his achievements.

Book Review by Keith Scott

Thank you Lorayne, for some unknown reason I missed all your promotional efforts prior to the ABC Science show coverage, sorry. Having lived in the Ballarat area for 20 years and being involved with radio communications since the 60s I did know a bit about Henry Sutton and could not understand why few people in Ballarat or anywhere had heard of him. You have fixed that! What a fabulous effort, you have done a marvelous job of it and your treatment of the technical stuff is fantastic. The organisation of the book is brilliant. The story, though very sad in parts (PMG), brings to life someone whose interest in everything for the benefit of everyone was unequaled. You brought to light many things I knew nothing about, having researched a little in my time, I am staggered you managed to collate so much detail from all over the world. Thankfully some people of note had the respect for Henry that apart for a few was lacking in Australia. My most rewarding read for many years, A fantastic story.