Researching Henry

My name is Lorayne Branch I am the great granddaughter of Henry Sutton, I am descendant from Henry’s second son Edward. Having grown up with some very vague stories about someone in the family inventing things and that they had something to do with the invention of television was always there in the back of my mind. It was not until 2008 when I began researching my family tree that the mystery of exactly who this mysterious person was. I started with searching online about the family history of once we owned Suttons music store and as my mother and grandfather were Suttons I started there. In looking online it did not take me long to find a wealth of information about the music store but the big surprise to me was finding out that it was Henry Sutton that was the inventor in the family. Up until this moment I had never heard his name before, little lone knew that he was my great grandfather. Having a curious mind and being intrigued by the pieces of information about Henry that I found online I needed to learn more so I started looking for further information. Little was I to know that my curiosity would take me on a very exciting 10 year journey and lead me to eventually write a book about my amazing great grandfather.

A year into my family research and looking into Henry and his life I started to realise that the information I was uncovering was important as it seemed much of what I was finding had not been recorded or known to history. Recognising the importance of the information I was finding I set about to solely concentrate on not only finding out more about Henry but also the stories and information behind his life and inventions. Up until this point a number of other researchers over the years had researched Henry with varying degrees of information obtained. Regardless it was their research helped lead me to all the clues I needed to go deeper to uncover what by now I knew was a huge part of very important Australian history never told.

As I was living in Brisbane Queensland my next step was to travel to Ballarat Victoria and see what I could learn from there and familiarize myself with Henry’s home town and surroundings to get a sense of who Henry was and how he grew up. In 2009 having contacted Clare Gervasoni from what was then called University of Ballarat now Federation University, I had arranged to meet her at the Ballaarat School of Mines campus to learn more about Henry. I was given a tour of where Henry attended classes and where he taught his students as a lecturer and to my surprise the university had arranged a small reception upon my arrival. It was as though royalty had come to town I being the first family member of Henrys’ in nearly 100 years to visit Ballarat and the University. At the reception I was met by the then ABC radio reporter Jarrod Watt who thrust a microphone in my face and started to interview me. This would be one of the funniest moments of my research journey as I proceeded to tell him about what I knew about Henry. The recorded interview is still funny today as at times it left him speechless as it was his interest in Henry that lead him to move to Ballarat. Both Clare and Jarrod have been a great help and support and travelled with me along my journey for over a decade. 

In 2011 the City of Ballarat invited me to do a Henry Sutton feature exhibit for their Ballarat Heritage Weekend and of course Jarrod was there once again to interview me, this time in front of a large crowd. The exhibition about Henry was a great success and thousands came to learn more about him and were astonished at his many achievements.

One of the best things about my research was finding and connecting up with my many Sutton family members and one of them was my mother’s cousin Ron Sutton who I discovered living not 10 minutes away from me in Brisbane. More in depth research followed and in 2012 it became apparent that to find out more about Henry I needed to travel to England. Ron came to rescue and together we travelled to England where apart from taking in a few air shows (we both had a love of flying and planes) and visiting some of my newly discovered family in England I set about researching Henry. I had pre-arranged with various organisations etc to view files and documents but it was my visit to Oxford University and my chance to look in the Marconi archives in the Bodleian Library that was the highlight of my trip. I still proudly have my Bodleian library card from that visit. It was not until I was back in Brisbane and I went through the pieces of information that I discovered there was a very important article in a journal that only was in the Bodleian. I immediately emailed my library contact and he kindly sent me a copy of the article I needed. The article was a major breakthrough in my hunt for information about Henry’s wireless inventions and discoveries.

More research followed and as time went on I began to unravel the stories and detailed information to each event and invention. I discovered that sometimes the back stories were just as interesting as the inventions and told amazing stories filled with drama and great tragedy. My research was getting close to having a full enough picture of Henry’s life and it was now time to begin to write a book about him. By the end of 2013 I decided I needed to permanently move to Ballarat as that is where I needed to be to finish what I had started. So with Ron who was in his 80s and never married or had no children we moved to Ballarat.

2014 saw the next phase of not only my Henry journey but my new life in Ballarat and I settled in to start writing the book about Henry. In between I would give talks and do a number of Henry events especially during Ballarat’s Heritage Weekends. In doing so many people and organisations became aware of my work and soon I began to be recognised as an authority on Henry Sutton. Support came also as many people were waiting patiently for my book to be written and published. Writing the book was a daunting task, I had never written anything before but I could tell a story and tell it well. I knew Henry well and let the information and his story guide me and I relied on that to get me through.

Two years later the book was written but sadly publishers were not interested after all many people had never heard of Henry Sutton. It is a pity that unless you are a celebrity, politician or sports person publishers are not interested. I am sure they seem to think Australian history does not sell or already have something published, Robyn Williams even tried to help but it was in vain. As I did not have the funds to self publish the book I set about looking for donations and set up a funding page. It did not take long support and funds came in from family, the public, Henry fans and from organisations willing to help. I was so grateful it did take a while to gain enough funding but finally there was enough to self publish the book. I will be forever indebted to the many who helped along the way and supported my quest to ensure the book about Henry Sutton and his amazing contribution to not only Australian history but world history was published.

My book launch was in December 2018 and I am very proud to say that Federation University Ballarat hosted my launch in the very building that is adorned with graphic artwork depicting the many achievements of Henry. Robyn Williams AO was the special guest speaker and my book launch aired on RN’s Science Show soon after.

My Henry journey continues with the launch of this website and I look forward to what other adventures Henry brings me.

Lorayne Branch