The Girl, the Kite and the Eccentric Inventor

In this post:
Inventions and science in the Romantic Age
Help, my father is an inventor!
Martha Pocock as a character of a novel – and plot bunnies involving the Pocock family

Martha Pocock was not what we associate with a typical girl of the Romantic Age. She was neither an epitome of propriety nor a simpering Miss. Martha had guts and she was hands-on. She was the first woman to be lifted into the air under a kite. Martha owed her experiences in flying under a kite to her father. George Pocock (1774–1843) was an inventor and a schoolmaster. He became famous for inventing the first kite-drawn carriage. Sounds like a joke? It’s not.

Martha Pocock and tghe kite drawn carricageThe kite-drawn carriage – a so called charvolant – actually worked. Two large kites, each on a single line, provided sufficient power to draw a carriage with passengers. The carriage made up to 20 miles per hour. Martha joined her father in steering the charvolant along the roads between Bristol and Marlborough. She also took part in many of his experiments.

Inventions and science in the Romantic Age

As Mr Pocock was an inventor and a teacher, there can be little doubt that Martha and her siblings knew a lot about science, especially the “aeropleustic art” as Mr Pocock called the navigation in the air by the use of kites. Science had become popular during the Romantic Age. Actually, a second Scientific Revolution occurred, with a series of breakthroughs in astronomy, chemistry and the study of electricity. What was more: Science was no longer the preserve of an elite. Scientific lectures were now addressed to the general public, and for the first time, children were taught the basics of science.
The Romantic Age also was the era that allowed an inventive, clever person as Mr Pocock to develop and pursue new ideas. M. Pocock embodied the ideal scientist (or rather natural philosopher, as the actual term was; the word scientist was only coined in 1830) of his time: committed, persistent, working by experiment and with a strong believe in his ideas, even against all odds. The scientist of the Romantic Age would go to any length for his studies, explore Things Unattempted Yet, and he would conduct experiments on himself and on the members of his family.

Help, my father is an inventor!

Having an eccentric inventor as father has its hazards. Just like Martha, her brother Alfred was involved in an experiment with a kite-drawn sledge: Upon Alfred being seated on the vehicle and the lines hauled, sledge, kite and boy were whisked away by the wind so fast that it was impossible to catch up with them. Luckily, Alfred landed safely on grassland after having hit the top of a large stone on the ground.
Martha seemed to have taken part in her father’s experiments regularly. In 1824, she joined him in a true adventure: Mr Pocock had equipped an arm chair with a 30-foot (9 m) kite. His aim was to lift chair and daughter into the air – and to land them safely. Martha took her seat on the chair. The main brace line was hauled, the kite rose with its burden and ascended to the height of 100 yards (91.44 m). When Martha landed, she said to be very pleased with the easy motion of the kite and the fine views she had enjoyed. Her adventure made her the first aeropleust, as her father proudly claimed.

Make Martha Pocock a character of your novel

Martha Pocock is great to use as a minor character in your novel, if you would like to include aspects of sports and science in your story. Here are more facts about her and her family:

  • Martha was tall, strong, and had an indomitable will.
  • She was born in 1812 and grew up in her father’s boarding school for boys, “Prospect Place Academy”, in Bristol.
  • Driving kite-drawn vehicles became a kind of a fashion among the young men of Bristol, where the Pococks lived.
  • Martha got to know her husband thanks to the charvolant: A certain Henry Mills Grace joined in this sport, and thus became acquainted with Martha. There can be little doubt that Henry admired her skillful use of the kites. He proposed, and gained her hand in marriage. Martha was 19 years old, when she married.
  • Besides the kite-drawn carriage, George Pocock invented a kite-powered boat, that sailed on the Bristol Channel, and an inflatable globe to teach children astronomy. You would stand inside the globe and watch the stars illuminated by the daylight outside.

So how about plot bunnies involving the Pococks?

  • Maybe the hero, Lord A., a noted whip, is desperate to win a race and is thus hurrying his Phaeton along the road from Bristol to London, when he has to stop at a toll gate: The gate is blocked by a strange vehicle and two huge kites. The gate keeper fiercely argues with the carriage driver, a gentleman and his tall daughter. The girl insists that his charvolant can’t be charged, as the rate of a toll is computed according to the number of horses powering a vehicle – and where, if you please, do you see horses?! Lord A. is furious about the disruption and joins in the argument, siding with the gate keeper. Miss Pocock is neither impressed by his rank nor his authority. She enjoys the dispute – and gets her way. Finally, Lord A. can continue his drive. Will he still be able to win the race?
  • The heroine, Miss D., is riding out with her governess when they are overtaken by a weird vehicle running without horses. Miss D.’s mare takes fright. Enter a handsome gentleman: Can he stop the horse and save Miss D.?
  • Or is there a smart governess, Miss P., trying to teach her charge, Master B., the basics of science? Master B. sees no use in science and is very bored by the lessons, until one day he witnesses a girl on a chair ascending into the sky. From that moment, nothing but the aeropleustic art will do for him. Miss P. is busy preventing Master B. from breaking his neck by kite flying from the roof of the manor …

 

Special thanks to Matthias Adler for drawing my attention to Mr. Pocock. Matthias is the author of “Kiss” or “Smack” – Print Your Personal Letterhead Using the Techniques of the 19th Century, an inspiring exhibition at the Museum of Creativity.

Related topics:

Sources

Pocock,George: The Aeropleustic Art or Navigation in the Air by the use of Kites, or Buoyant Sails; W. Wilson,1827.

http://www.hungerfordvirtualmuseum.co.uk/People/Family_History/Pocock_Family/POCOCK-_George_-revised_5.4.2014-.pdf

Dent, Lynne „Book of the Month: The Aeropleustic Art or Navigation in the Air by the use of Kites, or Buoyant Sails; March 2001”; University of Glasgow, Special Collections Department, Library, Hillhead Street, G12 8QE, Scotland, United Kingdom. http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/month/mar2001.html

Holmes, Richard: The Age of Wonder; HarperPress, 2009.

Low, Robert: W. G. Grace: An Intimate Biography; John Blake Publishing, 2004.

 

4 thoughts on “The Girl, the Kite and the Eccentric Inventor

  1. What a marvelous post! Just think of all the fun and excitement Martha and her brother had growing up…and all the stress her mother must have experienced watching them help with their father’s experiments.

    • Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed the post. Mrs. Pocock certainly was a special person. Too bad we don’t know much about her.

  2. Absolutely fascinating post about the young “queen of the air”. I also enjoyed the painting. Well done! At first glance it looks like a professional sketch you would find in a book.

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