Henry Sutton (inventor)

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Henry Sutton
Born(1855-09-04)4 September 1855
Died28 July 1912(1912-07-28) (aged 56)
Occupation(s)Inventor, music publisher
RelativesHilda Rix Nicholas (niece)

Henry Sutton (4 September 1855, Ballarat, Victoria – 28 July 1912) was an Australian designer, engineer, and inventor credited with contributions to early developments in electricity, aviation, wireless communication, photography and telephony.[1]: 10 [2]

Early life[edit]

image icon Photograph - Richard Henry Sutton 1830-1876, Collection, Gold Museum Ballarat. Retrieved on 5 December 2018.
image icon Photograph - Black and White - Sutton Family, Historical Collection, Federation University Australia. Retrieved on 5 December 2018.


Henry Sutton, the second of the eleven children of Richard Henry Sutton (1831 – 1876),[f 1] and Mary Sutton (1835 – 1894), née Johnson,[f 2] was born in a tent on the Ballarat goldfields on 4 September 1855.[1]: 3  He had three brothers, with whom he was associated in the Sutton Brothers musical business originally centred on Ballarat,[f 3] and two sisters. He married Elizabeth Ellen Wyatt (1860-1901) in 1881,[f 4] and Annie May Tatti (1884-), on 17 September 1902,[f 5] who bore four and two sons, respectively.[1]: 371 


Up to the age of ten, Sutton was schooled by his mother, then attended a state school, and then Gracefield college between 1869 and 1872.[1]: 23  Sutton was self taught in the field of science, having read all the available books in library of the Ballarat Mechanics’ lnstitute by the age of 14.[3]

Sutton trained as a draftsman at the Ballarat School of Design[1]: 18  where he won a silver medal and 30 other prizes for drawing.[3]

Sutton studied at the Ballarat School of Mines.[3][4]


Sutton lectured at the Ballarat School of Mines from 1883 to 1886.[5] In 1883, as a consequence of his work on batteries, Sutton was admitted as an associate of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and of Electricians.[1]: 50, 57  M. Louis Adolphe Cochery minister of Post and Telegraph Office in France invited Sutton to membership of the Société Internationale des Electriciens.[1]: 50 [3] Sutton was also offered membership of Electrical societies from America, Belgium and Russia.[1]: 50  In 1890 prior to leaving for England, a farewell dinner was held by the citizens of Ballarat, where Sutton was presented with an Illuminated address.[1]: 84–8 [6]

London: 1890–1893[edit]

Sutton registered Sutton's Process Syndicate in November 1891 at an address in London to exploit his Suttontype printing process. The process was not considered particularly innovative and it was reported to be unreliable. He abandoned the business to return to Australia.[7][8]

In 1892, he was introduced to Nikola Tesla by Lord Rayleigh and William Preece.[1]: ix 

On the return voyage to Australia in 1893, Sutton used his printing process to contribute pictures to a shipboard newspaper called the Red Sea Scorcher.[9]


Sutton travelled with Alexander Graham Bell from Melbourne to Ballarat on 15 August 1910 where they discussed their respective discoveries.[1]: 225–6 

Sutton died suddenly, at his residence ("Waltham", 9 Erskine Street, Malvern), on 28 July 1912, at the age of 56[10][11] and was buried in the Brighton Cemetery.[12]



The Evening Post, Wellington,
24 October 1889
New Zealand Times,
26 October 1889

Sutton's Suttontype process for converting photographs into a printing surface was patented in 1887.[p 1][13][14][15]

Wireless telegraphy[edit]

Sutton discovered, and patented, a galena "detector"[16]: 134  that had superior performance over other devices used to that time.[17][18][19][20][p 2]

Sutton had also built the world's first portable radio[1]: 222  and held a number of other patents relating to wireless transmission and reception.[p 3] [p 4] [p 5] [p 6]

Other endeavours[edit]


Sutton built a clockwork-driven ornithopter operating on a fixed arm[1]: 11  and presented two papers on flight to the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, in 1878, entitled "On the Flight of Birds and Aërial Navigation"[note 1][21] and "Second Paper on the Flight of Birds".[22]


In 1881, Sutton had developed a new rechargeable battery[23][24][1]: 18 [25][3]: 318  which was patented the following year.[1]: 49, 281  He also wrote of a four-volt cell compound battery invention which was described as impossible by the English Mechanic and World of Science in 1890.[8]: 170 


Sutton demonstrated a light globe sixteen days after Edison's demonstration on 31 December 1879.[1]: 38 [3]: 316 

Subsequently[when?] Sutton's vacuum pump design which overcame deficiencies in the Sprengel pump, was used for the production of light globes by the Edison Swan company.[1]: 42–4 [3]: 316–7 [26]


After reading of Bell's 1876 announcement of the invention of the telephone, Sutton had designed about twenty different telephones within a year.[27][3]: 316  Sutton was said[by whom?] to have "believed in the free flow of information as a gift to science ... patented little, although sixteen of his twenty original telephone designs were patented by others overseas".[28]

The first Australian telephone connection was made in Ballarat and Ballarat East, linking fire stations in the two towns. The exact location of one of the telephone sets can be seen in the Ballarat East Fire Station. The device once allowed communication between the two fire brigades in Ballarat so that they could more accurately locate fires from their watch towers.[29] Sutton had also wired up Sutton's Music Stores,[30] his family business warehouses and offices, with a telephone network two years before an official Australian telephone system.[31] Sutton devised a method for using gas and water pipes as part of a telephone circuit.[p 7][32]


In 1885 after cholera outbreak on a ship in Queensland, Sutton obtained a slide and managed to photograph the cholera germ at 1000 times magnification. A letter to this effect, from Sutton, was published in The Argus on 28 December 1885.[33]


In the 1880s Sutton also devised a colour photography process but, although examples of this work exist, he did not commercialize it.[1]: 98–9, 103 


In 1885, Sutton designed, but did not construct, a mechanical television apparatus to see the Melbourne Cup in Ballarat.[34][3]: 319  Sutton had published his Telephane designs in 1890.[34][27][35] According to historian Ann Moyal, the concept was never successfully demonstrated: "Sutton's 'TV system', which he called 'telephany', used all the latest technology, such as the recently-invented Kerr effect, the Nipkow disc (which Baird was to use in the 'twenties) and the selenium photocell. But its weak link in the 1870s was that the signal had to be transferred by telegraph lines, as radio had yet to arrive, and these were too slow to transmit the dashing horses of the Melbourne Cup successfully."[36]


Sutton used his telephane system to demonstrate facsimile transmission with the help of Nicola Tesla in England.[1]: 188–9  An account of his invention was later published in Washington in 1896, noting that the first patents for long-distance transmission of images dated back to 1867.[37]


For the benefit of his mother, who had been paralyzed by a stroke, a new hydraulic lift had been installed in the newly built Suttons Music Emporium.[1]: 109  As Ballarat's low water pressure and lack of an efficient drainage system were incompatible, Sutton designed and built a new hydraulic mechanism to drive the lift.[30] This design was subsequently used by the Austral Otis company and exported for use in America.[1]: 110 


Second Sutton Autocar
image icon Photograph: Second Sutton Autocar, Collection of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Victorian Section. Retrieved on 5 December 2018.
A Sutton Voiturette Pedal Car, built in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, in 1900 and on display in 2011 at the Ballarat Heritage Festival
"Henry Sutton can be classed as an automobile inventor and designer rather than a manufacturer whose achievements were considerable and internationally recognized. As an inventor he produced a number of automobiles of his own design in an evolutionary process (somewhere between six and eight)."[38][39] In 1897, a tricycle fitted with a Sutton designed and built engine was driven from Melbourne to Ballarat.[40][41][42] Despite atrocious road conditions the trip was completed in eleven and a half hours, and the vehicle arrived in Ballarat to a crowd of thousands.[1]: 129–32 

From 1898 Sutton held patents for improvements in combustion engine carburettors;[p 8][p 9][p 10][p 11][p 12][p 13] and, by 1899, he had built and driven the Sutton Autocar, one of the first motor cars in Australia.[5]

Automobile Club of Victoria[edit]

Sutton was a founding member of the Automobile Club of Victoria;[2] and, at its inaugural meeting, on 10 December 1903, Sutton's proposed "objects of the club" were unanimously accepted by all present:

"that the objects of the club should be the promotion of a social organisation and club, composed mainly of persons owning self-propelled vehicles or motor cycles; to afford a means of recording the experiences of members and others using motor cars and motor cycles; to promote investigation in their development; to co-operate in securing rational legislation and the formation of proper rules and regulations governing the use of motor cars and motor cycles in cities, towns and country districts; to maintain the lawful rights and privileges and protect the interests of owners and users of all forms of self-propelled vehicles whenever and wherever such interests, rights and privileges are menaced; to promote and encourage the improvement, construction and maintenance of roads and highways and the development generally in this State of motoring, and to maintain a club to be devoted to the interests and advancement of automobilism."[43]


Henry Sutton Circuit[edit]

On 20 January 2004, several streets in the new Canberra suburb of Dunlop were named after "inventors, inventions, and artists"; and one of these new streets was called "Henry Sutton Circuit".[44]

The Henry Sutton Oration[edit]

In 2014, the Telecommunications Association (formerly known as the Telecommunications Society of Australia, which had its origins in the Telegraph Electrical Society, founded in Melbourne in 1874), inaugurated its annual Henry Sutton Oration.[45]


Les Murray referred to Sutton and television in his 1990 poem "The Tube".[46]

The Science Show[edit]

Science journalist Robyn Williams has featured Sutton in episodes of his long-running radio program.[47]


  1. ^ The first page of the article (p.30) does not display Sutton's name but it is to be found at the foot of the previous page



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Branch, Lorayne (2018). Henry Sutton the Innovative Man - Australian inventor, scientist and engineer. Victoria Australia: Tried and Trusted Indie Publishing. ISBN 978-1-925332-34-6. Branch is Sutton's great-granddaughter
  2. ^ a b McCallum, Austin (1976). Bede Nairn; Geoffrey Serle; Russel Ward (eds.). Sutton, Henry (1856–1912). Vol. 6:1851-1890 R-Z Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. pp. 226–227.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Withers, William Bramwell (1887). The History of Ballarat, from the First Pastoral Settlement to the Present Time (2nd ed.). Ballarat: F.W. Niven And Co. pp. 316–319. OL 9436501W.
  4. ^ Beggs Sunter, Anne. "Henry Sutton the Eureka man" (PDF). Australian Heritage. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 March 2017. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  5. ^ a b Gervasoni, Clare (30 November 2018). "Henry Sutton". Federation University Australia Honour Roll.
  6. ^ Farewell to Mr. H. Sutton, The Ballarat Star, (Tuesday, 4 February 1890), p.4.
  7. ^ "The Suttontype Printing Process". No. p.4. The Ballarat Star. 10 July 1890. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  8. ^ a b Jackson, Philip (August 2013). "Bibliographical Reply: The Suttontype Printing Process" (PDF). Script & Print. 37 (3): 165–173.
  9. ^ Return of a Ballarat Inventor: An Interesting Interview, The Ballarat Star, (Monday, 15 May 1893), p.3.
  10. ^ Deaths: Sutton, The Age, (Monday, 29 July 1912), p.1. Deaths: Sutton, The Argus, (Monday, 29 July 1912), p.9.
  11. ^ Mr. Henry Sutton: Death of a Well-Known Scientist, The Ballarat Star, (Monday, 29 July 1912), p.1.
  12. ^ Henry Sutton (1856-1912), Inventor, Historic Interments: 150 Years: 150 Lives, brightoncemetry.com.
  13. ^ "an improved process of converting a photographic image on a gelatine surface into a relief or intaglio printing surface" New Patents, The Argus, (Monday, 5 December 1887), p.8.
  14. ^ Instantaneous Photo-Engraving, The Mercury, (Saturday, 2 June 1888), p.3.
  15. ^ An Australian Invention, The (Melbourne) Herald, (Friday, 27 September 1889) p.4.
  16. ^ Erskine-Murray, James (1913). A Handbook of Wireless Telegraphy: Its Theory and Practice: For the Use of Electrical Engineers, Students, and Operators (4th ed.). London: C. Lockwood and Son.
  17. ^ "Wireless Experiments. A Melbourne Inventor. A Sensitive Detector". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas). 7 March 1912.
  18. ^ Watt, Jarrod (12 February 2012). "Australian's forgotten radio pioneer: the amazing Henry Sutton". ABC radio.
  19. ^ An Inventor (Mr. Henry Sutton) and His Invention, The Leader, (Saturday, 14 May 1910), p.36: with "explanatory notes" supplied by Sutton at Research in Wireless Telegraphy, The Leader, (Saturday, 14 May 1910), p.51.
  20. ^ Wireless Experiments: A Melbourne Inventor, The (Sydney) Sun, (Saturday, 17 February 1912), p.12.
  21. ^ "On the Flight of Birds and Aërial Navigation". Annual Reports of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain. 13: 30–52. 1878. doi:10.1017/S2397930500000631.
  22. ^ Sutton, Henry (1878). "Second Paper on the Flight of Birds". Annual Reports of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain. 13: 53–69. doi:10.1017/S2397930500000643.
  23. ^ Sutton, Henry (15 December 1881). "On a New Electrical Storage Battery". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. 33 (217): 187–190.
  24. ^ Sutton, Henry (12 January 1882). "On a New Electrical Storage Battery (Supplementary Note)". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. 33 (218): 257–8. Bibcode:1881RSPS...33..257S.
  25. ^ Sutton, H. "On a New Form of Secondary Cell for Electrical Storage". Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 1882.
  26. ^ Sutton, H. "Description of Vacuum Apparatus" (PDF). Review 13 Dec 1881. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 January 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2013.
  27. ^ a b "Henry Sutton". IEEE Global History Network. 17 May 2009. Archived from the original on 5 May 2010.
  28. ^ Moyal, Ann, "Invention and Innovation in Australia: The Historian's Lens", Prometheus, Vol. 5, No. 1, (June 1987), pp. 92–110; p. 99. doi:10.1080/08109028708629415
  29. ^ At the monthly meeting of the Ballarat Fire Brigade, held on Monday, 2 December 1889, it was noted that correspondence had been received "from [the] Post and Telegraph Department, intimating that the [Ballarat] brigade would be connected by telephone with the signal-box at Eastern station without delay": Ballarat Fire Brigade, The Ballarat Star, (Friday, 6 December 1889), p.4.
  30. ^ a b Bentley, Prue. "Treasures unearthed in Ballarat's Sutton building". ABC Ballarat. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  31. ^ Delacey, Lynda (7 September 2015). "On this day: Birth of Australia's electronics inventor". Australian Geographic. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  32. ^ "Mr Henry Sutton, music seller, of Sturt street, Ballarat, has applied for a patent for improvements in electric circuits for telephone purposes": The Ballarat Star, (Monday, 15 November 1886), p.2.
  33. ^ Sutton, H., "Photographing the Cholera Germ (Letter to the Editor, dated 19 December 1885)", The Argus, (Monday, 28 December 1885), p.7.
  34. ^ a b Sutton, Henry (7 November 1890). "Tele-photography". Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review: 550.
  35. ^ E.R. (13 December 1890). "Les problèmes de la téléphanie d'après M. Henri Sutton". Journal Universel d'Électricité. La Lumière électrique (50): 538–541.
  36. ^ Moyal, Ann (June 1983). "Telecommunications in Australia: An Historical Perspective, 1854-1930". Prometheus. 1 (1): 40. doi:10.1080/08109028308628914.
  37. ^ Pictures by Wire, The Evening Star, (Saturday, 16 October, 1896), p.3.
  38. ^ Darwin, Norman Arthur (June 2018). Early Australian Automotive Design 1895 - 1953 (PDF). (For a detailed account of Sutton's numerous early contributions to the development of automobiles in Australia, see pp.66-73)
  39. ^ "Mr. Sutton's Trim Built Australian Motor Car". Punch. Victoria, Australia. 5 February 1903. p. 22. Retrieved 1 January 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  40. ^ Cycling: A Motor Car, The Argus, (Friday, 10 September 1897), p.3;
  41. ^ Cycling Notes, Melbourne Punch, (Thursday, 16 September 1897), p.18;
  42. ^ 'Kuklos', "World of Sport: Cycling", The (Melbourne) Herald, (Friday, 25 November 1898), p.3.
  43. ^ Motoring: An Automobile Club, The (Melbourne) Herald, (Thursday, 10 December 1903), p.4.
  44. ^ Public Place Names (Dunlop) Determination 2004 (No 1): PN2004-1: Division of Dunlop: Inventors, Inventions and Artists, ACT Parliament.
  45. ^ "Henry Sutton Oration 14 May 2014 - Robyn Williams". TelSoc. Telecommunications Association, Inc. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  46. ^ Les Murray, "The Tube": a poem first published in Murray, L., Dog Fox Field, Angus & Robertson, (North Ryde), 1990.
  47. ^ Henry Sutton – inventor of television ABC Radio National – The Science Show, 22 December 2012

Family footnotes[edit]


  1. ^ AU-VIC 5389 Victoria Government Gazette 104, Friday, October 28th 1887, Victoria Government Gazette 108, Friday, November 11th 1887, Photography Patent 1887, October 20th. No. 5389, Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute, Branch (2018). p.283.
  2. ^ AU 2621  An improved detector of electric oscillations for wireless telegraphy and like purposes, Australian Patent No. 2621/11, 29 September 1911, Branch (2018). p.297.
  3. ^ AU 3354  Improved means of producing electric oscillations for wireless telegraphy and other purposes Branch (2018). p.299.
  4. ^ AU 16633  Improvements relating to the production and transmission of hertzian waves, Branch (2018). p.297.
  5. ^ AU 17127  Improved means for preventing 'arcing' of the gap in the production of high potential electrical oscillations, Branch (2018). p.297.
  6. ^ AU 17433  Improved means for detecting acoustic electric, or like waves, Branch (2018). p.297.
  7. ^ AU-VIC 4784 Victoria Government Gazette 122, Friday, November 12th 1886, Improvements in electric circuits for telephonic purposes Patent 1886 October 26th. No.4784, Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute.
  8. ^ US 650736 "Explosive-engine. US 650736". Google patents. 7 December 1898. Branch (2018). p.286.
  9. ^ US 664689 "Speed-regulator for explosive-engines. US 664689". Google patents. 10 July 1899.Branch (2018). p.286.
  10. ^ GB 189900634  Improvements in and relating to Internal Combustion Engines. Branch (2018). p.286.
  11. ^ AU-VIC 15777  Improvements in and relating to Internal Combustion Engines Victoria Government Gazette 31, Friday, April 28th 1899. Branch (2018). p.286.
  12. ^ FR 285240  Branch (2018). p.286.
  13. ^ AU-NSW 9327 Improvements in and relating to Internal combustion engines: Patent No. 9327 Patents and Inventions, The (Sydney) Daily Telegraph, (Tuesday, 13 June 1899), p.3.

External links[edit]