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93/104/1 Reproduction shoes for walking on water (pair), wood / rope / metal, designed by Lawrence Hargrave, Australia, 1870, made by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1965-1975. Click to enlarge.

Reproduction shoes for walking on water by Lawrence Hargrave

These shoes were designed by Lawrence Hargrave who was one of Australia's great scientists. He produced and tested his original shoes at 20 years of age on the calm waters of Rushcutters Bay. At the time, Hargrave was working as an apprentice with the Australasian Steam Navigation Company (ASN Co).

Hargrave was best known for his work in aviation but he was also significant for his exploration work in the Torres Strait and New Guinea. In 1876, for example, he joined Luigi d'Albertis' …


Object No.


Object Statement

Reproduction shoes for walking on water (pair), wood / rope / metal, designed by Lawrence Hargrave, Australia, 1870, made by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1965-1975

Physical Description

Two hollow timber boat-shaped shoes or skis, painted white. Eight wooden square boards are hinged to the sole of each shoe and fold parallel to the sole to allow unimpeded forward motion of the shoes but are retained at right angles to the sole by string to prevent backward motion of the shoes. The back of each shoe features vertical hinges where a rudder could be attached but no rudders are present. There are remnants of ropes passing through metal eyes at the back end.

Height: 145 mm
Width: 230 mm
Diameter/Length: 3750 mm





130 mm


230 mm



These reproduced shoes for walking on water were designed by Lawrence Hargrave at Rushcutters Bay, New South Wales, Australia in 1870 and made by the Museum's model maker in Sydney, Australia around 1965-1975.

The shoes are made from wood, rope and metal. They function by the user placing each foot inside a long boat-shaped boot and attempting to stride or float across the water. To prevent backward movement, Hargrave fitted a series of flaps underneath. At rest, the flaps fell vertical, while during forward movement, the flaps lay in a horizontal position.



This pair of shoes for walking on water represents one of Lawrence Hargrave's earliest technical achievements, which he produced and tested at 20 years of age on the calm waters of Rushcutters Bay. They were produced at the same time Hargrave worked as an apprentice with the Australasian Steam Navigation Company (ASN Co) and are a testimony to the skills he acquired in maritime design and craftsmanship.

The second of four children of John Fletcher and Ann, Lawrence Hargrave was born at Greenwich, London on January 29, 1850. In 1856, Lawrence's father, eldest brother Ralph and uncle Edward emigrated to Australia in what appears to be a consensual marital separation between John and Ann. They were bound for Sydney to join a third brother of John and Edward, who was a member of the Legislative Assembly for New England (named Richard), while Ann, Lawrence and her two other children, Alice and Gilbert, stayed in Kent, England.

During his early years, Lawrence was educated at the Queen Elizabeth's School in Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmoreland, before he sailed to Australia in 1865 to join his father, brother and two uncles. John Fletcher, who was a distinguished judge in the New South Wales Supreme Court living at Rushcutters Bay House, anticipated a career for Lawrence in law. Despite organising tuition for him, Lawrence failed to matriculate, but was subsequently accepted to begin an apprenticeship with the Australasian Steam Navigation Company (ASN Co) in 1867. For five years he worked as an apprentice, gaining invaluable skills in woodworking, metalworking and design.

The circumnavigation voyage of Australia aboard the 'Ellesmere' (offered to Lawrence by another passenger en route to Australia from London) obviously stimulated an interest for Lawrence in exploration. From 1871, Lawrence joined the Committee of Management of J.D. Lang's New Guinea Prospecting Association and in 1872 was on board the brig 'Maria', bound for New Guinea in search of gold, when it sunk off Bramble reef, north Queensland, causing great loss of life. After returning to Sydney to work for the ASN Co, and later the engineers P.N. Russell & Co, Lawrence participated in several more exploratory voyages to the Torres Strait and New Guinea, accompanying figures like William Macleay, Octavius Stone and Luigi d'Albertis along the Fly River. These voyages continued until 1876, at which time Lawrence worked at the foundries of Chapman & Co, before choosing to settle down with new wife, Margaret Preston Johnson in September, 1878 with whom he had six children (Helen-Ann (Nellie), Hilda, Margaret, Brenda, Geoffrey and Brenda-Olive).

In January of the following year, Lawrence commenced work as an extra observer (astronomical) at Sydney Observatory under the Government astronomer H.C. Russell. In this role, Lawrence was able to make a number of important observations and inventions, including the transit of Mercury in 1881, the Krakatoa explosion in 1883 and the design and construction of adding machines. The income made from land bestowed to Lawrence by his father in Coalcliff, however, meant that in 1883 Lawrence was able to resign from his position at the Observatory to pursue his fascination and study into artificial flight. This interest came about from his observation of waves and animal motion, including fish, birds and snakes.

Lawrence's earliest experiments, spanning 1884-1892, involved propulsion with monoplane models built from light wood and paper. He first attempted to build a full-size machine capable of carrying a human in 1887 and in 1889 he built his most influential engine - a three cylinder radial rotary engine. Lawrence's later experimental phase, 1892-1909, involved the use of curved surfaces in his models. This research subsequently led to the development of the box kite, the most famous invention associated with his name.

Lawrence always conducted his experiments in his local area (i.e. Rushcutters Bay, Woollahra Point and Stanwell Park). He was against patenting his inventions for fear of stifling the development of aviation in the bigger picture and therefore published his results quickly and widely, particularly through the Royal Society of New South Wales. This Society helped Lawrence to gain an international reputation and brought him into contact with other aviation pioneers like Octave Chanute and Otto Lilienthal. The very first paper he gave was "The Trochoided Plane" (delivered August 6, 1884).

In Lawrence's later years he conducted research into early Australian history, postulating the theory that two Spanish ships found their way into Sydney Harbour in the late 16th century. Apart from this and of course his interests in aeronautics, Lawrence also concerned himself with the contemporary issues of patent laws, free competition, Darwinism, a bridge for Sydney Harbour, pensions, strikes and conscription.

Lawrence Hargrave died of peritonitis at Lister Hospital on July 6, 1915. Lawrence's death came only nine weeks after the death of his youngest son, Geoffrey, at Gallipoli.


Credit Line

Produced by the Powerhouse Museum, 1993

Acquisition Date

23 March 1993

Cite this Object


Reproduction shoes for walking on water by Lawrence Hargrave 2022, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 May 2022, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Reproduction shoes for walking on water by Lawrence Hargrave |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=25 May 2022 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}