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B1559 Box kite model, reproduction, based on 1893 design by Lawrence Hargrave, aluminium / silk / wire, commissioned by QANTAS Airways, Australia, pre 1964. Click to enlarge.

Model box kite

Made by Hargrave, Lawrence in Australia, Oceania, pre 1964.

The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences holds the largest collection of material internationally of the aviation pioneer, Lawrence Hargrave. While no single individual can be attributed to the invention of the aeroplane, Hargrave belonged to an elite body of scientists and researchers (along with Octave Chanute, Otto Lilienthal and Percy Sinclair Pilcher) whose experiments and inventions paved the way for the first powered, controlled flight achieved by the Wright Brothers on December 17, 1903.


Object No.


Object Statement

Box kite model, reproduction, based on 1893 design by Lawrence Hargrave, aluminium / silk / wire, commissioned by QANTAS Airways, Australia, pre 1964

Physical Description

Box kite model, reproduction, based on 1893 design by Lawrence Hargrave, aluminium / silk / wire, commissioned by QANTAS Airways, Australia, pre 1964

Reproduction of a Lawrence Hargrave box kite model featuring an aluminium frame covered with off-white silk. The aluminium has been painted a terracotta colour. Wires were used to tension the frame. The kite is dismantled.





260 mm



This box kite was designed by Lawrence Hargrave at Stanwell Park, New South Wales, Australia in 1893 and reproduced by a model maker commissioned by QANTAS Airways sometime before 1964.

The materials used in this reproduction do not correspond to those used by Hargrave in his original design. Silk and aluminium has been used for the cells and struts, whereas Hargrave used drawing paper and wood.



This model is a reproduction of Lawrence Hargrave's earliest true cellular kite which he produced and tested on February 16, 1893.

Hargrave believed that research into kites would most likely lead to the solution of stability and lift, and therefore the ability to enable man to rise from the ground in a machine heavier than the surrounding atmosphere. The first kites he established to try and do this featured cylinders, which he found to be "absolutely stable and not liable to dive".

Even though Hargrave found cylinder kites to be successful, he reported to have only been able to achieve this success and stability in weather which "was not quite calm". This may have been one of the contributing factors which prompted Hargrave to experiment with kites of a different shape, namely box-shaped ones, along with the possibility that Hargrave thought box kites would be more easily transportable (because they could be collapsed flat) compared to cylinder ones. On February 16, 1893 he produced his first true cellular box kite comprising 16 open boxes. This design then became the forerunner to the box kites employed by Hargrave in his famous man lifting experiment conducted on Stanwell Beach on November 12, 1894.

The design of this particular kite consisted of two groups of sixteen open-ended boxes placed at the ends of a timber spar. After testing the model, Hargrave described her as "a beauty, as steady as possible".

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

Gift of Qantas Airways, 1964

Acquisition Date

17 February 1964

Cite this Object


Model box kite 2018, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 8 December 2019, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Model box kite |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=8 December 2019 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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