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Book of the Month

March 2001

The Aeropleustic Art or Navigation in the Air by the use of Kites, or Buoyant Sails

London: 1827

Sp Coll BG46-a.6

front cover

This month's book illustrates Victorian eccentricity and appetite for the unusual in the form of The Aeropleustic Art or Navigation in the Air by the use of Kites, or Buoyant Sails.

Written by George Pocock, this book was published in London by W. Wilson in 1827 and is the first edition. The book is primarily concerned with the use of kites in transport. The book is board backed and the spine is quite badly damaged.

The book was sold with plain plates at 20s or with coloured at 25s. Our edition has several colour plates. Included among the artists who provided the colour plates is Thomas Buttersworth. Both Thomas Buttersworth junior and senior were artists who specialised in ship portraits, seascapes and harbour views with Thomas Buttersworth senior having spent some time in the navy. However, given the date it is likely that the younger Buttersworth provided this illustration. Both had a very similar artistic style and therefore it is difficult to distinguish between their work.

George Pocock was a schoolmaster at a  school for boys in Bristol called Prospect Place Academy. He has been described as the father of kite traction since his main extra curricular interest was inventions and kites, exploring Things unattempted yet (Milton). For example, Pocock invented and patented the "charvolant", a carriage that would be pulled by two kites rather than horses.

A Boat Race: plate opposite p. 21 


The book details The origin and history of the Invention and Pocock states that when he was a little tiny boy, I learnt that my paper kite would draw along a stone on the ground, tied to the end of its string. Experimenting with kites and stones, Pocock "wondered" and grew ambitious. The book continues with accounts of Pocock's experiments with kites, for example using kites to pull boats. Pocock also explains the mechanics, construction and the power of kites.

Pocock propounds several uses for kites. Their application by sea included serving as auxiliary sails to the navy, trading vessels and merchantmen. He also suggests using kites in the case of a shipwreck, using them to drop anchor. Pocock does, however, acknowledge that portions of the plan are not practicable.

Pocock is probably best known for his invention of the Char-volant, a lightweight carriage that would be pulled along by two kites attached by controllable lines rather than horses. The name for this apparatus came for the French for kite, cerf-volant, and the French for carriage, char. This carriage could allegedly reach speeds of twenty miles per hour. In the book, Pocock discusses journeys from Bristol to Marlborough stating that they beat one of the London stages to Marlborough by twenty-five minutes, even thought the stage had a fifteen minute head start. Of this journey Pocock comments:

This mode of travelling is of all others the most pleasant: privileged with harnessing the invincible winds, our celestial tandem playfully transpierces the clouds, and our mystic moving car swiftly glides along the surface of the scarcely indented earth; while beholders, snatching a glance at the rapid but noiseless expedition, are led to regard the novel scene rather as a vision than a reality.

Patent Kite and Charvolant:  plate opposite p.26

Charvolants travelling in various directions with the same wind: plate opposite p. 27

Pocock also recalls an incident when passengers of a char-volant overtook the royal coach of the Duke of Gloucester, an act considered very rude and improper. Having illustrated the power of the carriage, the group made amends by pulling over and letting the Duke pass by with his horse drawn carriage. This contraption also confused toll keepers. At this time a tax was levied on the number of horses used to pull a carriage, and apparently the keeper was puzzled as to what the charge would be for a carriage without horses. Pocock comments that There is a peculiar satisfaction in not being detained at toll-bars. The pains and the penalties which there arrest common travellers, never intercept this celestial equipage. The Char-volant, then, has the distinguished prerogative of conferring this Royal privilege; and those who travel by kite travel as Kings.

After Pocock's in-depth discussion of his Char-volant, the book considers further used for kites. For example, It is possible to soar over rivers of considerable breadth of means of these Kites. Pocock also explains how the kite will not act as a conductor for electricity and so is not a danger around electric clouds.

Interestingly placed in the front of the book are three adverts for other inventions of George Pocock. Included amongst these are celestial globes, or astronomical balloons. This would allow the pupil of astronomy to stand inside the balloon and look at the stars. Pocock suggests that the optimum way of using this device is for the lecturer to stand on a pedestal in the centre of the balloon with his students sitting around him/her. Notably the globe is 45 to 65 feet in circumference.

Advertisement for celestial globes

The Special Collections department does not hold any further material relating to Mr. Pocock and his inventions. The Aeropleustic Art or Navigation in the Air by the use of Kites, or Buoyant Sails was reprinted in 1851 and a further 95 copies were reprinted from the 1827 edition in 1969. Copies of both of these are held by the Library of Congress along with An accompaniment to Mr. G. Pocock’s patent terrestrial globe printed in Bristol by John Wansborough, 1830. Also held in the British Library is A sketch of English history, for the use of the young men at Mr. Pocock’s academy, printed in Bristol by John Wansborough, 1832.

This book is from the Euing collection, a significant collection donated in the 19th century by William Euing, a Glasgow insurance broker. 

Return to main Special Collections Exhibition Page

Lynne Dent March 2001