Pocock's 'The Aeropleustic Art' : Yachtsman Appraises 1827 British Kite Classic

Roger Glencross
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Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters are back in vogue and the Amateur Yacht Research Society enters into the spirit of the 19th century by this appreciation of a book published in 1827, The Aeropleustic Art, by a Bristol schoolmaster who built, patented and drove a kite buggy at 20 miles per hour almost two centuries ago. The volume is virtually unobtainable, as is a second edition published in 1851 retitled A Treatise of the Aeropleustic Art or Buoyant Sails, With a Description of the Charvolent or Kite Carriage. A facsimile edition of the first edition of was published in 1969 in a print run of only 95 copies, by Edward L. Sterne of San Francisco, who cannot now be traced.

One of George Pocock's purposes in publishing his work was to convince doubters that kite traction really worked. Even people who observed the kite buggy in action were not always convinced. A lady explaining the mechanism to her neighbors who were also watching, said: "I'll tell you all about it. They have got a man up there behind the kite, and he is pulling them along." A scientist proved that it was impossible for Pocock's wheels of only two-feet six-inches diameter to revolve fast enough to achieve the speed that was claimed. Pocock stated that "publication is a duty which the author owes to his friends, ladies as well as gentlemen, for their protection against future insult."

How Pocock would have loved the Amateur Yacht Research Society, and joined it like a shot! He states in his first book that "the most extensive sphere of action for experiment presents itself on the unencumbered surface of the majestic ocean. There, how frequently, when laying to, or at anchor, or when under sail, or at any other season, when hands might be spared, what endless trials and improvements might be made by the application of the aeropleustic discovery." The first trial of his new kite control system was on a lake, where he kite-towed the earl of Suffolk's pleasure boat. Pocock envisioned that kites could "serve as ancillary sails to the navy, merchantmen, trading vessels, etc. After spreading all the canvas possible in the usual way, very considerable power may be added by the application of these buoyant sails as ancillaries, and this power may be so attached, as to counteract the injurious pressure which a crowd of canvas is known to occasion and which not infrequently causes too great a dip of the vessel on its lee; for let it be recollected, that the draught power of these sails, while aiding progress, is also exerted in buoying up the vessel."

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