The penny-farthing

[Episode 14 | 1878 : Henry]

Henry and his uncle make a sprung leather saddle for a penny-farthing. When Henry brings news of his success to Franklin, he is shocked to discover that his friend is still angry for the trouble he has landed them both in.


The Australian curriculum: History

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The Australian Curriculum: History aims to ensure that students develop: 

  • interest in, and enjoyment of, historical study for lifelong learning and work, including their capacity and willingness to be informed and active citizens 
  • knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the past and the forces that shape societies, including Australian society 
  • understanding and use of historical concepts, such as evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, perspectives, empathy, significance and contestability 
  • capacity to undertake historical inquiry, including skills in the analysis and use of sources, and in explanation and communication.

History activities [2]

Activity 1: Transport
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Subtheme(s): Inventions and electronic media; Transport

New modes of transport were being invented towards the end of the 19th century. These inventions changed how people travelled and the time it took to get from place to place.

  • As a class, ask students to think about the types of transport they use to get to school. Initiate a discussion in which students consider the origins of these modes of transport and how their introduction changed people's lives and the way they worked.
  • Divide the class into small groups and ask them to research the penny-farthing. Make sure they find out who invented it, when and where. They could also research the type of transport that preceded the penny-farthing and what replaced it.
  • Ask students to consider Henry's modification to the seat of the penny-farthing. Ask them to list what modifications were made and to think of one other modification they would make to the penny-farthing. Students could draw the modification and explain why they made it.
  • The following websites may be useful:
  1. Museum Victoria, Transport Collection timeline,
  2. Thomas, R and Sydenham, S, Road Transport: A Timeline [online], (2005),

  • Ask the students to individually research a historical vehicle used for transport, using the internet and library resources. The research information could be presented as a poster or brochure about the vehicle. Ask students to include a picture of their chosen vehicle and list some important facts and statistics. They should find out:
  1. Who invented it and in what year? 
  2. What was it made of? What did it look like?
  3. How fast did it move? What type of fuel did it use? 
  4. How many people could use it? Was it for public or private use?
  5. What impact did it have on the way people lived and worked at the time of its invention?
  • In small groups, ask students to create a timeline of transport in Australia. They may wish to use the TimeRime website, This website tool provides a template for students to create an online timeline, which allows for the inclusion of graphics and multimedia elements. 
  • Alternatively, the students could share and compare their research items and develop a graph or ladder listing the researched vehicles from slowest to fastest. These speeds should equate to different types of historical transport. Students could present their graph or ladder to the whole class.


Activity 2: The blacksmith
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Subtheme(s): Chores, business and employment; Inventions and electronic media

Manufacturing in the mid-19th century was hands-on and relatively small in scale. Being a blacksmith meant working with hot iron and using equipment such as tongs, anvil, bellows and iron hammers. It is a very physically demanding profession.

  • Ask students if they know what a blacksmith is and what work they may do? In pairs, ask them to research the work of the blacksmith. Find out if blacksmithing is still a viable occupation today. Some useful websites include:
  1. Picture Australia,
  2. NSW HSC Online, 'Blacksmith',
  3. Wise Geek, 'What does a Blacksmith do?',
  • Ask students to evaluate if the work of the blacksmith was an important job in Henry's time. Ask students why they think blacksmiths are rarely used today.
  • Ask students to find a poem or story about a blacksmith that they can share with the class. For example, 'The village blacksmith' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at

  • Ask students to watch the clip, The blacksmith, and draw up a plan of a blacksmith workshop showing where all the tools and equipment are kept. 
  • Select one of the objects that the blacksmith makes and draw up a diagram of how it is made. Some examples you could use are: a horseshoe, whip, bridle or saddle. This diagram should include different types of tools and some examples of the processes the blacksmith uses to make the object. Each stage of production should be accompanied with a brief explanation of the process.


Student Activity Sheet H14.6: The blacksmith

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