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: English

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The Australian Curriculum: English aims to ensure that students:

  • learn to listen to, read, view, speak, write, create and reflect on increasingly complex and sophisticated spoken, written and multimodal texts across a growing range of contexts with accuracy, fluency and purpose
  • appreciate, enjoy and use the English language in all its variations and develop a sense of its richness and power to evoke feelings, convey information, form ideas, facilitate interaction with others, entertain, persuade and argue
  • understand how Standard Australian English works in its spoken and written forms and in combination with non-linguistic forms of communication to create meaning
  • develop interest and skills in inquiring into the aesthetic aspects of texts, and develop an informed appreciation of literature.

English activities [2]

Activity 1: Cycling skills
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Subtheme(s): Inventions and electronic media; Transport
  • Ask students to watch and listen carefully, to help them to identify when and where the story takes place. Clarify the setting as a spot in Sydney and the year as 1878. Locate Sydney on a map and have students calculate how many years have elapsed since 1878.
  • Henry asks the owner of the penny-farthing, his former teacher George, how you balance on it. Ask students to think about the skills involved in riding a modern bicycle. Use Student Activity Sheet E14.5: Cycling skills to compare these with the skills required to ride a penny-farthing.
  • George agrees when Henry notes that the seat looks uncomfortable. Henry suggests you could make a 'proper leather saddle with springs for this machine'. Have each student examine the still photo showing Henry's plan. Why do you think Henry includes labelled drawings?
  • Henry tells his papa that trial and error is the best way to learn. Discuss whether Henry's father agrees. Ask students to provide evidence from the clip to support their ideas.

  • The owner is very proud of his penny-farthing and describes it as 'the transport of the future'. Ask students to respond to his claim - does this seem odd or funny to people today? Ask students why the penny farthing didn't become the transport of the future.
  • Later in the clip, George tells Henry he has created a magnificent and well-made saddle, and he decides he might ride into town. Henry insists he tests it first. Ask students to explain why Henry now sees the importance of testing inventions. To help them respond, have them watch the end of the clip, focusing on the conversation between Henry and Franklin.
  • Ask the class to examine the body language of Franklin and his sister. What information does it give you? Ask students why they think Franklin is unhappy with Henry.
  • Play the clip to the class once more, and then ask each student to create a 'For Sale' notice for a penny farthing. Ask them to include a short written description of the vehicle and to use words and images to persuade people to buy this 'transport of the future'.


Activity 2: Another business idea
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Subtheme(s): Chores, business and employment; Inventions and electronic media; Transport
  • Ask students to explain what sort of business Henry's papa runs. Explain that it is a saddlery; that he works as a blacksmith creating objects from iron or steel by forging metal, and also works with leather to create saddles and seats for carriages and buggies. List key words related to the business (such as blacksmith, forge, leather) on a whiteboard or large sheet of paper.
  • Replay the clip. Challenge students to name the tool Henry's father gives him to help shape the saddle for the bicycle, and suggest students pay attention to other technology they observe in the clip. In particular, ask them to identify the tools and resources Henry and his father use to make the saddle, for example, anvil, fire, chisel, hammer, tacks, tongs, knives. Add keywords to the list.
  • Henry's papa tells him he used to make saddles for rocking horses. Henry responds that making saddles for different vehicles is a family tradition. What does this tell you about the relationship between Henry and his father? Watch the clip again to find evidence of ways the father is helping his son to learn what is needed. Do you think Henry's father might want him to carry on the business? Why do you think this?
  • As a class, refer to the later part of the clip, after Henry successfully makes the saddle, to help students to identify and record ideas Henry has for a new business. Ask each student to use Student Activity Sheet E14.6: Another business idea to draw and label the saddle and the materials used to make it, and to list and draw ideas and products Henry has in mind for a new business. Why might Franklin might be so sceptical about Henry's ideas?

  • Students could work with a partner to research why the bicycle shown in the clip came to be known as a penny-farthing, and if this type of bike was always referred to as a penny-farthing. Have each pair of students report the findings to another group. Encourage students to ask questions of one another about how they verified their findings.
  • Have students work in teams of four to create a large timeline showing key developments in bicycles, from those created about 1870 by James Starley based on the French boneshaker, to those of today. Ask each team to find out how the boneshaker's construction led to its name, and to include labelled diagrams of at least six different bicycles to highlight key technological advances that have occurred since 1870.
  • As a class, discuss why the penny-farthing did not become 'the transport of the future'. Design a web page to advertise either an invention that could become 'the transport of the future' or the business Henry proposes.


Student Activity Sheet E14.6: Another business idea

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