The Brennan Torpedo and Melbourne

Did you know that Hobsons Bay Melbourne was once used as a testing ground for torpedoes?

The true story of Louis Brennan is remarkable.

What would be the present-day value of £110,000 in 1887?

So impressed was the War Office with the Brennan torpedo that this sum of money was voted by the English Government to its inventor Louis Brennan in that year.

Brennan was born in Ireland in 1852 and came to Melbourne with his parents in 1861. He was initially a watchmaker.

His remarkable torpedo was launched from the land. It was propelled by a most unusual means: it had two fans or propellers which were driven by means of the rapid withdrawal from the torpedo of two fine steel wires which had been wound inside its two internal drums. By the pulling backwards on the wires the torpedo was propelled forward at a very fast speed.

Powered by steam

The withdrawal of the wires was accomplished with land-based steam engines. The torpedo could be steered from the land with great accuracy. It could even be steered to the target from an angle.

The torpedo was tested on Hobsons Bay Melbourne in 1879.

At that time there was concern that the Colony might be vulnerable to invasion. Artillery drill and rifle practice were undertaken by many citizens.

So impressed the local authorities with the idea of the torpedo that the Colony of Victoria paid £700 as a grant towards its development.

Brennan patented the torpedo in England in 1877.

Brennan was assisted with the torpedo by Professor W.C. Kernot, lecturer in civil engineering at the University of Melbourne. Kernot later received £500 for his work.

Brennan went to England and worked there on the manufacture of the torpedo.

Ironically, despite the payment made by the State of Victoria towards the development of the torpedo, its request for supply to Victoria of some of them was turned down on the basis that they were needed for Imperial Defence. They were installed at British ports.

Brennan is not as well known as he deserves to be. The explanation may lie in the fact that the torpedo would have been highly secret. Although far ahead of its time it was soon superseded by the development of other means of propulsion for torpedoes.

Brennan received an Honour in England (Companion of the Bath) and was honoured by the English engineering profession.

Brennan died in 1932 after being hit by a car in Switzerland.

Brennan is also well known for making a one rail train with gyroscopic stabilisers. He even worked on the development of the helicopter at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough.

There is no doubt that Louis Brennan was one of Australia’s most successful inventors - although Ireland would claim him also. He was a person of extraordinary talent whose achievements were of a high order.