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British Industrial History

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Henry Duncan Preston Cunningham

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Henry Duncan Preston Cunningham (1814-1875) R.N. J.P.

A naval officer and inventor, most famous as the inventor of the self-reefing topsail, which he manufactured in the Gosport Foundry, bought by Cunningham in 1861. It was reported that by May 1856 it had been fitted to upwards of one thousand ships, reducing the dangers to seamen in unfurling and furling topsails in bad weather.[1]


1875 Obituary [2]

WE regret to have to announce the death of Mr. Henry Duncan Preston Cunningham, of Bury House, near Gosport, well known as the inventor of the "Self-Reefing Topsails."

This gentleman, who was gifted with great mechanical genius, was the second son of Doctor John Cunningham, surgeon Royal Navy. He entered the Royal Navy in 1830 on board the Donegal, 78, and served afterwards in the Pallas, 42, where he gained early distinction by undertaking singlehanded the arduous and dangerous task of surveying the carefully guarded and before unknown defences of the Dardanelles, of which he executed detailed drawings for the information of Government.

Changing the executive for the civil line in 1835, he qualified for the rank of paymaster, and was in September, 1838, appointed clerk to the secretary of Sir Robert Otway, then commander-in-chief at the Nore. He served in the same capacity under Sir William Parker, and took part in the various operations....[much more]


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Sources of Information

  1. [1] Excellent biography - Henry Preston webpage on Fort Gilkicker website
  2. Engineering 1875 Jan-Jun: Index: General Index