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The inventor of telpherage.

In 1883 Henry Charles Fleeming , Jenkin coined the term telpherage to describe his invention of a system of haulage using electricity as the motive power for carriages suspended from overhead wires. Jenkin became an expert on electric cables and submarine telegraphs, and his obsessive attempts to realise his vision for telpherage systems across the country consumed his final years.

Jenkin was born in 1833 at Dungeness, Kent and had a peripatetic childhood, gaining his education in Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Paris and Genoa. The family was poor but his mother was devoted to obtaining the best education she could for her son.

Although steeped in studying art and poetry, Jenkin developed an interest in electromagnetism while at university in Genoa, and it was this passion that led him to engineering apprenticeships with the Fairbairn engineering works and John Penn and Sons.


In 1857 he joined the firm of Newall at Birkenhead and was engaged in fitting-up steamships for laying cables. Newall made the wire required for the first Atlantic cable.

In the late 1860s Jenkin became a professor, first at University College London and then at Edinburgh University. After his death in 1885, his biographer and ex-pupil, the Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson, described Jenkin as lacking in physical presence but with an engaging and enthusiastic personality.

Jenkin was strict and could quell classroom misconduct with a simple raised eyebrow. His enthusiasm for engineering enabled him to withstand discouragement, in particular the late commercial interest in his patents.

The telpherage system which Jenkin developed at the end of his life was tested at Glynde in Sussex in 1885. A telpher line was built to transport clay from the Hampden estate pits to the local railway. The line was made up of a double set of overhead steel cables with buckets automatically travelling along the cable which carried the current.

Brakes and blocking systems prevented collisions but the line was not without problems and Jenkin never survived to see his invention in use.

Jenkin was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1866 and became a member of the IMechE in 1875. He died in 1885 from blood poisoning after a routine foot operation, a sudden end to a productive life.

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Title Annotation:ARCHIVE; Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin
Author:Philpot, Fenella
Publication:Professional Engineering Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 8, 2009
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