14 February 1793


28 February 1875

Known for

Sir Goldsworthy Gurney was a surgeon, scientist, engineer, inventor, farmer and musician. He built the world’s first steam vehicle to travel a long distance at a steady speed. He also invented new kinds of light and heating.

Syrr Goldsworthy Gurney o leuvvedhek, godhonydh, ynjynor, deviser, tiek hag ilewydh. Ev a dhrehevis an kynsa karr ethen y’n bys a viajya pellder hir orth tooth fast. Ynwedh ev a dhevisyas eghennow nowydh a wolowyans ha tommheans.

Illustration of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney
Sir Goldsworthy Gurney Portrait
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Early life

Sir Goldsworthy was born at Treator, near Padstow, and went to Truro Grammar School. When he was a young man, he met Cornish inventor Richard Trevithick. Sir Goldsworthy became a medical student at Wadebridge and took charge of a doctor’s surgery when he was only 19. In 1814, he married Elizabeth Symons. The pair had a daughter, Anna Jane, and a son, John.

In the limelight

Sir Goldsworthy moved to London with his family in 1820. There, he invented a blowpipe, which combined oxygen and hydrogen to make a very hot flame. In this flame, Sir Goldsworthy burned a piece of lime (calcium oxide). This created a very bright light. The light was used in Parliament, Trafalgar Square and in theatres – which is why we use the phrase ‘in the limelight’.

Steam carriage

In 1825, Sir Goldsworthy developed a steam jet. This jet recycled the steam coming out of an engine to create more heat and power. He added this steam jet to a steam carriage, which travelled from London to Bath in 1829. The carriage moved very slowly, at around 25 kilometres per hour (15 miles per hour). Even so, it was the world’s first steam vehicle to travel a long distance at a steady speed. 

People who used horses to pull carriages didn’t like Sir Goldsworthy’s steam carriage because they feared it would take away their business. They asked the Government to make steam carriages pay to travel on the roads. This made it very difficult for Sir Goldsworthy to make his steam carriage business successful.

Castle on the sand

Sir Goldsworthy was forced to give up his steam carriage business and return to Cornwall. In 1830, he built a house in Bude, which was made to look like a castle. The house was built on sand using a floating raft of concrete, designed by Sir Goldsworthy. He lit his new house with limelight; or “Bude Light”, as it became known.

Later life

Sir Goldsworthy later used his steam jet to provide clean air in coal mines and in Parliament. It was also his idea that each lighthouse should have a different pattern of flashing lights so people at sea would know where they were. To thank him for lighting and heating Parliament, Queen Victoria made Sir Goldsworthy a knight in 1875. He died later that year at Poughill near Bude.

Did you know?

Sir Goldsworthy also invented a kind of piano which had glass strings!



Sir Goldsworthy Gurney: Cornwall's Forgotten Genius

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The Life and Times of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, Gentleman Scientist and Inventor: 1793-1875

Porter, D, The Life and Times of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, Gentleman Scientist and Inventor: 1793-1875 (1998)

101 Cornish Lives

Smelt, M, 101 Cornish Lives (2006)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

G. B. Smith, ‘Gurney, Sir Goldsworthy (1793–1875)’, rev. Anita McConnell, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)

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