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Bartolomeu de Gusmão

By Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartholomeu_Lourenco_de_Gusmao


Bartolomeu de Gusmão by Benedito Calixto
Bartolomeu de Gusmão by Benedito Calixto

Bartolomeu de Gusmão, born Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão (1685, Santos, São Paulo, Brazil – November 18, 1724, Toledo, Spain), was a Portuguese priest and naturalist born in Colonial Brazil, recalled for his early work on lighter-than-air airship design.

He began his novitiate in the Society of Jesus at Bahia when he was about fifteen years old, but left the same in 1701. He went to Portugal and found a patron at Lisbon in the person of the Marquês d'Abrantes. He completed his course of study at the University of Coimbra, devoting his attention principally to philology and mathematics, but received the title of Doctor of Canon Law (related to Theology). He is said to have had a remarkable memory and a great command of languages.

In 1709 he presented a petition to King John V of Portugal, begging a privilege for his invention of an airship, in which he expressed the greatest confidence. The contents of this petition have been preserved, as well as a picture and description of his airship. Following after Francesco Lana de Terzi, S.J., Gusmão wanted to spread a huge sail over a boat-like body like the cover of a transport wagon; the boat itself was to contain tubes through which, when there was no wind, air would be blown into the sail by means of bellows. The vessel was to be propelled by the agency of magnets which, apparently, were to be encased in two hollow metal balls. The public test of the machine, which was set for June 24, 1709, did not take place. According to contemporary reports, however, Gusmão appears to have made several less ambitious experiments with this machine, having been able to man one of these machines 1 km over Lisbon, landing in Terreiro do Paço.


Passarola, Bartolomeu de Gusmão’s airship
Passarola, Bartolomeu de Gusmão’s airship

It is certain that Gusmão was working on this principle at the public exhibition he gave before the Court on August 8, 1709, in the hall of the Casa da Índia in Lisbon, when he propelled a ball to the roof by combustion. The king rewarded the inventor by appointing him to a professorship at Coimbra and made him a canon. He was also one of the fifty chosen members of the Academia Real de História, founded in 1720; and in 1722 he was made chaplain to the Court. He busied himself with other inventions also, but in the meantime continued his work on his airship schemes, the first idea for which he is said to have conceived while a novice at Bahia. His experiments with the aeroplane and the hot-air balloon led him to conceive a project for an actual airship, or rather a ship to sail in the air, consisting of a cleverly designed triangular pyramid filled with gas, but he died before he was able to carry out this idea.

The fable about the Portuguese Inquisition having forbidden him to continue his aeronautic investigations and having persecuted him because of them, is probably a later invention. It dates however from at least the end of the 18th century, as the following article in 'The Times' of October 20, 1786 makes clear:

"By accounts from Lisbon we are assured, that in consequence of the experiments made there with the Montgolfier balloon, the literati of Portugal had been incited to make numerous researches on the subject; in consequence of which they pretend that the honour of the invention is due to Portugal. They say that in 1720, a Brazilian Jesuit, named Bartholomew Gusmao, possessed of abilities, imagination, and address, by permission of John V. fabricated a balloon in a place contiguous to the Royal Palace, and one day, in presence of their Majesties, and an immense croud of spectators, raised himself, by means of a fire lighted in the machine, as high as the cornice of the building; but through the negligence and want of experience of those who held the cords, the machine took an oblique direction, and, touching the cornice, burst and fell.

The balloon was in the form of a bird with a tail and wings. The inventor proposed to make new experiments, but, chagrined at the raillery of the common people, who called him wizzard, and terrified by the Inquisition, he took the advice of his friends, burned his manuscripts, disguised himself, and fled to Spain, where he soon after died in an hospital.

They add, that several learned men, French and English, who had been at Lisbon to verify the fact, had made enquiries at the Carmelite monastery, where Gusmao had a brother, who had preserved some of his manuscripts on the manner of constructing aerostatic machines. Various living persons affirm that they were present at the Jesuit's experiments, and that he received the surname of Voador, or Flying-man."


The only fact really established by contemporary documents is that information was laid against him before the Inquisition, but on quite another charge. He fled to Spain and fell ill of a fever, of which he died in Toledo. He wrote: Manifesto summario para os que ignoram poderse navegar pelo elemento do ar (Short Manifesto for those who are unaware that is possible to sail through the element air) (1709); and Varios modos de esgotar sem gente as naus que fazem agua (Several ways of draining, without people, ships that leak water)(1710); some of his sermons also have been printed.

References in Popular Culture

  • Azhar Abidi "Passarola Rising" (2006)
  • José Saramago "Baltasar and Blimunda" (1987)

See also




Text from Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License; additional terms may apply.


Published - July 2009














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