Richard William Pearse

Category One: Persons of Prominent International Standing

Date of Birth

3 December 1877 at Waitohi Flat near Temuka


Digory Sargent Pearse (from Cornwall) and Sarah Anne Brown (from County Derry)


Never married


29 July 1953


Educated at Waitohi Flat School from 1883 and later at Upper Waitohi School until the age of 16 when he left to work on his father’s farm


  • Richard Pearse experimented with powered flight on his farm near Temuka between 1902-1904. He did not succeed in achieving controlled flight, but nevertheless made a fine contribution to aviation engineering.
  • It is probably that some time in March 1903, Richard Pearse got his aircraft into the air without the use of a ramp, catapult, or some external launching aid and flew fifty yards before crashing into a hedge.
  • There is some dispute over this time of his first witnessed flight, some stating that it was in March 1904 (three months after the Wright Brothers had flown) others that it was in March 1902 (nearly two years prior to the Wright Brothers’ flight), and others that it was 1903.
  • He did not confine his inventiveness to aircraft. He developed a bicycle, a motor cycle, a hydro-electric power generator, mechanised farming equipment and a sound recording apparatus.


  • Richard Pearse took over a portion of his father’s farm property in 1898, but his passion for his workshop (an old cottage near the family homestead) resulted in the deterioration of the property.
  • In 1911 he bought a property at Milton in Otago, then in 1921 gave up farming and moved to Christchurch. He was a quiet reclusive type of man all his life.
  • In 1951 he was admitted to Sunnyside Hospital where he remained until his death in 1953.


  • “The Riddle of Richard Pearse” by Gordon Ogilvie
  • The New Zealand Encyclopaedia

Last updated: 16 Sep 2021