The Dominion of the Air
J. M. Bacon

Part 1 out of 5

The Dominion of the Air: The Story of Aerial Navigation
by Rev. J. M. Bacon


"He that would learn to fly must be brought up to the constant
practice of it from his youth, trying first only to use his
wings as a tame goose will do, so by degrees learning to rise
higher till he attain unto skill and confidence."

So wrote Wilkins, Bishop of Chester, who was reckoned a man of
genius and learning in the days of the Commonwealth. But so
soon as we come to inquire into the matter we find that this
good Bishop was borrowing from the ideas of others who had gone
before him; and, look back as far as we will, mankind is
discovered to have entertained persistent and often plausible
ideas of human flight. And those ideas had in some sort of
way, for good or ill, taken practical shape. Thus, as long ago
as the days when Xenophon was leading back his warriors to the
shores of the Black Sea, and ere the Gauls had first burned
Rome, there was a philosopher, Archytas, who invented a pigeon
which could fly, partly by means of mechanism, and partly also,
it is said, by aid of an aura or spirit. And here arises a
question. Was this aura a gas, or did men use it as
spiritualists do today, as merely a word to conjure with?

Four centuries later, in the days of Nero, there was a man in
Rome who flew so well and high as to lose his life thereby.
Here, at any rate, was an honest man, or the story would not
have ended thus; but of the rest--and there are many who in
early ages aspired to the attainment of flight--we have no more
reason to credit their claims than those of charlatans who
flourish in every age.

In medieval times we are seriously told by a saintly writer
(St. Remigius) of folks who created clouds which rose to heaven
by means of "an earthen pot in which a little imp had been
enclosed." We need no more. That was an age of flying saints,
as also of flying dragons. Flying in those days of yore may
have been real enough to the multitude, but it was at best
delusion. In the good old times it did not need the genius of
a Maskelyne to do a "levitation" trick. We can picture the
scene at a "flying seance." On the one side the decidedly
professional showman possessed of sufficient low cunning; on
the other the ignorant and highly superstitious audience, eager
to hear or see some new thing--the same audience that, deceived
by a simple trick of schoolboy science, would listen to
supernatural voices in their groves, or oracular utterances in
their temples, or watch the urns of Bacchus fill themselves
with wine. Surely for their eyes it would need no more than
the simplest phantasmagoria, or maybe only a little black
thread, to make a pigeon rise and fly.

It is interesting to note, however, that in the case last cited
there is unquestionably an allusion to some crude form of
firework, and what more likely or better calculated to impress
the ignorant! Our firework makers still manufacture a "little
Devil." Pyrotechnic is as old as history itself; we have an
excellent description of a rocket in a document at least as
ancient as the ninth century. And that a species of pyrotechny
was resorted to by those who sought to imitate flight we have
proof in the following recipe for a flying body given by a
Doctor, eke a Friar, in Paris in the days of our King John:--

"Take one pound of sulphur, two pounds of willowcarbon, six
pounds of rock salt ground very fine in a marble mortar.
Place, when you please, in a covering made of flying papyrus to
produce thunder. The covering in order to ascend and float
away should be long, graceful, well filled with this fine
powder; but to produce thunder the covering should be short,
thick, and half full."

Nor does this recipe stand alone. Take another sample, of
which chapter and verse are to be found in the MSS. of a
Jesuit, Gaspard Schott, of Palermo and Rome, born three hundred
years ago:--

"The shells of hen-eggs, if properly filled and well secured
against the penetration of the air, and exposed to solar rays,
will ascend to the skies and sometimes suffer a natural change.
And if the eggs of the larger description of swans, or leather
balls stitched with fine thongs, be filled with nitre, the
sulphur quicksilver, or kindred materials which rarify by
their caloric energy, and if they externally resemble pigeons,
they will easily be mistaken for flying animals."

Thus it would seem that, hunting back in history, there were
three main ideas on which would-be aeronauts of old exercised
their ingenuity. There was the last-mentioned method, which,
by the way, Jules Verne partly relies on when he takes his
heroes to the moon, and which in its highest practical
development may be seen annually on the night of "Brock's
Benefit" at the Crystal Palace. There is, again, the "tame
goose" method, to which we must return presently; and, lastly,
there is a third method, to which, as also to the brilliant
genius who conceived it, we must without further delay be
introduced. This may be called the method of "a hollow globe."

Roger Bacon, Melchisedeck-fashion, came into existence at
Ilchester in 1214 of parentage that is hard to trace. He was,
however, a born philosopher, and possessed of intellect and
penetration that placed him incalculably ahead of his
generation. A man of marvellous insight and research, he
grasped, and as far as possible carried out, ideas which dawned
on other men only after centuries. Thus, many of his utterances
have been prophetic. It is probable that among his chemical
discoveries he re-invented gunpowder. It is certain that he
divined the properties of a lens, and diving deep into
experimental and mechanical sciences, actually foresaw the time
when, in his own words, "men would construct engines to traverse
land and water with great speed and carry with them persons and
merchandise." Clearly in his dreams Bacon saw the Atlantic not
merely explored, but on its bosom the White Star liners breaking
records, contemptuous of its angriest seas. He saw, too, a
future Dumont circling in the air, and not only in a dead calm,
but holding his own with the feathered race. He tells his
dream thus: "There may be made some flying instrument so that
a man sitting in the middle of the instrument and turning some
mechanism may put in motion some artificial wings which may
beat the air like a bird flying."

But he lived too long before his time. His ruin lay not only
in his superior genius, but also in his fearless outspokenness.
He presently fell under the ban of the Church, through which he
lost alike his liberty and the means of pursuing investigation.
Had it been otherwise we may fairly believe that the "admirable
Doctor," as he was called, would have been the first to show
mankind how to navigate the air. His ideas are perfectly easy
to grasp. He conceived that the air was a true fluid, and as
such must have an upper limit, and it would be on this upper
surface, he supposed, as on the bosom of the ocean, that man
would sail his air-ship. A fine, bold guess truly. He would
watch the cirrus clouds sailing grandly ten miles above him on
some stream that never approached nearer. Up there, in his
imagination, would be tossing the waves of our ocean of air.
Wait for some little better cylinders of oxygen and an improved
foot-warmer, and a future Coxwell will go aloft and see; but as
to an upper sea, it is truly there, and we may visit and view
its sun-lit tossing billows stretching out to a limitless
horizon at such times as the nether world is shrouded in densest
gloom. Bacon's method of reaching such an upper sea as he
postulated was, as we have said, by a hollow globe.

"The machine must be a large hollow globe, of copper or other
suitable metal, wrought extremely thin so as to have it as
light as possible," and "it must be filled with ethereal air or
liquid fire." This was written in the thirteenth century, and
it is scarcely edifying to find four hundred years after this
the Jesuit Father Lana, who contrived to make his name live in
history as a theoriser in aeronautics, arrogating to himself
the bold conception of the English Friar, with certain
unfortunate differences, however, which in fairness we must
here clearly point out. Lana proclaimed his speculations
standing on a giant's shoulders. Torricelli, with his closed
bent tube, had just shown the world how heavily the air lies
above us. It then required little mathematical skill to
calculate what would be the lifting power of any vessel void of
air on the earth's surface. Thus Lana proposed the
construction of an air ship which possibly because of its
picturesquesness has won him notoriety. But it was a fraud. We
have but to conceive a dainty boat in which the aeronaut would
sit at ease handling a little rudder and a simple sail. These,
though a schoolboy would have known better, he thought would
guide his vessel when in the air.

So much has been claimed for Father Lana and his mathematical
and other attainments that it seems only right to insist on the
weakness of his reasoning. An air ship simply drifting with the
wind is incapable of altering its course in the slightest
degree by either sail or rudder. It is simply like a log borne
along in a torrent; but to compare such a log properly with the
air ship we must conceive it WHOLLY submerged in the water and
having no sail or other appendage projecting into the air,
which would, of course, introduce other conditions. If,
however, a man were to sit astride of the log and begin to
propel it so that it travels either faster or slower than the
stream, then in that case, either by paddle or rudder, the log
could be guided, and the same might be said of Lana's air boat
if only he had thought of some adequate paddle, fan, or other
propeller. But he did not. One further explanatory sentence
may here be needed; for we hear of balloons which are capable
of being guided to a small extent by sail and rudder. In these
cases, however, the rudder is a guide rope trailing on earth or
sea, so introducing a fresh element and fresh conditions which
are easy to explain.

Suppose a free balloon drifting down the wind to have a sail
suddenly hoisted on one side, what happens? The balloon will
simply swing till this sail is in front, and thus continue its
straightforward course. Suppose, however, that as soon as the
side sail is hoisted a trail rope is also dropped aft from a
spar in the rigging. The tendency of the sail to fly round in
front is now checked by the dragging rope, and it is
constrained to remain slanting at an angle on one side; at the
same time the rate of the balloon is reduced by the dragging
rope, so that it travels slower than the wind, which, now
acting on its slant sail, imparts a certain sidelong motion
much as it does in the case of a sailing boat.

Lana having in imagination built his ship, proceeds to make it
float up into space, for which purpose he proposes four thin
copper globes exhausted of air. Had this last been his own
idea we might have pardoned him. We have, however, pointed out
that it was not, and we must further point out that in copying
his great predecessor he fails to see that he would lose
enormous advantage by using four globes instead of one. But,
beyond all, he failed to see what the master genius of Bacon
saw clearly--that his thin globes when exhausted must
infallibly collapse by virtue of that very pressure of the air
which he sought to make use of.

It cannot be too strongly insisted on that if the too much
belauded speculations of Lana have any value at all it is that
they throw into stronger contrast the wonderful insight of the
philosopher who so long preceded him. By sheer genius Bacon had
foreseen that the emptied globe must be filled with SOMETHING,
and for this something he suggests "ethereal air" or "liquid
fire," neither of which, we contend, were empty terms. With
Bacon's knowledge of experimental chemistry it is a question,
and a most interesting one, whether he had not in his mind those
two actual principles respectively of gas and air rarefied by
heat on which we launch our balloons into space to-day.

Early progress in any art or science is commonly intermittent.
It was so in the story of aeronautics. Advance was like that
of the incoming tide, throwing an occasional wave far in front
of its rising flood. It was a phenomenal wave that bore Roger
Bacon and left his mark on the sand where none other approached
for centuries. In those centuries men were either too
priest-ridden to lend an ear to Science, or, like children,
followed only the Will-o'-the-Wisp floating above the quagmire
which held them fast. They ran after the stone that was to
turn all to gold, or the elixir that should conquer death, or
the signs in the heavens that should foretell their destinies;
and the taint of this may be traced even when the dark period
that followed was clearing away. Four hundred years after
Roger's death, his illustrious namesake, Francis Bacon, was
formulating his Inductive Philosophy, and with complete
cock-sureness was teaching mankind all about everything. Let
us look at some of his utterances which may help to throw light
on the way he regarded the problem we are dealing with.

"It is reported," Francis Bacon writes, "that the Leucacians in
ancient time did use to precipitate a man from a high cliffe
into the sea; tying about him, with strings, at some distance,
many great fowles; and fixing unto his body divers feathers,
spread, to breake the fall. Certainly many birds of good wing
(as Kites and the like) would beare up a good weight as they
flie. And spreading of feathers, thin and close, and in great
breadth, will likewise beare up a great weight, being even laid
without tilting upon the sides. The further extension of this
experiment of flying may be thought upon."

To say the least, this is hardly mechanical. But let us next
follow the philosopher into the domain of Physics. Referring
to a strange assertion, that "salt water will dissolve salt put
into it in less time than fresh water will dissolve it," he is
at once ready with an explanation to fit the case. "The salt,"
he says, "in the precedent water doth by similitude of
substance draw the salt new put in unto it." Again, in his
finding, well water is warmer in winter than summer, and "the
cause is the subterranean heat which shut close in (as in
winter) is the more, but if it perspire (as it doth in summer)
it is the less." This was Bacon the Lord. What a falling
off--from the experimentalist's point of view--from Bacon the
Friar! We can fancy him watching a falcon poised motionless in
the sky, and reflecting on that problem which to this day
fairly puzzles our ablest scientists, settling the matter in a
sentence: "The cause is that feathers doe possess upward
attractions." During four hundred years preceding Lord Verulam
philosophers would have flown by aid of a broomstick. Bacon
himself would have merely parried the problem with a platitude!

At any rate, physicists, even in the brilliant seventeenth
century, made no material progress towards the navigation of
the air, and thus presently let the simple mechanic step in
before them. Ere that century had closed something in the
nature of flight had been accomplished. It is exceedingly hard
to arrive at actual fact, but it seems pretty clear that more
than one individual, by starting from some eminence, could let
himself fall into space and waft himself away for some distance
with fair success and safety, It is stated that an English
Monk, Elmerus, flew the space of a furlong from a tower in
Spain, a feat of the same kind having been accomplished by
another adventurer from the top of St. Mark's at Venice.

In these attempts it would seem that the principle of the
parachute was to some extent at least brought into play. If
also circumstantial accounts can be credited, it would appear
that a working model of a flying machine was publicly exhibited
by one John Muller before the Emperor Charles V. at Nuremberg.
Whatever exaggeration or embellishment history may be guilty of
it is pretty clear that some genuine attempts of a practical
and not unsuccessful nature had been made here and there, and
these prompted the flowery and visionary Bishop Wilkins already
quoted to predict confidently that the day was approaching when
it "would be as common for a man to call for his wings as for
boots and spurs."

We have now to return to the "tame goose" method, which found
its best and boldest exponent in a humble craftsman, by name
Besnier, living at Sable, about the year 1678. This mechanical
genius was by trade a locksmith, and must have been possessed
of sufficient skill to construct an efficient apparatus out of
such materials as came to his hand, of the simplest possible
design. It may be compared to the earliest type of bicycle,
the ancient "bone shaker," now almost forgotten save by those
who, like the writer, had experience of it on its first
appearance. Besnier's wings, as it would appear, were
essentially a pair of double-bladed paddles and nothing more,
roughly resembling the double-paddle of an old-fashioned canoe,
only the blades were large, roughly rectangular, and curved or
hollowed. The operator would commence by standing erect and
balancing these paddles, one on each shoulder, so that the
hollows of the blades should be towards the ground. The
forward part of each paddle was then grasped by the hands,
while the hinder part of each was connected to the
corresponding leg. This, presumably, would be effected after
the arms had been raised vertically, the leg attachment being
contrived in some way which experience would dictate.

The flyer was now fully equipped, and nothing remained for him
save to mount some eminence and, throwing himself forward into
space and assuming the position of a flying bird, to commence
flapping and beating the air with a reciprocal motion. First,
he would buffet the air downwards with the left arm and right
leg simultaneously, and while these recovered their position
would strike with the right hand and left leg, and so on
alternately. With this crude method the enterprising inventor
succeeded in raising himself by short stages from one height to
another, reaching thus the top of a house, whence he could pass
over others, or cross a river or the like.

The perfecting of his system became then simply a question of
practice and experience, and had young athletes only been
trained from early years to the new art it seems reasonable to
suppose that some crude approach to human flight would have
been effected. Modifications and improvements in construction
would soon have suggested themselves, as was the case with the
bicycle, which in its latest developments can scarcely be
recognised as springing from the primitive "bone-shaker" of
thirty-three years ago. We would suggest the idea to the
modern inventor. He will in these days, of course, find
lighter materials to hand. Then he will adopt some link motion
for the legs in place of leather thongs, and will hinge the
paddle blades so that they open out with the forward stroke,
but collapse with the return. Then look on another
thirty-three years--a fresh generation--and our youth of both
sexes may find a popular recreation in graceful aerial
exercise. The pace is not likely to be excessive, and
molestations from disguised policemen--not physically adapted,
by the way, to rapid flight--need not be apprehended.

One of the best tests of Besnier's measure of success is
supplied by the fact that he had pupils as well as imitators.
First on this list must be mentioned a Mr. Baldwin, a name
which, curiously enough, twice over in modern times comes into
the records of bold aerial exploits. This individual, it
appears, purchased a flying outfit of Besnier himself, and
surpassed his master in achievement. A little later one Dante
contrived some modification of the same apparatus, with which
he pursued the new mode of progress till he met with a
fractured thigh.

But whatever the imitators of Besnier may have accomplished, to
the honest smith must be accorded the full credit of their
success, and with his simple, but brilliant, record left at
flood mark, the tide of progress ebbed back again, while
mankind ruminated over the great problem in apparent
inactivity. But not for long. The air-pump about this period
was given to the world, and chemists were already busy
investigating the nature of gases. Cavallo was experimenting on
kindred lines, while in our own land the rival geniuses of
Priestley and Cavendish were clearing the way to make with
respect to the atmosphere the most important discovery yet
dreamed of. In recording this dawn of a new era, however, we
should certainly not forget how, across the Atlantic, had arisen
a Rumford and a Franklin, whose labours were destined to throw
an all-important sidelight on the pages of progress which we
have now to chronicle.


It was a November night of the year 1782, in the little town of
Annonay, near Lyons. Two young men, Stephen and Joseph
Montgolfier, the representatives of a firm of paper makers,
were sitting together over their parlour fire. While watching
the smoke curling up the chimney one propounded an idea by way
of a sudden inspiration: "Why shouldn't smoke be made to raise
bodies into the air?"

The world was waiting for this utterance, which, it would seem,
was on the tip of the tongue with many others. Cavendish had
already discovered what he designated "inflammable air," though
no one had as yet given it its later title of hydrogen gas.
Moreover, in treating of this gas--Dr. Black of Edinburgh, as
much as fifteen years before the date we have now arrived at,
had suggested that it should be made capable of raising a thin
bladder in the air. With a shade more of good fortune, or
maybe with a modicum more of leisure, the learned Doctor would
have won the invention of the balloon for his own country.
Cavallo came almost nearer, and actually putting the same idea
into practice, had succeeded in the spring of 1782 in making
soap bubbles blown with hydrogen gas float upwards. But he had
accomplished no more when, as related, in the autumn of the
same year the brothers Montgolfier conceived the notion of
making bodies "levitate" by the simpler expedient of filling
them with smoke.

This was the crude idea, the application of which in their
hands was soon marked with notable success. Their own trade
supplied ready and suitable materials for a first experiment,
and, making an oblong bag of thin paper a few feet in length,
they proceeded to introduce a cloud of smoke into it by holding
crumpled paper kindled in a chafing dish beneath the open
mouth. What a subject is there here for an imaginative
painter! As the smoky cloud formed within, the bag distended
itself, became buoyant, and presently floated to the ceiling.
The simple trial proved a complete success, due, as it appeared
to them, to the ascensive power of a cloud of smoke.

An interesting and more detailed version of the story is
extant. While the experiment was in progress a neighbour, the
widow of a tradesman who had been connected in business with
the firm, seeing smoke escaping into the room, entered and
stood watching the proceedings, which were not unattended with
difficulties. The bag, half inflated, was not easy to hold in
position over the chafing dish, and rapidly cooled and
collapsed on being removed from it. The widow noting this, as
also the perplexity of the young men, suggested that they
should try the result of tying the dish on at the bottom of the
bag. This was the one thing wanted to secure success, and that
good lady, whose very name is unhappily lost, deserves an
honoured place in history. It was unquestionably the adoption
of her idea which launched the first balloon into space.

The same experiment repeated in the open air proving a yet more
pronounced success, more elaborate trials were quickly
developed, and the infant balloon grew fast. One worthy of the
name, spherical in shape and of some 600 cubic feet capacity,
was now made and treated as before, with the result that ere it
was fully inflated it broke the strings that held it and sailed
away hundreds of feet into the air. The infant was fast
becoming a prodigy. Encouraged by their fresh success, the
inventors at once set about preparations for the construction
of a much larger balloon some thirty-five feet diameter (that
is, of about 23,000 cubic feet capacity), to be made of linen
lined with paper and this machine, launched on a favourable day
in the following spring, rose with great swiftness to fully a
thousand feet, and travelled nearly a mile from its starting

Enough; the time was already ripe for a public demonstration of
the new invention, and accordingly the 5th of the following
June witnessed the ascent of the same balloon with due ceremony
and advertisement. Special pains were taken with the
inflation, which was conducted over a pit above which the
balloon envelope was slung; and in accordance with the view
that smoke was the chief lifting power, the fuel was composed
of straw largely mixed with wool. It is recorded that the
management of the furnace needed the attention of two men only,
while eight men could hardly hold the impatient balloon in
restraint. The inflation, in spite of the fact that the fuel
chosen was scarcely the best for the purpose, was conducted
remarkable expedition, and on being released, the craft
travelled one and a half miles into the air, attaining a height
estimated at over 6,000 feet.

From this time the tide of events in the aeronautical world
rolls on in full flood, almost every half-year marking a fresh
epoch, until a new departure in the infant art of ballooning was
already on the point of being reached. It had been erroneously
supposed that the ascent of the Montgolfier balloon had been
due, not to the rarefaction of the air within it--which was its
true cause--but to the evolution of some light gas disengaged by
the nature of the fuel used. It followed, therefore, almost as
a matter of course, that chemists, who, as stated in the last
chapter, were already acquainted with so-called "inflammable
air," or hydrogen gas, grasped the fact that this gas would
serve better than any other for the purposes of a balloon. And
no sooner had the news of the Montgolfiers' success reached
Paris than a subscription was raised, and M. Charles, Professor
of Experimental Philosophy, was appointed, with the assistance
of M. Roberts, to superintend the construction of a suitable
balloon and its inflation by the proposed new method.

The task was one of considerable difficulty, owing partly to
the necessity of procuring some material which would prevent
the escape of the lightest and most subtle gas known, and no
less by reason of the difficulty of preparing under pressure a
sufficient quantity of gas itself. The experiment, sound
enough in theory, was eventually carried through after several
instructive failures. A suitable material was found in
"lustring," a glossy silk cloth varnished with a solution of
caoutchouc, and this being formed into a balloon only thirteen
feet in diameter and fitted without other aperture than a
stopcock, was after several attempts filled with hydrogen gas
prepared in the usual way by the action of dilute sulphuric
acid on scrap iron.

The preparations completed, one last and all-important mistake
was made by closing the stop-cock before the balloon was
dismissed, the disastrous and unavoidable result of this being
at the time overlooked.

On August 25, 1783, the balloon was liberated on the Champ de
Mars before an enormous concourse, and in less than two minutes
had reached an elevation of half a mile, when it was temporarily
lost in cloud, through which, however, it penetrated, climbing
into yet higher cloud, when, disappearing from sight, it
presently burst and descended to earth after remaining in the
air some three-quarters of an hour.

The bursting of this little craft taught the future balloonist
his first great lesson, namely, that on leaving earth he must
open the neck of his balloon; and the reason of this is obvious.
While yet on earth the imprisoned gas of a properly filled
balloon distends the silk by virtue of its expansive force, and
in spite of the enormous outside pressure which the weight of
air exerts upon it. Then, as the balloon rises high in the air
and the outside pressure grows less, the struggling gas within,
if allowed no vent, stretches the balloon more and more until
the slender fabric bursts under the strain.

At the risk of being tedious, we have dwelt at some length on
the initial experiments which in less than a single year had led
to the discovery and development of two distinct methods--still
employed and in competition with each other--of dismissing
balloons into the heavens. We are now prepared to enter fully
into the romantic history of our subject which from this point
rapidly unfolds itself.

Some eleven months only after the two Montgolfiers were
discovered toying with their inflated paper bag, the younger of
the two brothers was engaged to make an exhibition of his new
art before the King at Versailles, and this was destined to be
the first occasion when a balloon was to carry a living freight
into the sky. The stately structure, which was gorgeously
decorated, towered some seventy feet into the air, and was
furnished with a wicker car in which the passengers were duly
installed. These were three in number, a sheep, a cock, and a
duck, and amid the acclamations of the multitude, rose a few
hundred feet and descended half a mile away. The cock was
found to have sustained an unexplained mishap: its leg was
broken; but the sheep was feeding complacently, and the duck
was quacking with much apparent satisfaction.

Now, who among mortals will come forward and win the honour of
being the first to sail the skies? M. Pilitre de Rozier at
once volunteered, and by the month of November a new air ship
was built, 74 feet high, 48 feet in largest diameter, and 15
feet across the neck, outside which a wicker gallery was
constructed, while an iron brazier was slung below all. But to
trim the boat properly two passengers were needed, and de
Rozier found a ready colleague in the Marquis d'Arlandes. By
way of precaution, de Rozier made a few preliminary ascents
with the balloon held captive, and then the two intrepid
Frenchmen took their stand on opposite sides of the gallery,
each furnished with bundles of fuel to feed the furnace, each
also carrying a large wet sponge with which to extinguish the
flames whenever the machine might catch fire. On casting off
the balloon rose readily, and reaching 3,000 feet, drifted away
on an upper current.

The rest of the narrative, much condensed from a letter of the
Marquis, written a week later, runs somewhat thus: "Our
departure was at fifty-four minutes past one, and occasioned
little stir among the spectators. Thinking they might be
frightened and stand in need of encouragement, I waved my arm.
M. de Rozier cried, 'You are doing nothing, and we are not
rising!' I stirred the fire, and then began to scan the river,
but Pilitre cried again, 'See the river; we are dropping into
it!' We again urged the fire, but still clung to the river bed.
Presently I heard a noise in the upper part of the balloon,
which gave a shock as though it had burst. I called to my
companion, 'Are you dancing?' The balloon by now had many holes
burned in it, and using my sponge I cried that we must descend.
My companion, however, explained that we were over Paris, and
must now cross it. Therefore, raising the fire once more, we
turned south till we passed the Luxemburg, when, extinguishing
the flame, the balloon came down spent and empty."

Daring as was this ascent, it was in achievement eclipsed two
months later at Lyons, when a mammoth balloon, 130 feet in
height and lifting 18 tons, was inflated in seventeen minutes,
and ascended with no less than seven passengers. When more than
half a mile aloft this machine, which was made of too slender
material for its huge size, suddenly developed a rent of half
its length, causing it to descend with immense velocity; but
without the smallest injury to any of the passengers. This was
a memorable performance, and the account, sensational as it may
read, is by no means unworthy of credit; for, as will be seen
hereafter, a balloon even when burst or badly torn in midair
may, on the principle of the parachute, effect its own

In the meanwhile, the rival balloon of hydrogen gas--the
Charliere, as it has been called--had had its first innings.
Before the close of the year MM. Roberts and Charles
constructed and inflated a hydrogen balloon, this time fitted
with a practicable valve, and in partnership accomplished an
ascent beating all previous records. The day, December 17, was
one of winter temperature; yet the aeronauts quickly reached
6,000 feet, and when, after remaining aloft for one and a half
hours, they descended, Roberts got out, leaving Charles in sole
possession. Left to himself, this young recruit seems to have
met with experiences which are certainly unusual, and which
must be attributed largely to the novelty of his situation. He
declared that at 9,000 feet, or less than two miles, all
objects on the earth had disappeared from view, a statement
which can only be taken to mean that he had entered cloud.
Further, at this moderate elevation he not only became benumbed
with cold, but felt severe pain in his right ear and jaw. He
held on, however, ascending till 10,500 feet were reached, when
he descended, having made a journey of thirty miles from the

Ascents, all on the Continent, now followed one another in rapid
succession, and shortly the MM. Roberts essayed a venture on new
lines. They attempted the guidance of a balloon by means of
oars, and though they failed in this they were fortunate in
making a fresh record. They also encountered a thunderstorm,
and by adopting a perfectly scientific method--of which more
hereafter--succeeded in eluding it. The storm broke around them
when they were 14,000 feet high, and at this altitude, noting
that there were diverse currents aloft, they managed to
manoeuvre their balloon higher or lower at will and to suit
their purpose, and by this stratagem drew away from the storm
centre. After six and a half hours their voyage ended, but not
until 150 miles had been covered.

It must be freely granted that prodigious progress had been
made in an art that as yet was little more than a year old; but
assuredly not enough to justify the absurdly inflated ideas
that the Continental public now began to indulge in. Men lost
their mental balance, allowing their imagination to run riot,
and speculation became extravagant in the extreme. There was
to be no limit henceforward to the attainment of fresh
knowledge, nor any bounds placed to where man might roam. The
universe was open to him: he might voyage if he willed to the
moon or elsewhere: Paris was to be the starting point for other
worlds: Heaven itself had been taken by storm.

Moderation had to be learned ere long by the discipline of more
than one stern lesson. Hitherto a marvellous--call it a
Providential--good fortune had attended the first aerial
travellers; and even when mishaps presently came to be reckoned
with, it may fairly be questioned whether so many lives were
sacrificed among those who sought to voyage through the sky as
were lost among such as first attempted to navigate the sea.

It is in such ventures as we are now regarding that fortune
seems readiest to favour the daring, and if I may digress
briefly to adduce experiences coming within my own knowledge, I
would say that it is to his very impulsiveness that the
enthusiast often owes the safety of his neck. It is the timid,
not the bold rider, that comes to grief at the fence. It is
the man who draws back who is knocked over by a tramcar. Sheer
impetus, moral or physical, often carries you through, as in
the case of a fall from horse-back. To tumble off when your
horse is standing still and receive a dead blow from the ground
might easily break a limb. But at full gallop immunity often
lies in the fact that you strike the earth at an angle, and
being carried forward, impact is less abrupt. I can only say
that I have on more than one occasion found the greatest safety
in a balloon venture involving the element of risk to lie in
complete abandonment to circumstances, and in the increased
life and activity which the delirium of excitement calls forth.
In comparing, however, man's first ventures by sky with those
by sea, we must remember what far greater demand the former
must have made upon the spirit of enterprise and daring.

We can picture the earliest sea voyager taking his first lesson
astride of a log with one foot on the bottom, and thus
proceeding by sure stages till he had built his coracle and
learned to paddle it in shoal water. But the case was wholly
different when the first frail air ship stood at her moorings
with straining gear and fiercely burning furnace, and when the
sky sailor knew that no course was left him but to dive boldly
up into an element whence there was no stepping back, and
separated from earth by a gulf which man instinctively dreads
to look down upon.

Taking events in their due sequence, we have now to record a
voyage which the terrors of sky and sea together combined to
make memorable. Winter had come--early January of 1785--when,
in spite of short dark days and frosty air, M. Blanchard,
accompanied by an American, Dr. Jeffries, determined on an
attempt to cross the Channel. They chose the English side, and
inflating their balloon with hydrogen at Dover, boldly cast
off, and immediately drifted out to sea. Probably they had not
paid due thought to the effect of low sun and chilly
atmosphere, for their balloon rose sluggishly and began
settling down ere little more than a quarter of their course
was run. Thereupon they parted with a large portion of their
ballast, with the result that they crept on as far as mid-
Channel, when they began descending again, and cast out the
residue of their sand, together with some books, and this, too,
with the uncomfortable feeling that even these measures would
not suffice to secure their safety.

This was in reality the first time that a sea passage had been
made by sky, and the gravity of their situation must not be
under-estimated. We are so accustomed in a sea passage to the
constant passing of other vessels that we allow ourselves to
imagine that a frequented portion of the ocean, such as the
Channel, is thickly dotted over with shipping of some sort. But
in entertaining this idea we are forgetful of the fact that we
are all the while on a steamer track. The truth, however, is
that anywhere outside such a track, even from the commanding
point of view of a high-flying balloon, the ocean is seen to be
more vast than we suppose, and bears exceedingly little but the
restless waves upon its surface. Once fairly in the water with
a fallen balloon, there is clearly no rising again, and the life
of the balloon in this its wrong element is not likely to be a
long one. The globe of gas may under favourable circumstances
continue to float for some while, but the open wicker car is the
worst possible boat for the luckless voyagers, while to leave it
and cling to the rigging is but a forlorn hope, owing to the
massof netting which surrounds the silk, and which would prove a
death-trap in the water. There are many instances of lives
having been lost in such a dilemma, even when help was near at

Our voyagers, whom we left in mid-air and stream, were soon
descending again, and this time they threw out their
tackle--anchor, ropes, and other gear, still without adequately
mending matters. Then their case grew desperate. The French
coast was, indeed, well in sight, but there seemed but slender
chance of reaching it, when they began divesting themselves
of clothing as a last resort. The upshot of this was
remarkable, and deserves a moment's consideration. When a
balloon has been lightened almost to the utmost the discharge
of a small weight sometimes has a magical effect, as is not
difficult to understand. Throwing out ten pounds at an early
stage, when there may be five hundred pounds more of
superfluous weight, will tell but little, but when those five
hundred pounds are expended then an extra ten pounds scraped
together from somewhere and cast overboard may cause a balloon
to make a giant stride into space by way of final effort; and
it was so with M. Blanchard. His expiring balloon shot up and
over the approaching land, and came safely to earth near the
Forest of Guiennes. A magnificent feast was held at Calais to
celebrate the above event. M. Blanchard was presented with the
freedom of the city in a gold box, and application was made to
the Ministry to have the balloon purchased and deposited as a
memorial in the church. On the testimony of the grandson of
Dr. Jeffries the car of this balloon is now in the museum of
the same city.

A very noteworthy example of how a balloon may be made to take
a fresh lease of life is supplied by a voyage of M. Testu about
this date, which must find brief mention in these pages. In
one aspect it is laughable, in another it is sublime. From
every point of view it is romantic.

It was four o'clock on a threatening day in June when the
solitary aeronaut took flight from Paris in a small hydrogen
balloon only partially filled, but rigged with somencontrivance
of wings which were designed to render it self-propelling.
Discovering, however, that this device was inoperative, M.
Testu, after about an hour and a half, allowed the balloon to
descend to earth in a corn field, when, without quitting hold of
the car, he commenced collecting stones for ballast. But as yet
he knew not the ways of churlish proprietors of land, and in
consequence was presently surprised by a troublesome crowd, who
proceeded, as they supposed, to take him prisoner till he should
pay heavy compensation, dragging him off to the nearest village
by the trail rope of his balloon.

M. Testu now had leisure to consider his situation, and
presently hit on a stratagem the like of which has often since
been adopted by aeronauts in like predicament. Representing to
his captors that without his wings he would be powerless, he
suffered them to remove these weighty appendages, when also
dropping a heavy cloak, he suddenly cut the cord by which he was
being dragged, and, regaining freedom, soared away into the sky.
He was quickly high aloft, and heard thunder below him, soon
after which, the chill of evening beginning to bring him
earthward, he descried a hunt in full cry, and succeeded in
coming down near the huntsmen, some of whom galloped up to him,
and for their benefit he ascended again, passing this time into
dense cloud with thunder and lightning. He saw the sun go down
and the lightning gather round, yet with admirable courage he
lived the night out aloft till the storms were spent and the
midsummer sun rose once more. With daylight restored, his
journey ended at a spot over sixty miles from Paris.

We have, of course, recounted only a few of the more noteworthy
early ballooning ventures. In reality there had up to the
present time been scores of ascents made in different
localities and in all conditions of wind and weather, yet not a
life had been lost. We have now, however, to record a casualty
which cost the first and boldest aeronaut his life, and which
is all the more regrettable as being due to circumstances that
should never have occurred.

M. Pilatre de Rosier, accompanied by M. Romain, determined on
crossing the Channel from the French side; and, thinking to add
to their buoyancy and avoid the risk of falling in the sea, hit
on the extraordinary idea of using a fire balloon beneath
another filled with hydrogen gas! With this deadly compound
machine they actually ascended from Boulogne, and had not left
the land when the inevitable catastrophe took place.

The balloons caught fire and blew up at a height of 3,000 feet,
while the unfortunate voyagers were dashed to atoms.


As may be supposed, it was not long before the balloon was
introduced into England. Indeed, the first successful ascent
on record made in our own country took place in the summer of
1784, ten months previous to the fatal venture narrated at the
close of the last chapter. Now, it is a remarkable and equally
regrettable circumstance that though the first ascent on
British soil was undoubtedly made by one of our own countrymen,
the fact is almost universally forgotten, or ignored, and the
credit is accorded to a foreigner.

Let us in strict honesty examine into the case. Vincent
Lunardi, an Italian, Secretary to the Neapolitan Ambassador,
Prince Caramanico, being in England in the year 1784,
determined on organising and personally executing an ascent
from London; and his splendid enterprise, which was presently
carried to a successful issue, will form the principal subject
of the present chapter. It will be seen that remarkable
success crowned his efforts, and that his first and ever
memorable voyage was carried through on September 15th of that

More than a month previously, however, attention had been
called to the fact that a Mr. Tytler was preparing to make an
ascent from Edinburgh in a hot air balloon, and in the London
Chronicle of August 27th occurs the following circumstantial
and remarkable letter from a correspondent to that journal:

"Edinburgh, Aug. 27, 1784.

"Mr. Tytler has made several improvements upon his fire balloon.
The reason of its failure formerly was its being made of porous
linen, through which the air made its escape. To remedy this
defect, Mr. Tytler has got it covered with a varnish to retain
the inflammable air after the balloon is filled.

"Early this morning this bold adventurer took his first aerial
flight. The balloon being filled at Comely Garden, he seated
himself in the basket, and the ropes being cut he ascended very
high and descended quite gradually on the road to Restalrig,
about half a mile from the place where he rose, to the great
satisfaction of those spectators who were present. Mr. Tytler
went up without the furnace this morning; when that is added he
will be able to feed the balloon with inflammable air, and
continue his aerial excursions as long as he chooses.

"Mr. Tytler is now in high spirits, and in his turn laughs at
those infidels who ridiculed his scheme as visionary and
impracticable. Mr. Tytler is the first person in Great Britain
who has navigated the air."

Referring to this exploit, Tytler, in a laudatory epistle
addressed to Lunardi, tells of the difficulties he had had to
contend with, and artlessly reveals the cool, confident courage
he must have displayed. No shelter being available for the
inflation, and a strong wind blowing, his first misfortune was
the setting fire to his wicker gallery. The next was the
capsizing and damaging of his balloon, which he had lined with
paper. He now substituted a coat of varnish for the paper, and
his gallery being destroyed, so that he could no longer attempt
to take up a stove, he resolved to ascend without one. In the
end the balloon was successfully inflated, when he had the
hardihood to entrust himself to a small basket (used for
carrying earthenware) slung below, and thus to launch himself
into the sky. He did so under the conviction that the risk he
ran was greater than it really was, for he argued that his
craft was now only like a projectile, and "must undoubtedly
come to the ground with the same velocity with which it
ascended." On this occasion the crowd tried for some time to
hold him near the ground by one of the restraining ropes, so
that his flight was curtailed. In a second experiment,
however, he succeeded in rising some hundreds of feet, and came
to earth without mishap.

But little further information respecting Mr. Tytler is
apparently forthcoming, and therefore beyond recording the fact
that he was the first British aeronaut, and also that he was
the first to achieve a balloon ascent in Great Britain, we are
unable to make further mention of him in this history.

Of his illustrious contemporary already mentioned there is, on
the contrary, much to record, and we would desire to give full
credit to his admirable courage and perseverance. It was with
a certain national and pardonable pride that the young Italian
planned his bold exploit, feeling with a sense of self-
satisfaction, which he is at no pains to hide, that he aimed
at winning honour for his country as well as for himself. In a
letter which he wrote to his guardian, Chevalier Gherardo
Compagni, he alludes to the stolid indifference of the English
people and philosophers to the brilliant achievements in
aeronautics which had been made and so much belauded on the
Continent. He proclaims the rivalry as regards science and art
existing between France and England, attributing to the latter
an attitude of sullen jealousy. At the same time he is fully
alive to the necessity of gaining English patronage, and sets
about securing this with tactful diplomacy. First he casts
about for a suitable spot where his enterprise would not fail
to enlist general attention and perhaps powerful patrons, and
here he is struck by the attractions and facilities offered by
Chelsea Hospital. He therefore applies to Sir George Howard,
the Governor, asking for the use of the famous hospital, to
which, on the occasion of his experiments, he desires that
admittance should only be granted to subscribers, while any
profits should be devoted to the pensioners of the hospital.
His application having been granted, he assures his guardian
that he "still maintains his mental balance, and his sleep is
not banished by the magnitude of his enterprise, which is
destined to lead him through the path of danger to glory."

This letter was dated the 15th of July, and by the beginning of
August his advertisement was already before the public,
inviting subscribers and announcing a private view of his
balloon at the Lyceum, where it was m course of construction,
and was being fitted with contrivances of his own in the shape
of oars and sails. He had by this time not only enlisted the
interest of Sir George Howard, and of Sir Joseph Banks, but had
secured the direct patronage of the King.

But within a fortnight a most unforeseen mishap had occurred,
which threatened to overwhelm Lunardi in disappointment and
ruin. A Frenchman of the name of Moret, designing to turn to
his own advertisement the attention attracted by Lunardi's
approaching trials, attempted to forestall the event by an
enterprise of his own, announcing that he would make an ascent
with a hot air balloon in some gardens near Chelsea Hospital,
and at a date previous to that fixed upon by Lunardi. In
attempting, however, to carry out this unworthy project the
adventurer met with the discomfiture he deserved. He failed to
effect his inflation, and when after fruitless attempts
continued for three hours, his balloon refused to rise, a large
crowd, estimated at 60,000, assembled outside, broke into the
enclosure, committing havoc on all sides, not unattended with
acts of violence and robbery.

The whole neighbourhood became alarmed, and it followed as a
matter of course that Lunardi was peremptorily ordered to
discontinue his preparations, and to announce in the public
press that his ascent from Chelsea Hospital was forbidden.
Failure and ruin now stared the young enthusiast in the face,
and it was simply the generous feeling of the British public,
and the desire to see fair play, that gave him another chance.
As it was, he became the hero of the hour; thousands flocked to
the show rooms at the Lyceum, and he shortly obtained fresh
grounds, together with needful protection for his project, at
the hands of the Hon.Artillery Company. By the 15th of
September all incidental difficulties, the mere enumeration of
which would unduly swell these pages, had been overcome by sheer
persistence, and Lunardi stood in the inenclosure allotted him,
his preparations in due order, with 150,000 souls, who had
formed for hours a dense mass of spectators, watching intently
and now confidently the issue of his bold endeavour.

But his anxieties were as yet far from over, for a London crowd
had never yet witnessed a balloon ascent, while but a month ago
they had seen and wreaked their wrath upon the failure of an
adventurer. They were not likely to be more tolerant now. And
when the advertised hour for departure had arrived, and the
balloon remained inadequately inflated, matters began to take a
more serious turn. Half an hour later they approached a
crisis, when it began to be known that the balloon still lacked
buoyancy, and that the supply of gas was manifestly
insufficient. The impatience of the mob indeed was kept in
restraint by one man alone. This man was the Prince of Wales
who, refusing to join the company within the building and
careless of the attitude of the crowd, remained near the
balloon to check disorder and unfair treatment.

But an hour after time the balloon still rested inert and then,
with fine resolution, Lunardi tried one last expedient. He
bade his colleague, Mr. Biggen, who was to have ascended with
him, remain behind, and quietly substituting a smaller and
lighter wicker car, or rather gallery, took his place within
and severed the cords just as the last gun fired. The Prince
of Wales raised his hat, imitated at once by all the
bystanders, and the first balloon that ever quitted English
soil rose into the air amid the extravagant enthusiasm of the
multitude. The intrepid aeronaut, pardonably excited, and
fearful lest he should not be seen within the gallery, made
frantic efforts to attract attention by waving his flag, and
worked his oars so vigorously that one of them broke and fell.
A pigeon also gained its freedom and escaped. The voyager,
however, still retained companions in his venture--a dog and a

Following his own account, Lunardi's first act on finding
himself fairly above the town was to fortify himself with some
glasses of wine, and to devour the leg of a chicken. He
describes the city as a vast beehive, St. Paul's and other
churches standing out prominently; the streets shrunk to lines,
and all humanity apparently transfixed and watching him. A
little later he is equally struck with the view of the open
country, and his ecstasy is pardonable in a novice. The
verdant pastures eclipsed the visions of his own lands. The
precision of boundaries impressed him with a sense of law and
order, and of good administration in the country where he was
a sojourner.

By this time he found his balloon, which had been only
two-thirds full at starting, to be so distended that he was
obliged to untie the mouth to release the strain. He also
found that the condensed moisture round the neck had frozen.
These two statements point to his having reached a considerable
altitude, which is intelligible enough. It is, however,
difficult to believe his further assertion that by the use of
his single oar he succeeded in working himself down to within a
few hundred feet of the earth. The descent of the balloon
must, in point of fact, have been due to a copious outrush of
gas at his former altitude. Had his oar really been effective
in working the balloon down it would not have needed the
discharge of ballast presently spoken of to cause it to
reascend. Anyhow, he found himself sufficiently near the earth
to land a passenger who was anxious to get out. His cat had not
been comfortable in the cold upper regions, and now at its
urgent appeal was deposited in a corn field, which was the point
of first contact with the earth. It was carefully received by a
country-woman, who promptly sold it to a gentleman on the other
side of the hedge, who had been pursuing the balloon.

The first ascent of a balloon in England was deserving of some
record, and an account alike circumstantial and picturesque is
forthcoming. The novel and astonishing sight was witnessed by
a Hertfordshire farmer, whose testimony, published by Lunardi
in the same year, runs as follows:--

This deponent on his oath sayeth that, being on Wednesday, the
15th day of September instant, between the hours of three and
four in the afternoon, in a certain field called Etna, in the
parish of North Mimms aforesaid, he perceived a large machine
sailing in the air, near the place where he was on horseback;
that the machine continuing to approach the earth, the part of
it in which this deponent perceived a gentleman standing came
to the ground and dragged a short way on the ground in a
slanting direction; that the time when this machine thus
touched the earth was, as near as this deponent could judge,
about a quarter before four in the afternoon. That this
deponent being on horseback, and his horse restive, he could not
approach nearer to the machine than about four poles, but that
he could plainly perceive therein gentleman dressed in light
coloured cloaths, holding in his hand a trumpet, which had the
appearance of silver or bright tin. That by this time several
harvest men coming up from the other part of the field, to the
number of twelve men and thirteen women, this deponent called
to them to endeavour to stop the machine, which the men
attempted, but the gentleman in the machine desiring them to
desist, and the machine moving with considerable rapidity, and
clearing the earth, went off in a north direction and continued
in sight at a very great height for near an hour afterwards.
And this deponent further saith that the part of the machine in
the which the gentleman stood did not actually touch the ground
for more than half a minute, during which time the gentleman
threw out a parcel of what appeared to this deponent as dry
sand. That after the machine had ascended again from the earth
this deponent perceived a grapple with four hooks, which hung
from the bottom of the machine, dragging along the ground,
which carried up with it into the air a small parcel of loose
oats, which the women were raking in the field. And this
deponent further on his oath sayeth that when the machine had
risen clear from the ground about twenty yards the gentleman
spoke to this deponent and to the rest of the people with his
trumpet, wishing them goodbye and saying that he should soon go
out of sight. And this deponent further on his oath sayeth
that the machine in which the gentleman came down to earth
appeared to consist of two distinct parts connected together by
ropes, namely that in which the gentleman appeared to be, a
stage boarded at the bottom, and covered with netting and ropes
on the sides about four feet and a half high, and the other
part of the machine appeared in the shape of an urn, about
thirty feet high and of about the same diameter, made of canvas
like oil skin, with green, red, and yellow stripes.


Sworn before me this twentieth day of September, 1784, WILLIAM

It was a curious fact, pointed out to the brave Italian by a
resident, that the field in which the temporary descent had
been made was called indifferently Etna or Italy, "from the
circumstance which attended the late enclosure of a large
quantity of roots, rubbish, etc., having been collected there,
and having continued burning for many days. The common people
having heard of a burning mountain in Italy gave the field that

But the voyage did not end at Etna. The, as yet, inexperienced
aeronaut now cast out all available ballast in the shape of
sand, as also his provisions, and rising with great speed, soon
reached a greater altitude than before, which he sought to
still farther increase by throwing down his plates, knives, and
forks. In this somewhat reckless expenditure he thought
himself justified by the reliance he placed on his oar, and it
is not surprising that in the end he owns that he owed his
safety in his final descent to his good fortune. The narrative
condensed concludes thus:--

"At twenty minutes past four I descended in a meadow near Ware.
Some labourers were at work in it. I requested their
assistance, but they exclaimed they would have nothing to do
with one who came on the Devil's Horse, and no entreaties could
prevail on them to approach me. I at last owed my deliverance
to a young woman in the field who took hold of a cord I had
thrown out, and, calling to the men, they yielded that
assistance at her request which they had refused to mine."

As may be supposed, Lunardi's return to London resembled a
royal progress. Indeed, he was welcomed as a conqueror to whom
the whole town sought to do honour, and perhaps his greatest
gratification came by way of the accounts he gathered of
incidents which occurred during his eventful voyage. At a
dinner at which he was being entertained by the Lord Mayor and
judges he learned that a lady seeing his falling oar, and
fancying that he himself was dashed to pieces, received a shock
thereby which caused her death. Commenting on this, one of the
judges bade him be reassured, inasmuch as he had, as if by
compensation, saved the life of a young man who might live to
be reformed. The young man was a criminal whose condemnation
was regarded as certain at the hands of the jury before whom he
was being arraigned, when tidings reached the court that
Lunardi's balloon was in the air. On this so much confusion
arose that the jury were unable to give due deliberation to the
case, and, fearing to miss the great sight, actually agreed to
acquit the prisoner, that they themselves might be free to
leave the court!

But he was flattered by a compliment of a yet higher order. He
was told that while he hovered over London the King was in
conference with his principal Ministers, and his Majesty,
learning that he was in the sky, is reported to have said to
his councillors, "We may resume our own deliberations at
pleasure, but we may never see poor Lunardi again!" On this,
it is further stated that the conference broke up, and the
King, attended by Mr. Pitt and other chief officers of State,
continued to view Lunardi through telescopes as long as he
remained in the horizon.

The public Press, notably the Morning Post of September 16,
paid a worthy tribute to the hero of the hour, and one last act
of an exceptional character was carried out in his honour, and
remains in evidence to this hour. In a meadow in the parish of
Standon, near Ware, there stands a rough hewn stone, now
protected by an iron rail. It marks the spot where Lunardi
landed, and on it is cut a legend which runs thus:

Let Posterity know
And knowing be astonished
On the 15th day of September 1784
Vincent Lunardi of Lusca in Tuscany
The first aerial traveller in Britain
Mounting from the Artillery Ground
In London
And Traversing the Regions of the Air
For Two Hours and Fifteen Minutes
In this Spot Revisited the Earth.
On this rude monument
For ages be recorded
That Wondrous Enterprise
Successfully atchieved
By the Powers of Chemistry
And the Fortitude of Man
That Improvement in Science
The Great Author of all Knowledge
Patronyzing by His Providence
The Invention of Mankind
Hath graciously permitted
To Their Benefit
His own Eternal Glory.


In less than two years not only had the science of ballooning
reached almost its highest development, but the balloon itself,
as an aerostatic machine, had been brought to a state of
perfection which has been but little improved upon up to the
present t hour. Better or cheaper methods of inflation were
yet to be discovered, lighter and more suitable material
remained to be manufactured; but the navigation of the air,
which hitherto through all time had been beyond man's grasp,
had been attained, as it were, at a bound, and at the hands of
many different and independent experimentalists was being
pursued with almost the same degree of success and safety as

Nor was this all. There was yet another triumph of the
aeronautical art which, within the same brief period, had been
to all intents and purposes achieved, even if it had not been
brought to the same state of perfection as at the present hour.
This was the Parachute. This fact is one which for a
sufficient reason is not generally known. It is very commonly
supposed that the parachute, in anything like its present form,
is a very modern device, and that the art of successfully using
it had not been introduced to the world even so lately as
thirty years ago. Thus, we find it stated in works of that
date dealing with the subject that disastrous consequences
almost necessarily attended the use of the parachute, "the
defects of which had been attempted to be remedied in various
ways, but up to this time without success." A more correct
statement, however, would have been that the art of
constructing and using a practicable parachute had through many
years been lost or forgotten. In actual fact, it had been
adopted with every assurance of complete success by the year
1785, when Blanchard by its means lowered dogs and other
animals with safety from a balloon. A few years later he
descended himself in a like apparatus from Basle, meeting,
however, with the misadventure of a broken leg.

But we must go much further back for the actual conception of
the parachute, which, we might suppose, may originally have
been suggested by the easy floating motion with which certain
seeds or leaves will descend from lofty trees, or by the mode
adopted by birds of dropping softly to earth with out-stretched
wings. M. de la Loubere, in his historical account of Siam,
which he visited in 1687-88, speaks of an ingenious athlete who
exceedingly diverted the King and his court by leaping from a
height and supporting himself in the air by two umbrellas, the
handles of which were affixed to his girdle. In 1783, that is,
the same year as that in which the balloon was invented, M. le
Normand experimented with a like umbrella-shaped contrivance,
with a view to its adoption as a fire escape, and he
demonstrated the soundness of the principle by descending
himself from the windows of a lofty house at Lyons.

It was, however, reserved for M. Jacques Garnerin in 1797 to
make the first parachute descent that attracted general
attention. Garnerin had previously been detained as a State
prisoner in the fortress of Bade, in Hungary, after the battle
of Marchiennes in 1793, and during his confinement had pondered
on the possibility of effecting his escape by a parachute. His
solitary cogitations and calculations resulted, after his
release, in the invention and construction of an apparatus
which he put to a practical test at Paris before the court of
France on October 22nd, 1797. Ascending in a hydrogen balloon
to the height of about 2,000 feet, he unhesitatingly cut
himself adrift, when for some distance he dropped like a stone.
The folds of his apparatus, however, opening suddenly, his fall
became instantly checked. The remainder of his descent, though
leisurely, occupying, in fact, some twelve minutes, appeared to
the spectators to be attended with uncertainty, owing to a
swinging motion set up in the car to which he was clinging.
But the fact remains that he reached the earth with only slight
impact, and entirely without injury.

It appears that Garnerin subsequently made many equally
successful parachute descents in France, and during the short
peace of 1802 visited London, where he gave an exhibition of
his art. From the most reliable accounts of his exploit it
would seem that his drop was from a very great height, and that
a strong ground wind was blowing at the time, the result of
which was that wild, wide oscillations were set up in the car,
which narrowly escaped bringing him in contact with the house
tops in St. Pancreas, and eventually swung him down into a
field, not without some unpleasant scratches.

Nor was Garnerin the only successful parachutist at this
period. A Polish aeronaut, Jordaki Kuparento, ascended from
Warsaw on the 24th of July, 1804 in a hot air balloon, taking
up, as was the custom, an attached furnace, which caused the
balloon to take fire when at a great height. Kuparento,
however, who was alone, had as a precaution provided himself
with a parachute, and with this he seems to have found no
difficulty in effecting a safe descent to earth.

It was many years after this that fresh experimentalists,
introducing parachutes on new lines and faulty in construction,
met with death or disaster. Enough, however, has already been
said to show that in the early years we are now traversing in
this history a perfectly practicable parachute had become an
accomplished fact. The early form is well described by Mr.
Monck Mason in a letter to the Morning Herald in 1837, written
on the eve of an unrehearsed and fatal experiment made by Mr.
Cocking, which must receive notice in due course. "The
principle," writes Mr. Monck Mason, "upon which all these
parachutes were constructed is the same, and consists simply of
a flattened dome of silk or linen from 24 feet to 28 feet in
diameter. From the outer margin all around at stated intervals
proceed a large number of cords, in length about the diameter
of the dome itself, which, being collected together in one
point and made fast to another of superior dimensions attached
to the apex of the machine, serve to maintain it in its form
when expanded in the progress of the descent. To this centre
cord likewise, at a distance below the point of junction,
varying according to the fancy of the aeronaut, is fixed the
car or basket in which he is seated, and the whole suspended
from the network of the balloon in such a manner as to be
capable of being detached in an instant at the will of the
individual by cutting the rope by which it is made fast above."

It followed almost as a matter of course that so soon as the
balloon had been made subject to something like due control,
and thus had become recognised as a new machine fairly reduced
to the service of man, it began to be regarded as an instrument
which should be made capable of being devoted to scientific
research. Indeed, it may be claimed that, among the very
earliest aeronauts, those who had sailed away into the skies
and brought back intelligent observations or impressions of the
realm of cloud-land, or who had only described their own
sensations at lofty altitudes, had already contributed facts of
value to science. It is time then, taking events in their due
sequence, that mention should be made of the endeavours of
various savants, who began about the commencement of the
nineteenth century to gather fresh knowledge from the
exploration of the air by balloon ascents organised with
fitting equipment. The time had now come for promoting the
balloon to higher purposes than those of mere exhibition or
amusement. In point of fact, it had already in one way been
turned to serious practical account. It had been used by the
French during military operations in the revolutionary war as a
mode of reconnoitring, and not without success, so that when
after due trial the war balloon was judged of value a number of
similar balloons were constructed for the use of the various
divisions of the French army, and, as will be told in its
proper place, one, at least, of these was put to a positive
test before the battle of Fleurus.

But, returning to more strictly scientific ascents, which began
to be mooted at this period, we are at once impressed with the
widespread influence which the balloon was exercising on
thinking minds. We note this from the fact that what must be
claimed to be the first genuine ascent for scientific
observation was made in altogether fresh ground, and at so
distant a spot as St. Petersburg.

It was now the year 1804, and the Russian Academy had
determined on attempting an examination of the physical
condition of the higher atmosphere by means of the balloon.
The idea had probably been suggested by scientific observations
which had already been made on mountain heights by such
explorers as De Luc, Saussure, Humboldt, and others. And now it
was determined that their results should be tested alongside
such observations as could be gathered in the free heaven far
removed from any disturbing effects that might be caused by
contiguity to earth. The lines of enquiry to which special
attention was required were such as would be naturally
suggested by the scientific knowledge of the hour, though they
may read somewhat quaintly to-day. Would there be any change
in the intensity of the magnetic force? Any change in the
inclination of the magnetised needle? Would evaporation find a
new law? Would solar rays increase in power? What amount of
electric matter would be found? What change in the colours
produced by the prism? What would be the constitution of the
higher and more attenuated air? What physical effect would it
have on human and bird life?

The ascent was made at 7.15 on a summer evening by M. Robertson
and the Academician, M. Sacharof, to whom we are indebted for
the following resume of notes, which have a special value as
being the first of their class. Rising slowly, a difference of
atmosphere over the Neva gave the balloon a downward motion,
necessitating the discharge of ballast. As late as 8.45 p.m.
a fine view was obtained of the Newski Islands, and the whole
course of the neighbouring river. At 9.20 p.m., when the
barometer had fallen from 30 inches to 23 inches, a canary and
a dove were dismissed, the former falling precipitately, while
the latter sailed down to a village below. All available
ballast was now thrown out, including a spare great coat and
the remains of supper, with the result that at 9.30 the
barometer had fallen to 22 inches, and at this height they
caught sight of the upper rim of the sun. The action of heart
and lungs remained normal. No stars were seen, though the sky
was mainly clear, such clouds as were visible appearing white
and at a great height. The echo of a speaking trumpet was
heard after an interval of ten seconds. This was substantially
the outcome of the experiments. The practical difficulties of
carrying out prearranged observations amid the inconvenience of
balloon travel were much felt. Their instruments were
seriously damaged, and their results, despite most painstaking
and praiseworthy efforts, must be regarded as somewhat

But ere the autumn of the same year two other scientific
ascents, admirably schemed and financed at the public expense,
had been successfully carried out at Paris in a war balloon
which, as will be told, had at this time been returned from
military operations in Egypt. In the first of these, Gay
Lussac ascended in company with M. Biot, with very complete
equipment. Choosing ten o'clock in the morning for their hour
of departure, they quickly entered a region of thin, but wet
fog, after which they shot up into denser cloud, which they
completely surmounted at a height of 6,500 feet, when they
described the upper surface as bearing the resemblance,
familiar enough to aeronauts and mountaineers, as of a white
sea broken up into gently swelling billows, or of an extended
plain covered with snow.

A series of simple experiments now embarked upon showed the
behaviour of magnetised iron, as also of a galvanic pile or
battery, to remain unaltered. As their altitude increased
their pulses quickened, though beyond feeling keenly the
contrast of a colder air and of scorching rays of the sun they
experienced no physical discomfort. At 11,000 feet a linnet
which they liberated fell to the earth almost helplessly, while
a pigeon with difficulty maintained an irregular and
precipitate flight. A carefully compiled record was made of
variations of temperature and humidity, and they succeeded in
determining that the upper air was charged with negative
electricity. In all this these two accomplished physicists may
be said to have carried out a brilliant achievement, even
though their actual results may seem somewhat meagre. They not
only were their own aeronauts, but succeeded in arranging and
carrying out continuous and systematic observations throughout
the period of their remaining in the sky.

This voyage was regarded as such a pronounced success that
three weeks later, in mid-September, Gay Lussac was induced to
ascend again, this time alone, and under circumstances that
should enable him to reach an exceptionally high altitude.
Experience had taught the advisability of certain modifications
in his equipment. A magnet was ingeniously slung with a view
of testing its oscillation even in spite of accidental
gyrations in the balloon. Thermometers and hygrometers were
carefully sheltered from the direct action of the sun, and
exhausted flasks were supplied with the object of bringing down
samples of upper air for subsequent analysis.

Again it was an early morning ascent, with a barometer on the
ground standing at 30.6 inches, and a slightly misty air.
Lussac appears to have accomplished the exceedingly difficult
task of counting the oscillations of his magnet with
satisfaction to himself. At 10,000 feet twenty vibrations
occupied 83 seconds, as compared with 84.33 seconds at the
earth's surface. The variation of the compass remained
unaltered, as also the behaviour of magnetised iron at all
altitudes. Keeping his balloon under perfect control, and
maintaining a uniform and steady ascent, he at the same time
succeeded in compiling an accurate table of readings recording
atmospheric pressure, temperature and humidity, and it is
interesting to find that he was confronted with an apparent
anomaly which will commonly present itself to the aeronaut
observer. Up to 12,000 feet the temperature had decreased
consistently from 82 degrees to 47 degrees, after which it
increased 6 degrees in the next 2,000 feet. This by no means
uncommon experience shall be presently discussed. The balloon
was now steadily manoeuvred up to 18,636 feet, at which height
freezing point was practically reached. Then with a further
climb 20,000 feet is recorded, at which altitude the ardent
philosopher could still attend to his magnetic observations,
nor is his arduous and unassisted task abandoned here, but with
marvellous pertinacity he yet struggled upwards till a height
of no less than 23,000 feet is recorded, and the thermometer
had sunk to 14 degrees F. Four miles and a quarter above the
level of the sea, reached by a solitary aerial explorer, whose
legitimate training lay apart from aeronautics, and whose main
care was the observation of the philosophical instruments he
carried! The achievement of this French savant makes a
brilliant record in the early pages of our history.

It is not surprising that Lussac should own to having felt no
inconsiderable personal discomfort before his venture was over.
In spite of warm clothing he suffered greatly from cold and
benumbed fingers, not less also from laboured breathing and a
quickened pulse; headache supervened, and his throat became
parched and unable to swallow food. In spite of all, he
conducted the descent with the utmost skill, climbing down
quietly and gradually till he alighted with gentle ease at St.
Gourgen, near Rouen. It may be mentioned here that the
analysis of the samples of air which he had brought down proved
them to contain the normal proportion of oxygen, and to be
essentially identical, as tested in the laboratory, with the
free air secured at the surface of the earth.

The sudden and apparently unaccountable variation in
temperature recorded by Lussac is a striking revelation to an
aerial observer, and becomes yet more marked when more
sensitive instruments are used than those which were taken up
on the occasion just related. It will be recorded in a future
chapter how more suitable instruments came in course of time to
be devised. It is only necessary to point out at this stage
that instruments which lack due sensibility will unavoidably
read too high in ascents, and too low in descents where,
according to the general law, the air is found to grow
constantly colder with elevation above the earth's surface. It
is strong evidence of considerable efficiency in the
instruments, and of careful attention on the part of the
observer, that Lussac was able to record the temporary
inversion of the law of change of temperature above-mentioned.
Had he possessed modern instrumental equipment he would have
brought down a yet more remarkable account of the upper regions
which he visited, and learned that the variations of heat and
cold were considerably more striking than he supposed.

With a specially devised instrument used with special
precautions, the writer, as will be shown hereafter, has been
able to prove that the temperature of the air, as traversed in
the wayward course of a balloon, is probably far more variable
and complex than has been recorded by most observers.

The exceptional height claimed to have been reached by Gay
Lassac need not for a moment be questioned, and the fact that
he did not experience the same personal inconvenience as has
been complained of by mountain climbers at far less altitudes
admits of ready explanation. The physical exertion demanded of
the mountaineer is entirely absent in the case of an aeronaut
who is sailing at perfect ease in a free balloon. Moreover, it
must be remembered that--a most important consideration--the
aerial voyager, necessarily travelling with the wind, is
unconscious, save at exceptional moments, of any breeze
whatever, and it is a well-established fact that a degree of
cold which might be insupportable when a breeze is stirring may
be but little felt in dead calm. It should also be remembered,
in duly regarding Gay Lussac's remarkable record, that this was
not his first experience of high altitudes, and it is an
acknowledged truth that an aeronaut, especially if he be an
enthusiast, quickly becomes acclimatised to his new element,
and sufficiently inured to its occasional rigours.


During certain years which now follow it will possibly be
thought that our history, so far as incidents of special
interest are concerned, somewhat languishes. Yet it may be
wrong to regard this period as one of stagnation or

Before passing on to later annals, however, we must duly
chronicle certain exceptional achievements and endeavours as
yet unmentioned, which stand out prominently in the period we
have been regarding as also in the advancing years of the new
century Among these must in justice be included those which
come into the remarkable, if somewhat pathetic subsequent
career of the brilliant, intrepid Lunardi.

Compelling everywhere unbounded admiration he readily secured
the means necessary for carrying out further exploits wherever
he desired while at the same time he met with a measure of good
fortune in freedom from misadventure such as has generally been
denied to less bold adventurers. Within a few months of the
time when we left him, the popular hero and happy recipient of
civic and royal favours, we find him in Scotland attempting
feats which a knowledge of practical difficulties bids us
regard as extraordinary.

To begin with, nothing appears more remarkable than the ease,
expedition, and certainty with which in days when necessary
facilities must have been far harder to come by than now, he
could always fill his balloon by the usually tedious and
troublesome mode attending hydrogen inflation. We see him at
his first Scottish ascent, completing the operation in little
more than two hours. It is the same later at Glasgow, where,
commencing with only a portion of his apparatus, he finds the
inflation actually to proceed too rapidly for his purpose, and
has to hold the powers at his command strongly in check.
Later, in December weather, having still further improved his
apparatus, he makes his balloon support itself after the
inflation of only ten minutes. Then, as if assured of
impunity, he treats recognised risks with a species of
contempt. At Kelso he hails almost with joy the fact that the
wind must carry him rapidly towards the sea, which in the end
he narrowly escapes. At Glasgow the chances of safe landing
are still more against him, yet he has no hesitation in
starting, and at last the catastrophe he seemed to court
actually overtook him, and he plumped into the sea near
Berwick, where no sail was even in sight, and a winter's night
coming on. From this predicament he was rescued by a special
providence which once before had not deserted him, when in a
tumult of violent and contrary currents, and at a great height
to boot, his gallery was almost completely carried away, and he
had to cling on to the hoop desperately with both hands.

Then we lose sight of the dauntless, light-hearted Italian for
one-and-twenty years, when in the Gentleman's Magazine of July
31, 1806, appears the brief line, "Died in the convent of
Barbadinas, of a decline, Mr. Vincent Lunardi, the celebrated

Garnerin, of whom mention has already been made, accomplished
in the summer of 1802 two aerial voyages marked by extreme
velocity in the rate of travel. The first of these is also
remarkable as having been the first to fairly cross the heart
of London. Captain Snowdon, R.N., accompanied the aeronaut.
The ascent took place from Chelsea Gardens, and proved so great
an attraction that the crowd overflowed into the neighbouring
parts of the town, choking up the thoroughfares with vehicles,
and covering the river with boats. On being liberated, the
balloon sped rapidly away, taking a course midway between the
river and the main highway of the Strand, Fleet Street, and
Cheapside, and so passed from view of the multitude. Such a
departure could hardly fail to lead to subsequent adventures,
and this is pithily told in a letter written by Garnerin
himself: "I take the earliest opportunity of informing you
that after a very pleasant journey, but after the most
dangerous descent I ever made, on account of the boisterous
weather and the vicinity of the sea, we alighted at the
distance of four miles from this place and sixty from Ranelagh.
We were only three-quarters of an hour on the way. To-night I
intend to be in London with the balloon, which is torn to
pieces. We ourselves are all over bruises."

Only a week after the same aeronaut ascended again from
Marylebone, when he attained almost the same velocity, reaching
Chingford, a distance of seventeen miles, in fifteen minutes.

The chief danger attending a balloon journey in a high wind,
supposing no injury has been sustained in filling and
launching, results not so much from impact with the ground on
alighting as from the subsequent almost inevitable dragging
along the ground. The grapnels, spurning the open, will often
obtain no grip save in a hedge or tree, and even then large
boughs will be broken through or dragged away, releasing the
balloon on a fresh career which may, for a while, increase in
mad impetuosity as the emptying silk offers a deeper hollow for
the wind to catch.

The element of risk is of another nature in the case of a night
ascent, when the actual alighting ground cannot be duly chosen
or foreseen. Among many record night ascents may here,
somewhat by anticipation of events, be mentioned two embarked
upon by the hero of our last adventure. M. Garnerin was
engaged to make a spectacular ascent from Tivoli at Paris,
leaving the grounds at night with attached lamps illuminating
his balloon. His first essay was on a night of ear]y August,
when he ascended at 11 p.m., reaching a height of nearly three
miles. Remaining aloft through the hours of darkness, he
witnessed the sun rise at half-past two in the morning, and
eventually came to earth after a journey of some seven hours,
during which time he had covered considerably more than a
hundred miles. A like bold adventure carried out from the same
grounds the following month was attended with graver peril. A
heavy thunderstorm appearing imminent, Garnerin elected to
ascend with great rapidity, with the result that his balloon,
under the diminished pressure, quickly became distended to an
alarming degree, and he was reduced to the necessity of
piercing a hole in the silk, while for safety's sake he
endeavoured to extinguish all lamps within reach. He now lost
all control over his balloon, which became unmanageable in the
conflict of the storm. Having exhausted his ballast, he
presently was rudely brought to earth and then borne against a
mountain side, finally losing consciousness until the balloon
had found anchorage three hundred miles away from Paris.

A night ascent, which reads as yet more sensational and
extraordinary, is reported to have been made a year or two
previously, and when it is considered that the balloon used was
of the Montgolfier type the account as it is handed down will
be allowed to be without parallel. It runs thus: Count
Zambeccari, Dr. Grassati of Rome, and M. Pascal Andreoli of
Antona ascended on a November night from Bologna, allowing
their balloon to rise with excessive velocity. In consequence
of this rapid transition to an extreme altitude the Count and
the Doctor became insensible, leaving Andreoli alone in
possession of his faculties. At two o'clock in the morning
they found themselves descending over the Adriatic, at which
time a lantern which they carried expired and was with
difficulty re-lighted. Continuing to descend, they presently
pitched in to the sea and became drenched with salt water. It
may seem surprising that the balloon, which could not be
prevented falling in the water, is yet enabled to ascend from
the grip of the waves by the mere discharge of ballast. (It
would be interesting to inquire what meanwhile happened to the
fire which they presumably carried with them.) They now rose
into regions of cloud, where they became covered with hoar
frost and also stone deaf. At 3 a.m. they were off the coast
of Istria, once more battling with the waves till picked up by
a shore boat. The balloon, relieved of their weight, then flew
away into Turkey.

However overdrawn this narrative may appear, it must be read in
the light of another account, the bare, hard facts of which can
admit of no question. It is five years later, and once again
Count Zambeccari is ascending from Bologna, this time in
company with Signor Bonagna. Again it is a Montgolfier or fire
balloon, and on nearing earth it becomes entangled in a tree
and catches fire. The aeronauts jump for their lives, and the
Count is killed on the spot. Certainly, when every allowance
is made for pardonable or unintentional exaggeration, it must
be conceded that there were giants in those days. Giants in
the conception and accomplishment of deeds of lofty daring.
Men who came scathless through supreme danger by virtue of the
calmness and courage with which they withstood it.

Among other appalling disasters we have an example of a
terrific descent from a vast height in which the adventurers
yet escape with their lives. It was the summer of 1808, and
the aeronauts, MM. Andreoli and Brioschi, ascending from Padua,
reach a height at which a barometer sinks to eight inches,
indicating upwards of 30,000 feet. At this point the balloon
bursts, and falls precipitately near Petrarch's tomb.
Commenting on this, Mr. Glaisher, the value of whose opinion is
second to none, is not disposed to question the general truth
of the narrative. In regard to Zambeccari's escape from the
sea related above, it should be stated that in the case of a
gas-inflated balloon which has no more than dipped its car or
gallery in the waves, it is generally perfectly possible to
raise it again from the water, provided there is on board a
store of ballast, the discharge of which will sufficiently
lighten the balloon. A case in point occurred in a most
romantic and perilous voyage accomplished by Mr. Sadler on the
1st of October, 1812.

His adventure is one of extraordinary interest, and of no
little value to the practical aeronaut. The following account
is condensed from Mr. Sadler's own narrative. He started from
the grounds of Belvedere House, Dublin, with the expressed
intention of endeavouring to cross over the Irish Channel to
Liverpool. There appear to have been two principal air drifts,
an upper and a lower, by means of which he entertained fair
hopes of steering his desired course. But from the outset he
was menaced with dangers and difficulties. Ere he had left the
land he discovered a rent in his silk which, occasioned by some
accident before leaving, showed signs of extending. To reach
this, it was necessary to extemporise by means of a rope a
species of ratlins by which he could climb the rigging. He
then contrived to close the rent with his neckcloth. He was,
by this time, over the sea, and, manoeuvring his craft by aid
of the two currents at his disposal, he was carried to the
south shore of the Isle of Man, whence he was confident of
being able, had he desired it, of landing in Cumberland. This,
however, being contrary to his intention, he entrusted himself
to the higher current, and by it was carried to the north-west
of Holyhead. Here he dropped once again to the lower current,
drifting south of the Skerry Lighthouse across the Isle of
Anglesea, and at 4.30 p.m. found himself abreast of the Great
Orme's Head. Evening now approaching, he had determined to
seek a landing, but at this critical juncture the wind shifted
to the southward, and he became blown out to sea. Then, for an
hour, he appears to have tried high and low for a more
favourable current, but without success; and, feeling the
danger of his situation, and, moreover, sighting no less than
five vessels beating down the Channel, he boldly descended in
the sea about a mile astern of them. He must for certain have
been observed by these vessels; but each and all held on their
course, and, thus deserted, the aeronaut had no choice but to
discharge ballast, and, quitting the waves, to regain his
legitimate element. His experiences at this period of his
extraordinary voyage are best told in his own words. "At the
time I descended the sun was near setting Already the shadows
of evening had cast a dusky hue over the face of the ocean, and
a crimson glow purpled the tops of the waves as, heaving in the
evening breeze, they died away in distance, or broke in foam
against the sides of the vessels, and before I rose from the
sea the orb had sunk below the horizon, leaving only the
twilight glimmer to light the vast expanse around me. How
great, therefore, was my astonishment, and how incapable is
expression to convey an adequate idea of my feelings when,
rising to the upper region of the air, the sun, whose parting
beams I had already witnessed, again burst on my view, and
encompassed me with the full blaze of day. Beneath me hung the
shadows of even, whilst the clear beams of the sun glittered on
the floating vehicle which bore me along rapidly before the

After a while he sights three more vessels, which signify their
willingness to stand by, whereupon he promptly descends,
dropping beneath the two rear-most of them. From this point
the narrative of the sinking man, and the gallant attempt at
rescue, will rival any like tale of the sea. For the wind, now
fast rising, caught the half empty balloon so soon as the car
touched the sea, and the vessel astern, though in full pursuit,
was wholly unable to come up. Observing this, Mr. Sadler,
trusting more to the vessel ahead, dropped his grappling iron
by way of drag, and shortly afterwards tried the further
expedient of taking off his clothes and attaching them to the
iron. The vessels, despite these endeavours, failing to
overhaul him, he at last, though with reasonable reluctance,
determined to further cripple the craft that bore him so
rapidly by liberating a large quantity of gas, a desperate,
though necessary, expedient which nearly cost him his life.

For the car now instantly sank, and the unfortunate man,
clutching at the hoop, found he could not even so keep himself
above the water, and was reduced to clinging, as a last hope,
to the netting. The result of this could be foreseen, for he
was frequently plunged under water by the mere rolling of the
balloon. Cold and exertion soon told on him, as he clung
frantically to the valve rope, and when his strength failed him
he actually risked the expedient of passing his head through
the meshes of the net. It was obvious that for avail help must
soon come; yet the pursuing vessel, now close, appeared to hold
off, fearing to become entangled in the net, and in this
desperate extremity, fainting from exhaustion and scarcely able
to cry aloud, Mr. Sadler himself seems to have divined the
chance yet left; for, summoning his failing strength, he
shouted to the sailors to run their bowsprit through his
balloon. This was done, and the drowning man was hauled on
board with the life scarcely in him.

A fitting sequel to the above adventure followed five years
afterwards. The Irish Sea remained unconquered. No balloonist
had as yet ever crossed its waters. Who would attempt the feat
once more? Who more worthy than the hero's own son, Mr.
Windham Sadler?

This aspiring aeronaut, emulating his father's enterprising
spirit, chose the same starting ground at Dublin, and on the
longest day of 1817, when winds seemed favourable, left the
Porto Bello barracks at 1.20 p.m. His endeavour was to "tack"
his course by such currents as he should find, in the manner
attempted by his father, and at starting the ground current
blew favourably from the W.S.W. He, however, allowed his
balloon to rise to too high an altitude, where he must have
been taken aback by a contrary drift; for, on descending again
through a shower of snow, he found himself no further than Ben
Howth, as yet only ten miles on his long journey. Profiting by
his mistake, he thenceforward, by skilful regulation, kept his
balloon within due limits, and successfully maintained a direct
course across the sea, reaching a spot in Wales not far from
Holyhead an hour and a half before sundown. The course taken
was absolutely the shortest possible, being little more than
seventy miles, which he traversed in five hours.

From this period of our story, noteworthy events in
aeronautical history grow few and far between. As a mere
exhibition the novelty of a balloon ascent had much worn off.
No experimentalist was ready with any new departure in the art.
No fresh adventure presented itself to the minds of the more
enterprising spirits; and, whereas a few years previously
ballooning exploits crowded into every summer season and were
not neglected even in winter months, there is now for a while
little to chronicle, either abroad or in our own country. A
certain revival of the sensational element in ballooning was
occasionally witnessed, and not without mishap, as in the case
of Madame Blanchard, who, in the summer of 1819, ascending at
night with fireworks from the Tivoli Gardens, Paris, managed to
set fire to her balloon and lost her life in her terrific fall.
Half a dozen years later a Mr., as also Mrs., Graham figure
before the public in some bold spectacular ascents.

But the fame of any aeronaut of that date must inevitably pale
before the dawning light shed by two stars of the first
magnitude that were arising in two opposite parts of the
world--Mr. John Wise in America, and Mr. Charles Green in our
own country. The latter of these, who has been well styled the
"Father of English Aeronautics," now entered on a long and
honoured career of so great importance and success that we must
reserve for him a separate and special chapter.


The balloon, which had gradually been dropping out of favour,
had now been virtually laid aside, and, to all appearance,
might have continued so, when, as if by chance concurrence of
events, there arrived both the hour and the man to restore it
to the world, and to invest it with a new practicability and
importance. The coronation of George the Fourth was at hand,
and this became a befitting occasion for the rare genius
mentioned at the end of the last chapter, and now in his
thirty-sixth year, to put in practice a new method of balloon
management and inflation, the entire credit of which must be
accorded to him alone.

From its very introduction and inception the gas balloon, an
expensive and fragile structure in itself, had proved at all
times exceedingly costly in actual use. Indeed, we find that
at the date at which we have now arrived the estimate for
filling a balloon of 70,000 cubic feet--no extraordinary
capacity--with hydrogen gas was about L250. When, then, to
this great outlay was added the difficulty and delay of
producing a sufficient supply by what was at best a clumsy
process, as also the positive failure and consequent
disappointment which not infrequently ensued, it is easy to
understand how through many years balloon ascents, no longer a
novelty, had begun to be regarded with distrust, and the
profession of a balloonist was doomed to become unremunerative.
A simpler and cheaper mode of inflation was not only a
desideratum, but an absolute necessity. The full truth of this
may be gathered from the fact that we find there were not
seldom instances where two or three days of continuous and
anxious labour were expended in generating and passing hydrogen
into a balloon, through the fabric of which the subtle gas
would escape almost as fast as it was produced.

It was at this juncture, then, that Charles Green conceived the
happy idea of substituting for hydrogen gas the ordinary
household gas, which at this time was to be found ready to hand
and in sufficient quantity in all towns of any consequence; and
by the day of the coronation all was in readiness for a public
exhibition of this method of inflation, which was carried out
with complete success, though not altogether without unrehearsed
and amusing incident, as must be told.

The day, July 18, was one of summer heat, and Green at the
conclusion of his preparations, fatigued with anxious labour
and oppressed by the crowding of the populace, took refuge
within the car of his balloon, which was by that time already
inflated, and only awaiting the gun signal that was to announce
the moment for its departure. To allow of his gaining the
refreshment of somewhat purer air he begged his friends who
were holding the car of his balloon in restraint to keep it
suspended at a few feet from the earth, while he rested himself
within, and, this being done, it would appear that he fell into
a doze, from which he did not awake till he found that the
balloon, which had slipped from his friends' hold, was already
high above the crowd and requiring his prompt attention. This
was, however, by no means an untoward accident, and Green's
triumph was complete. By this one venture alone the success of
the new method was entirely assured. The cost of the inflation
had been reduced ten-fold, the labour and uncertainty a
hundred-fold, and, over and above all, the confidence of the
public was restored. It is little wonder, then, that in the
years that now follow we find the balloon returning to all the
favour it had enjoyed in its palmiest days. But Green proved
himself something more than a practical balloonist of the first
rank. He brought to the aid of his profession ideas which were
matured by due thought and scientifically sound. It is true he
still clung for a while to the antiquated notion that
mechanical means could, with advantage, be used to cause a
balloon to ascend or descend, or to alter its direction in a
tranquil atmosphere. But he saw clearly that the true method
of navigating a balloon should be by a study of upper currents,
and this he was able to put to practical proof on a memorable
occasion, and in a striking manner, as we shall presently

He learned the lesson early in his career while acquiring facts
and experience, unassisted, in a number of solitary voyages
made from different parts of the country. Among these he is
careful to record an occasion when, making a day-light ascent
from Boston, Lincolnshire, he maintained a lofty course, which
promised to take him direct to Grantham; but, presently
descending to a lower level, and his balloon diverging at an
angle of some 45 degrees, he now headed for Newark. This
experience he stored away.

A month later we find him making a night voyage from Vauxhall
Gardens, destined to be the scene of many memorable ascents in
the near future; and on this occasion he gave proof of his
capability as a close and intelligent observer. It was a July
night, near 11 p.m., moonless and cloudy, yet the earth was
visible, and under these circumstances his simple narrative
becomes of scientific value. He accurately distinguished the
reflective properties of the face of the diversified country he
traversed. Over Battersea and Wandsworth--this was in
1826--there were white sheets spread over the land, which proved
to be corn crops ready for the sickle. Where crops were not the
ground was darker, with, here and there, objects absolutely
black--in other words, trees and houses. Then he mentions the
river in a memorandum, which reads strangely to the aeronaut who
has made the same night voyage in these latter days. The stream
was crossed in places with rows of lamps apparently resting on
the water. These were the lighted bridges; but, here and there,
were dark planks, and these too were bridges--at Battersea and
Putney--but without a light upon them!

In these and many other simple, but graphic, narratives Green
draws his own pictures of Nature in her quieter moods. But he
was not without early experience of her horse play, a highly
instructive record of which should not be omitted here, and
which, as coming from so careful and conscientious an observer,
is best gathered from his own words. The ascent was from
Newbury, and it can have been no mean feat to fill, under
ordinary circumstances, a balloon carrying two passengers and a
considerable weight of ballast at the small gas-holder which
served the town eighty-five years ago. But the circumstances
were not ordinary, for the wind was extremely squally; a
tremendous hail and thunderstorm blew up, and a hurricane swept
the balloon with such force that two tons weight of iron and a
hundred men scarce sufficed to hold it in check.

Green on this occasion had indeed a companion, whose usefulness
however at a pinch may be doubted when we learn that he was
both deaf and dumb. The rest of the narrative runs thus:
"Between 4 and 5 p.m. the clouds dispersed, but the wind
continued to rage with unabated fury the whole of the evening.
At 6 p.m. I stepped into the car with Mr. Simmons and gave the
word 'Away!' The moment the machine was disencumbered of its
weights it was torn by the violence of the wind from the
assistants, bounded off with the velocity of lightning in a
southeasterly direction, and in a very short space of time
attained an elevation of two miles. At this altitude we
perceived two immense bodies of clouds operated on by contrary
currents of air until at length they became united, and at that
moment my ears were assailed by the most awful and longest
continued peal of thunder I have ever heard. These clouds were
a full mile beneath us, but perceiving other strata floating at
the same elevation at which we were sailing, which from their
appearance I judged to be highly charged with electricity, I


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