The Dominion of the Air
J. M. Bacon

Part 2 out of 5

considered it prudent to discharge twenty pounds of ballast,
and we rose half a mile above our former elevation, where I
considered we were perfectly safe and beyond their influence.
I observed, amongst other phenomena, that at every discharge of
thunder all the detached pillars of clouds within the distance
of a mile around became attracted and appeared to concentrate
their force towards the first body of clouds alluded to,
leaving the atmosphere clear and calm beneath and around us.

"With very trifling variations we continued the same course
until 7.15 p.m., when we descended to within 500 feet of the
earth; but, perceiving from the disturbed surface of the rivers
and lakes that a strong wind existed near the earth, we again
ascended and continued our course till 7.30 p.m., when a final
descent was safely effected in a meadow field in the parish of
Crawley in Surrey, situated between Guildford and Horsham, and
fifty-eight miles from Newbury. This stormy voyage was
performed in one hour and a half."

It was after Green had followed his profession for fifteen
years that he was called upon to undertake the management of an
aerial venture, which, all things considered, has never been
surpassed in genuine enterprise and daring. The conception of
the project was due to Mr. Robert Hollond, and it took shape in
this way. This gentleman, fresh from Cambridge, possessed of
all the ardour of early manhood, as also of adequate means, had
begun to devote himself with the true zeal of the enthusiast to
the pursuit of ballooning, finding due opportunity for this in
his friendship with Mr. Green, who enjoyed the management of
the fine balloon made for ascents at the then popular Vauxhall
Gardens. In the autumn of 1836 the proprietors of this balloon,
contemplating making an exhibition of an ascent from Paris, and
requiring their somewhat fragile property to be conveyed to
that city, Mr. Hollond boldly came forward and offered to
transfer it thither, and, as nearly as this might be possible,
by passage through the sky. The proposal was accepted, and Mr.
Holland, in conjunction with Green, set about the needful
preparations. These, as will appear, were on an extraordinary
scale, and no blame is to be imputed on that account, as a
little consideration will show. For the venture proposed was
not to be that of merely crossing the Channel, which, as we
have seen, had been successfully effected no less than fifty
years before. The voyage in contemplation was to be from
London; it was, moreover, to be pursued through a long,
moonless winter's night, and under conditions of which no
living aeronaut had had actual experience.

Calculation, based on a sufficient knowledge of fast upper
currents, told that their course, ere finished, might be one of
almost indefinite length, and it is not too much to say that no
one, with the knowledge of that day, could predict within a
thousand miles where the dawn of the next day might find them.
The equipment, therefore, was commensurate with the possible
task before them. To begin with, they limited their number to
three in all--Mr. Hollond, as chief and keeper of the log; Mr.
Green, as aeronaut; and an enthusiastic colleague, Mr. Monck
Mason, as the chronicler of the party. Next, they provided
themselves with passports to all parts of the Continent; and
then came the fitting out and victualling of the aerial craft
itself, calculated to carry some 90,000 cubic feet of gas, and
a counterpoise of a ton of ballast, which took the form partly
of actual provisions in large quantity, partly of gear and
apparatus, and for the rest of sand and also lime, of which
more anon. Across the middle of the car was fixed a bench to
serve as table, and also as a stage for the winding in and out
of an enormous trail rope a thousand feet long, designed by Mr.
Green to meet the special emergencies of the voyage. At the
bottom of the car was spread a large cushion to serve the
purposes of rest. When all was in readiness unfitness of
weather baulked the travellers for some days, but Monday, the
7th of November, was judged a favourable day, so that the
inflation was rapidly proceeded with, and at 1.30 p.m. the
"Monstre Balloon," as it was entitled in the "Ingoldsby
Legends," left the earth on her eventful and ever memorable
voyage. The weather was fine and promising, and, rising with a
moderate breeze from the N.W., they began to traverse the
northern parts of Kent, while light, drifting upper clouds gave
indication of other possible currents. Mr. Hollond was precise
in the determination of times and of all readings and we learn
that at exactly 2.48 p.m. they were crossing the Medway, six
miles west of Rochester, while at 4.5 p.m. the lofty towers of
Canterbury were well in view, two miles to the east, and here a
little function was well carried out. Green had twice ascended
from this city under patronage of the authorities, and the idea
occurred to the party that it would be a graceful compliment to
drop a message to the Mayor as they passed. A suitable note,
therefore, quickly written, was dismissed in a parachute, and it
may be mentioned that this, as also a similar missive addressed
later to the Mayor of Dover, were duly received and

At a quarter past four they sighted the sea, and here, the air
beginning to grow chill, the balloon dropped earthward, and for
some miles they skimmed the ground, disturbing the partridges,
scattering the rooks, and keeping up a running conversation the
while with labourers and passers below. In this there was
exercise of perfectly proper aerial seamanship, such as
moreover presently led to an exhibition of true science. To
save ballast is, with a balloon, to prolong life, and this may
often best be done by flying low, which doubtless was Green's
present intention. But soon his trained eye saw that the
ground current which now carried them was leading them astray.
They were trending to the northward, and so far out of their
course that they would soon make the North Foreland, and so be
carried out over the North Sea far from their desired
direction. Thereupon Green attempted to put in practice his
theory, already spoken of, of steering by upper currents, and
the event proved his judgment peculiarly correct. "Nothing,"
wrote Mr. Monck Mason, "could exceed the beauty of the
manoeuvre, to which the balloon at once responded, regaining her
due course, and, in a matter of a few minutes only, bearing the
voyagers almost vertically over the castle of Dover in the exact
line for crossing the straits between that town and Calais."

So far all was well, and success had been extraordinary; but
from this moment they became faced with new conditions, and with
the grave trouble of uncertainty. Light was failing, the sea
was before them, and--what else thenceforth? 4.48 p.m. was
recorded as the moment when the first line of breaking waves was
seen directly below them, and then the English coast line began
rapidly to fade out from their view. But, ahead, the obscurity
was yet more intense, for clouds, banked up like a solid wall,
crowned along its frowning heights, with "parapets and turrets
and batteries and bastions," and, plunging into this opposing
barrier, they were quickly buried in blackness, losing at the
same time over the sea all sound from earth soever. So for a
short hour's space, when the sound of waves once again broke in
upon them, and immediately afterwards emerging from the dense
cloud (a sea-fog merely) they found themselves immediately over
the brilliantly lighted town of Calais. Seeing this, the
travellers attempted to signal by igniting and lowering a Bengal
Light, which was directly followed by the beating of drums from

It adds a touch of reality, as well as cheerfulness, to the
narrative to read that at this period of their long journey the
travellers apply themselves to a fair, square meal, the first
for twelve hours, despite the day's excitement and toil. We
have an entry among the stores of the balloon of wine bottles
and spirit flasks, but there is no mention of these being
requisitioned at this period. The demand seems rather to have
been for coffee--coffee hot; and this by a novel device was
soon prepared. It goes without saying that a fire or flame of
any kind, except with special precautions, is inadmissable in a
balloon; but a cooking heat, sufficient for the present purpose,
was supplied from the store of lime, a portion of which, being
placed in a suitably contrived vessel and slaked quickly,
procured the desired beverage.

This meal now indulged in seems to have been heartily and
happily enjoyed; and from this point, for a while, the
narrative becomes that of enthusiastic and delighted
travellers. In the gloom below, for leagues around, they
regarded the scattered fires of a watchful population, with
here and there the lights of larger towns, and the
contemplation begot romantic reveries. "Were they not amid the
vast solitudes of the skies, in the dead of night, unknown and
unnoticed, secretly and silently reviewing kingdoms, exploring
territories, and surveying cities all clothed in the dark mantle
of mystery?" Presently they identified the blazing city of
Liege, with the lurid lights of extensive outlying iron works,
and this was the last visible sign they caught of earth that
night; save, at least, when occasional glimpses of lightning
momentarily and dimly outlined the world in the abyss below.

Ere long, they met with their first discomfort, which they seem
to have regarded as a most serious one, namely, the accidental
dropping overboard of their cherished coffee-boiling apparatus.
With its loss their store of lime became useless, save as
ballast, and for this it was forthwith utilised until nothing
remained but the empty lime barrel itself, which, being
regarded as an objectionable encumbrance, it was desirable to
get rid of, were it not for the risk involved in rudely
dropping it to earth. But the difficulty was met. They
possessed a suitable small parachute, and, attached to this, the
barrel was allowed to float earthward.

As hours advanced, the blackness of night increased, and their
impressions appear somewhat strange to anyone familiar with
ordinary night travel in the sky. Mr. Monck Mason compares
their progress through the darkness to "cleaving their way
through an interminable mass of black marble." Then,
presently, an unaccountable object puzzles and absorbs the
attention of all the party for a long period. They were gazing
open-mouthed at a long narrow avenue of feeble light, which,
though apparently belonging to earth, was too long and regular
for a river, and too broad for a canal or road, and it was only
after many futile imaginings that they discovered they were
simply looking at a stay rope of the balloon hanging far out
over the side.

Somewhat later still, there was a more serious claim upon the
imagination. It was half-past three in the morning, and the
balloon, which, to escape from too low an altitude, had been
liberally lightened, had now at high speed mounted to a vast
height. And then, amid the black darkness and dead silence of
that appalling region, suddenly overhead came the sound of an
explosion, followed by the violent rustling of the silk, while
the car jerked violently, as though suddenly detached from its
hold. This was the idea, leading to the belief that the
balloon had suddenly exploded, and that they were falling
headlong to earth. Their suspense, however, cannot have been
long, and the incident was intelligible enough, being due to
the sudden yielding of stiffened net and silk under rapid
expansion caused by their speedy and lofty ascent.

The chief incidents of the night were now over, until the dawn
arrived and began to reveal a strange land, with large tracts
of snow, giving place, as the light strengthened, to vast
forests. To their minds these suggested the plains of Poland,
if not the steppes of Russia, and, fearing that the country
further forward might prove more inhospitable, they decided to
come to earth as speedily as possible. This, in spite of
difficult landing, they effected about the hour that the waking
population were moving abroad, and then, and not till then,
they learned the land of their haven--the heart of the German
forests. Five hundred miles had been covered in eighteen hours
from start to finish!


All history is liable to repeat itself, and that of aeronautics
forms no exception to the rule. The second year after the
invention of the balloon the famous M. Blanchard, ascending
from Frankfort, landed near Weilburg, and, in commemoration of
the event, the flag he bore was deposited among the archives in
the ducal palace of that town. Fifty-one years passed by when,
outside the same city, a yet more famous balloon effected its
landing, and with due ceremony its flag is presently laid
beside that of Blanchard in the same ducal palace. The balloon
of the "Immortal Three," whose splendid voyage has just been
recounted, will ever be known by the title of the Great Nassau
Balloon, but the neighbourhood of its landing was that of the
town of Weilburg, in the Duchy of Nassau, whither the party
betook themselves, and where, during many days, they were
entertained with extravagant hospitality and honour until
business recalled Mr. Hollond home.

Green had now made upwards of two hundred ascents, and, though
he lived to make a thousand, it was impossible that he could
ever eclipse this last record. It is true that the same Nassau
balloon, under his guidance, made many other most memorable
voyages, some of which it will be necessary to dwell on. But,
to preserve a better chronology, we must first, without further
digression, approach an event which fills a dark page in our
annals; and, in so doing, we have to transfer our attention
from the balloon itself to its accessory, the parachute.

Twenty-three years before our present date, that is to say in
1814, Mr. Cocking delivered his views as to the proper form of
the parachute before the Society of Arts, who, as a mark of
approval, awarded him a medal. This parachute, however, having
never taken practical shape, and only existing, figuratively
speaking, in the clouds, seemed unlikely to find its way there
in reality until the success of the Nassau adventure stirred
its inventor to strenuous efforts to give it an actual trial.
Thus it came about that he obtained Mr. Green's co-operation in
the attempt he now undertook, and, though this ended
disastrously, for Mr. Cocking, the great professional aeronaut
can in no way soever be blamed for the tragic event.

The date of the trial was in July, 1837. Mr. Cocking's
parachute was totally different in principle from that form
which, as we have seen, had met with a fair measure of success
at the hands of early experimenters; and on the eve of its
trial it was strongly denounced and condemned in the London
Press by the critic whom we have recently so freely quoted, Mr.
Monck Mason.

This able reasoner and aeronaut pointed out that the
contrivance about to be tested aimed at obviating two principal
drawbacks which the parachute had up to that time presented,
namely (1) the length of time which elapses before it becomes
sufficiently expanded, and (2) the oscillatory movement which
accompanies the descent. In this new endeavour the inventor
caused his machine to be fixed rigidly open, and to assume the
shape of an inverted cone. In other words, instead of its
being like an umbrella opened, it rather resembled an umbrella
blown inside out. Taking, then, the shape and dimensions of
Mr. Cocking's structure as a basis for mathematical
calculation, as also its weight, which for required strength he
put at 500 lbs. Mr. Monck Mason estimated that the adventurer
and his machine must attain in falling a velocity of some
twelve miles an hour. In fact, his positive prediction was
that one of two events must inevitably take place. "Either the
parachute would come to the ground with a force incompatible
with the safety of the individual, or should it be attempted to
make it sufficiently light to resist this conclusion, it must
give way beneath the forces which will develop in the descent."

This emphatic word of warning was neglected, and the result of
the terrible experiment can best be gathered from two principal
sources. First, that of a special reporter writing from
terra-firma, and, secondly, that of Mr. Green himself, who
gives his own observations as made from the balloon in which he
took the unfortunate man and his invention into the sky.

The journalist, who first speaks of the enormous concourse that
gathered to see the ascent, not only within Vauxhall Gardens,
but on every vantage ground without, proceeds to tell of his
interview with Mr. Cocking himself, who, when questioned as to
the danger involved, remarked that none existed for him, and
that the greatest peril, if any, would attend the balloon when
suddenly relieved of his weight. The proprietors of the
Gardens, as the hour approached, did their best to dissuade the
over-confident inventor, offering, themselves, to take the
consequences of any public disappointment. This was again
without avail, and so, towards 6 p.m., Mr. Green, accompanied
by Mr. Spencer, a solicitor of whom this history will have more
to tell, entered the balloon, which was then let up about 40
feet that the parachute might be affixed below. A little
later, Mr. Cocking, casting aside his heavy coat and tossing
off a glass of wine, entered his car and, amid deafening
acclamations, with the band playing the National Anthem, the
balloon and aeronauts above, and he himself in his parachute
swinging below, mounted into the heavens, passing presently, in
the gathering dusk, out of view of the Gardens.

The sequel should be gathered from Mr. Green's own narrative.
Previous to starting, 650 lbs. of ballast had to be discarded
to gain buoyancy sufficient to raise the massive machine.
This, together with another 100 lbs., which was also required
to be ejected owing to the cooling of the air, was passed out
through a canvas tube leading downwards through a hole in the
parachute, an ingenious contrivance which would prevent the
sand thrown out from the balloon falling on the slender
structure itself. On quitting the earth, however, this latter
set up such violent oscillations that the canvas tube was torn
away, and then it became the troublesome task of the aeronauts
to make up their ballast into little parcels, and, as occasion
required, to throw these into space clear of the swinging
parachute below.

Despite all efforts, however, it was soon evident that the
cumbersome nature of the huge parachute would prevent its being
carried up quite so high as the inventor desired. Mr. Cocking
had stipulated for an elevation of 7,000 feet, and, as things
were, only 5,000 feet could be reached, at any rate, before
darkness set in. This fact was communicated to Mr. Cocking,
who promptly intimated his intention of leaving, only
requesting to know whereabouts he was, to which query Mr.
Spencer replied that they were on a level with Greenwich. The
brief colloquy that ensued is thus given by Mr. Green:--

"I asked him if he felt quite comfortable, and if the practical
trial bore out his calculation. Mr. Cocking replied, 'Yes, I
never felt more comfortable or more delighted in my life,'
presently adding, 'Well, now I think I shall leave you.' I
answered, 'I wish you a very "Good Night!" and a safe descent
if you are determined to make it and not use the tackle' (a
contrivance for enabling him to retreat up into the balloon if
he desired). Mr. Cocking's only reply was, 'Good-night,
Spencer; Good-night, Green!' Mr. Cocking then pulled the rope
that was to liberate himself, but too feebly, and a moment
afterwards more violently, and in an instant the balloon shot
upwards with the velocity of a sky rocket. The effect upon us
at this moment was almost beyond description. The immense
machine which suspended us between heaven and earth, whilst it
appeared to be forced upwards with terrific violence and
rapidity through unknown and untravelled regions amidst the
howlings of a fearful hurricane, rolled about as though
revelling in a freedom for which it had long struggled, but of
which until that moment it had been kept in utter ignorance.
It, at length, as if somewhat fatigued by its exertions,
gradually assumed the motions of a snake working its way with
extraordinary speed towards a given object. During this
frightful operation the gas was rushing in torrents from the
upper and lower valve, but more particularly from the latter,
as the density of the atmosphere through which we were forcing
our progress pressed so heavily on the valve at the top of the
balloon as to admit of but a comparatively small escape by this
aperture. At this juncture, had it not been for the application
to our mouths of two pipes leading into an air bag, with which
we had furnished ourselves previous to starting, we must within
a minute have been suffocated, and so, but by different means,
have shared the melancholy fate of our friend. This bag was
formed of silk, sufficiently capacious to contain 100 gallons of
atmospheric air. Prior to our ascent, the bag was inflated with
the assistance of a pair of bellows with fifty gallons of air,
so allowing for any expansion which might be produced in the
upper regions. Into the end of this bag were introduced two
flexible tubes, and the moment we felt ourselves to be going up
in the manner just described, Mr. Spencer, as well as myself,
placed either of them in our mouths. By this simple contrivance
we preserved ourselves from instantaneous suffocation, a result
which must have ensued from the apparently endless volume of gas
with which the car was enveloped. The gas, notwithstanding all
our precautions, from the violence of its operation on the human
frame, almost immediately deprived us of sight, and we were
both, as far as our visionary powers were concerned, in a state
of total darkness for four or five minutes."

Messrs. Green and Spencer eventually reached earth in safety
near Maidstone, knowing nothing of the fate of their late
companion. But of this we are sufficiently informed through a
Mr. R. Underwood, who was on horseback near Blackheath and
watching the aeronauts at the moment when the parachute was
separated from the balloon. He noticed that the former
descended with the utmost rapidity, at the same time swaying
fearfully from side to side, until the basket and its occupant,
actually parting from the parachute, fell together to earth
through several hundred feet and were dashed to pieces.

It would appear that the liberation of the parachute from below
the balloon had been carried out without hitch; indeed, all so
far had worked well, and the wind at the time was but a gentle
breeze. The misadventure, therefore, must be entirely
attributed to the faulty manner in which the parachute was
constructed. There could, of course, be only one issue to the
sheer drop from such a height, which became the unfortunate Mr.
Cocking's fate, but the very interesting question will have to
be discussed as to the chances in favour of the aeronaut who,
within his wicker car, while still duly attached to the
balloon, may meet with a precipitate descent.

We may here fitly mention an early perilous experience of Mr.
Green, due simply to the malice of someone never discovered.
It appears that while Green's balloon, previous to an ascent,
was on the ground, the cords attaching the car had been partly
severed in such a way as to escape detection. So that as soon
as the balloon rose the car commenced breaking away, and its
occupants, Mr. Green and Mr. Griffiths, had to clutch at the
ring, to which with difficulty they continued to cling.
Meanwhile, the car remaining suspended by one cord only, the
balloon was caused to hang awry, with the result that its upper
netting began giving way, allowing the balloon proper gradually
to escape through the bursting meshes, thus threatening the
distracted voyagers with terrible disaster. The disaster, in
fact, actually came to pass ere the party completed their
descent, "the balloon, rushing through the opening in the
net-work with a tremendous explosion, and the two passengers
clinging to the rest of the gear, falling through a height said
to be near a hundred feet. Both, though only with much time
and difficulty, recovered from the shock."

In 1840, three years after the tragic adventure connected with
Mr. Cocking's parachute trial, we find Charles Green giving his
views as to the practicability of carrying out a ballooning
enterprise which should far excel all others that had hitherto
been attempted. This was nothing less than the crossing of the
Atlantic from America to England. There is no shadow of doubt
that the adventurous aeronaut was wholly in earnest in the
readiness he expressed to embark on the undertaking should
adequate funds be forthcoming; and he discusses the
possibilities with singular clearness and candour. He
maintains that the actual difficulties resolve themselves into
two only: first, the maintenance of the balloon in the sky for
the requisite period of time; and, secondly, the adequate
control of its direction in space. With respect to the first
difficulty, he points out the fact to which we have already
referred, namely, that it is impossible to avoid the
fluctuations of level in a balloon's course, "by which it
constantly becomes alternately subjected to escape of gas by
expansion, and consequent loss of ballast, to furnish an
equivalent diminution of weight." Taking his own balloon of
80,000 cubic feet by way of example, he shows that this, fully
inflated on the earth, would lose 8,000 cubic feet of gas by
expansion in ascending only 3,000 feet. Moreover, the approach
of night or passage through cloud or falling rain would
occasion chilling of the gas or accumulation of moisture on the
silk, in either case necessitating the loss of ballast, the
store of which is always the true measure of the balloon's

To combat the above difficulty Green sanguinely relies on his
favourite device of a trail or guide rope, whose function,
being that of relieving the balloon of a material weight as it
approaches the earth, could, he supposed, be made to act yet
more efficiently when over the sea in the following manner.
Its length, suspended from the ring, being not less than 2,000
feet, it should have attached at its lower end at certain
intervals a number of small, stout waterproof canvas bags, the
apertures of which should be contrived to admit water, but to
oppose its return. Between these bags were to be conical
floats, to support any length of the rope that might descend on
the sea. Now, should the balloon commence descending, it would
simply deposit a certain portion of rope on the water until it
regained equilibrium at no great decrease of altitude, and
would thus continue its course until alteration of conditions
should cause it to recommence rising, when the weight of water
now collected in the bags would play its part in preventing the
balloon from soaring up into space. With such a contrivance
Green allowed himself to imagine that he could keep a properly
made balloon at practically the same altitude for a period of
three months if required.

The difficulty of maintaining a due course was next discussed,
and somewhat speedily disposed of. Here Green relied on the
results of his own observation, gathered during 275 ascents,
and stated his conviction that there prevails a uniformity of
upper wind currents that would enable him to carry out his bold
projects successfully. His contention is best given in his own

"Under whatever circumstances," he says, "I made my ascent,
however contrary the direction of the winds below, I uniformly
found that at a certain elevation, varying occasionally, but
always within 10,000 feet of the earth, a current from the west
or rather from the north of west, invariably travailed, nor do
I recollect a single instance in which a different result
ensued." Green's complete scheme is now sufficiently evident.
He was to cross the Atlantic practically by the sole assistance
of upper currents and his guide rope, but on this latter
expedient, should adverse conditions prevail, he yet further
relied, for he conceived that the rope could have attached to
its floating end a water drag, which would hold the balloon in
check until favouring gales returned.

Funds, apparently, were not forthcoming to allow of Mr. Green's
putting his bold method to the test; but we find him still
adhering with so much zeal to his project that, five years
later, he made, though again unsuccessfully, a second proposal
to cross the Atlantic by balloon. He still continued to make
many and most enterprising ascents, and one of a specially
sensational nature must be briefly mentioned before we pass on
to regard the exploits of other aeronauts.

It was in 1841 on the occasion of a fete at Cremorne House,
when Mr. Green, using his famous Nassau balloon, ascended with
a Mr. Macdonnell. The wind was blowing with such extreme
violence that Rainham, in Essex, about twenty miles distant,
was reached in little more than a quarter of an hour, and here,
on nearing the earth, the grapnel, finding good hold, gave a
wrench to the balloon that broke the ring and jerked the car
completely upside down, the aeronauts only escaping
precipitation by holding hard to the ropes. A terrific
steeplechase ensued, in which the travellers were dragged
through stout fencing and other obstacles till the balloon,
fairly emptied of gas, finally came to rest, but not until some
severe injuries had been received.


By this period the domination of the air was being pursued in a
fresh part of the world. England and her Continental
neighbours had vied with each in adding to the roll of
conquests, and it could hardly other be supposed that America
would stand by without taking part in the campaign which was
now being revived with so much fresh energy in the skies.

The American champion who stepped forward was Mr. John Wise, of
Lancaster, Pa., whose career, commencing in the year 1835, we
must now for a while follow. Few attempts at ballooning of any
kind had up to that time been made in all America. There is a
record that in December, 1783, Messrs. Rittenhouse and Hopkins,
Members of the Philosophical Academy of Philadelphia,
instituted experiments with an aerial machine consisting of a
cage to which forty-seven small balloons were harnessed. In
this strange craft a carpenter, by name Wilcox, was induced to
ascend, which, it is said, he did successfully, remaining in
the air for ten minutes, when, finding himself near a river, he
sought to come to earth again by opening several of his
balloons. This brought about an awkward descent, attended,
however, by no more serious accident than a dislocated wrist.
Mr. Wise, on the other hand, states that Blanchard had won the
distinction of making the first ascent in the New World in 1793
in Philadelphia on which occasion Washington was a spectator;
and a few years afterwards other Frenchmen gave ex hibitions,
which, however, led to no real development of the new art on
this, the further side of the Atlantic. Thus the endeavours we
are about to describe were those of an independent and, at the
same time, highly, practical experimentalist, and on this
account have a special value of their own.

The records that Wise has left of his investigations begin at
the earliest stage, and possess the charm of an obvious and
somewhat quaint reality. They commence with certain crude
calculations which would seem to place no limit to the
capabilities of a balloon. Thus, he points out that one of
"the very moderate size of 400 feet diameter" would convey
13,000 men. "No wonder, then," he continues, "the citizens of
London became alarmed during the French War, when they mistook
the appearance of a vast flock of birds coming towards the
Metropolis for Napoleon's army apparently coming down upon them
with this new contrivance."

Proceeding to practical measures, Wise's first care was to
procure some proper material of which to build an experimental
balloon of sufficient size to lift and convey himself alone.
For this he chose ordinary long-cloth, rendered gas-tight by
coats of suitable varnish, the preparation of which became with
him, as, indeed, it remains to this day, a problem of chief
importance and difficulty. Perhaps it hardly needs pointing
out that the varnish of a balloon must not only be sufficiently
elastic not to crack or scale off with folding or unavoidable
rough usage, but it must also be of a nature to resist the
common tendency of such substances to become adherent or
"tacky." Wise determined on bird lime thinned with linseed oil
and ordinary driers. With this preparation he coated his
material several times both before and after the making up, and
having procured a net, of which he speaks with pride, and a
primitive sort of car, of which he bitterly complains, he
thought himself sufficiently equipped to embark on an actual
ascent, which he found a task of much greater practical
difficulty than the mere manufacture of his air ship. For the
inflation by hydrogen of so small a balloon as his was he made
more than ample provision in procuring no less than fifteen
casks of 130 gallons capacity each. He also duly secured a
suitable filling ground at the corner of Ninth and Green
Streets, Philadelphia, but he made a miscalculation as to the
time the inflation would demand, and this led to unforeseen
complications, for as yet he knew not the way of a crowd which
comes to witness a balloon ascent.

Having all things in readiness, and prudently waiting for fair
weather, he embarked on his grand experiment on the 2nd of May,
1835, announcing 4 p.m. as the hour of departure. But by that
time the inflation, having only proceeded for three hours, the
balloon was but half full, and then the populace began to
behave as in such circumstances they always will. They were
incredulous, and presently grew troublesome. In vain the
harnessing of the car was proceeded with as though all were
well. For all was not well, and when the aeronaut stepped into
his car with only fifteen pounds of sand and a few instruments
he must have done so with much misgiving. Still, he had friends
around who might have been useful had they been less eager to
help. But these simply crowded round him, giving him no elbow
room, nor opportunity for trying the "lift" of his
all-too-empty globe. Moreover, some would endeavour to throw
the machine upward, while others as strenuously strove to keep
it down, and at last the former party prevailed, and the
balloon, being fairly cast into the air, grazed a neighbouring
chimney and then plunged into an adjacent plot, not, however,
before the distracted traveller had flung away all his little
stock of sand. There now was brief opportunity for free
action, and to the first bystander who came running up Wise
gave the task of holding the car in check. To the next he
handed out his instruments, his coat, and also his boots,
hoping thus to get away; but his chance had not yet come, for
once again the crowd swarmed round him, keeping him prisoner
with good-natured but mistaken interference, and drowning his
voice with excited shouting. Somehow, by word and gesture, he
gave his persecutors to understand that he wished to speak, and
then he begged them only to give him a chance, whereupon the
crowd fell back, forming a ring, and leaving only one man
holding the car. It was a moment of suspense, for Wise
calculated that he had only parted with some eighteen pounds
since his first ineffectual start from the filling ground; but
it was enough, and in another moment he was sailing up clear
above the crowd. So great, as has been already shewn, is often
the effect of parting with the last few pounds of dead weight
in a well-balanced balloon.

Such was the first "send off" of the future great balloonist,
destined to become the pioneer in aeronautics on the far side
of the Atlantic. The balloon ascended to upwards of a mile,
floating gradually away, but at its highest point it reached a
conflict of currents, causing eddies from which Wise escaped by
a slight decrease of weight, effected by merely cutting away
the wreaths of flowers that were tied about his car. A further
small substitute for ballast he extemporised in the metal tube
inserted in the neck of his fabric, and this he cast out when
over the breadth of the Delaware, and he describes it as
falling with a rustling sound, and striking the water with a
splash plainly heard at more than a mile in the sky. After an
hour and a quarter the balloon spontaneously and steadily
settled to earth.

An ascent carried out later in the same summer led to a mishap,
which taught the young aeronaut an all-important lesson. Using
the same balloon and the same mode of inflation, he got safely
and satisfactorily away from his station in the town of
Lebanon, Pa., and soon found himself over a toll gate in the
open country, where the gate keeper in banter called up to him
for his due. To this summons Wise, with heedless alacrity,
responded in a manner which might well have cost him dear. He
threw out a bag of sand to represent his toll, and, though he
estimated this at only six pounds, it so greatly accelerated
his ascent that he shortly found himself at a greater altitude
than he ever after attained. He passed through mist into upper
sunshine, where he experienced extreme cold and ear-ache, at
which time, seeking the natural escape from such trouble, he
found to his dismay that the valve rope was out of reach. Thus
he was compelled to allow the balloon to ascend yet higher, at
its own will; and then a terrible event happened.

By mischance the neck of his balloon, which should have been
open, was out of reach and folded inwards in such a way as to
prevent the free escape of the gas, which, at this great
altitude, struggled for egress with a loud humming noise,
giving him apprehensions of an accident which very shortly
occurred, namely, the bursting of the lower part of his balloon
with a loud report. It happened, however, that no extreme loss
of gas ensued, and he commenced descending with a speed which,
though considerable, was not very excessive. Still, he was
eager to alight in safety, until a chance occurrence made him a
second time that afternoon guilty of an act of boyish
impetuosity. A party of volunteers firing a salute in his
honour as he neared the ground, he instantly flung out papers,
ballast, anything he could lay his hands on, and once again
soared to a great height with his damaged balloon. He could
then do no more, and presently subsiding to earth again, he
acquired the welcome knowledge that even in such precarious
circumstances a balloon may make a long fall with safety to its

Mr. Wise's zeal and indomitable spirit of enterprise led to
speedy developments of the art which he had espoused; the road
to success being frequently pointed out by failure or mishap.
He quickly discarded the linen balloon for one of silk on which
he tried a new varnish composed of linseed oil and
india-rubber, and, dressing several gores with this, he rolled
them up and left them through a night in a drying loft, with
the result that the next day they were disintegrated and on the
point of bursting into flame by spontaneous combustion. Fresh
silk and other varnish were then tried, but with indifferent
success. Next he endeavoured to dispense with sewing, and
united the gores of yet another balloon by the mere
adhesiveness of the varnish and application of a hot iron.
This led to a gaping seam developing at the moment of an
ascent, and then there followed a hasty and hazardous descent
on a house-top and an exciting rescue by a gentleman who
appeared opportunely at a third storey window. Further,
another balloon had been destroyed, and Wise badly burned, at a
descent, owing to a naked light having been brought near the
escaping gas. It is then without wonder that we find him after
this temporarily bankrupt, and resorting to his skill in
instrument-making to recover his fortunes. Only, however, for
a few months, after which he is before the public once more as
a professional aeronaut. He now adopts coal gas for inflation,
and incidents of an impressive nature crowd into his career,
forcing important facts upon him. The special characteristics
of his own country present peculiar difficulties; broad rivers
and vast forests become serious obstacles. He is caught in the
embrace of a whirlwind; he narrowly escapes falling into a
forest fire; he is precipitated, but harmlessly, into a pine
wood. Among other experiments, he makes a small copy of Mr.
Cocking's parachute, and drops it to earth with a cat as
passenger, proving thereby that that unfortunate gentleman's
principle was really less in fault than the actual slenderness
of the material used in his machine.

We now approach one of Wise's boldest, and at the same time
most valuable, experiments. It was the summer of 1839, and
once again the old trouble of spontaneous combustion had
destroyed a silk balloon which was to have ascended at Easton,
Pa. Undeterred, however, Wise resolutely advertised a fresh
attempt, and, with only a clear month before the engagement,
determined on hastily rigging up a cambric muslin balloon,
soaking it in linseed oil and essaying the best exhibition that
this improvised experiment could afford. It was intended to
become a memorable one, inasmuch as, should he meet with no
hindrance, his determination was nothing less than that of
bursting this balloon at a great height, having firmly
convinced himself that the machine in these circumstances would
form itself into a natural parachute, and bring him to earth
with every chance in favour of safety. In his own words,
"Scientific calculations were on his side with a certainty as
great and principles as comprehensive as that a
pocket-handkerchief will not fall as rapidly to the ground when
thrown out of a third storey window as will a brick."

His balloon was specially contrived for the experiment in hand,
having cords sewn to the upper parts of its seams, and then led
down through the neck, where they were secured within reach,
their office being that of rending the whole head of the
balloon should this be desired. On this occasion a cat and a
dog were taken up, one of these being let fall from a height of
2,000 feet in a Cocking's parachute, and landing in safety, the
other being similarly dismissed at an altitude of 4,000 feet in
an oiled silk balloon made in the form of a collapsed balloon,
which, after falling a little distance, expanded sufficiently
to allow of its descending with a safe though somewhat
vibratory motion. Its behaviour, at any rate, fully determined
Wise on carrying out his own experiment.

Being constructed entirely for the main object in view, the
balloon had no true opening in the neck beyond an orifice of
about an inch, and by the time a height of 13,000 feet had been
reached the gas was streaming violently through this small
hole, the entire globe being expanded nearly to bursting point,
and the cords designed for rending the balloon very tense. At
this critical period Wise owns to having experienced
considerable nervous excitement, and observing far down a
thunderstorm in progress he began to waver in his mind, and
inclined towards relieving the balloon of its strain, and so
abandoning his experiment, at least for the present. He
remembers pulling out his watch to make a note of the hour,
and, while thus occupied, the straining cords, growing tenser
every moment, suddenly took charge of the experiment and burst
the balloon of their own accord. The gas now rushed from the
huge rent above tumultuously and in some ten seconds had
entirely escaped, causing the balloon to descend rapidly, until
the lower part of the muslin, doubling in upwards, formed a
species of parachute after the manner intended. The balloon
now came down with zig-zag descent, and finally the car,
striking the earth obliquely, tossed its occupant out into a
field unharmed. Shortly after this Wise experimented with
further success with an exploded balloon.

It is not a little remarkable that this pioneer of aeronautics
in American--a contemporary of Charles Green in England, but
working and investigating single-handed on perfectly
independent lines--should have arrived at the same conclusions
as did Green himself as to the possibility, which, in his
opinion, amounted to a certainty, of being able to cross the
Atlantic by balloon if only adequate funds were forth-coming.
So intent was he on his bold scheme that, in the summer of
1843, he handed to the Lancaster Intelligencer a proclamation,
which he desired might be conveyed to all publishers of
newspapers on the globe. It contained, among other clauses,
the following:--

"Having from a long experience in aeronautics been convinced
that a constant and regular current of air is blowing at all
times from west to east, with a velocity of from twenty to
forty and even sixty miles per hour, according to its height
from the earth, and having discovered a composition which
renders silk or muslin impervious to hydrogen gas, so that a
balloon may be kept afloat for many weeks, I feel confident
with these advantages that a trip across the Atlantic will not
be attended with as much real danger as by the common mode of
transition. The balloon is to be 100 feet in diameter, giving
it a net ascending power of 25,000 lbs." It was further stated
that the crew would consist of three persons, including a sea
navigator, and a scientific landsman. The specifications for
the transatlantic vessel were also to include a seaworthy boat
in place of the ordinary car. The sum requisite for this
enterprise was, at the time, not realised; but it should be
mentioned that several years later a sufficient sum of money
was actually subscribed. In the summer of 1873 the proprietors
of the New York Daily Graphic provided for the construction of
a balloon of no less than 400,000 cubic feet capacity, and
calculated to lift 14,000 lbs. It was, however, made of bad
material; and, becoming torn in inflation, Wise condemned and
declined to use it. A few months later, when it had been
repaired, one Donaldson and two other adventurers, attempting a
voyage with this ill-formed monster, ascended from New York,
and were fortunate in coming down safely, though not without
peril, somewhere in Connecticut.

Failing in his grand endeavour, Wise continued to follow the
career of a professional aeronaut for some years longer, of
which he has left a full record, terminating with the spring of
1848. His ascents were always marked by carefulness of detail,
and a coolness and courage in trying circumstances that secured
him uniform success and universal regard. He was, moreover,
always a close and intelligent observer, and many of his
memoranda are of scientific value.

His description of an encounter with a storm-cloud in the June
of 1843 has an interest of its own, and may not be considered
overdrawn. It was an ascent from Carlisle, Pa., to celebrate
the anniversary of Bunker's Hill, and Wise was anxious to
gratify the large concourse of people assembled, and thus was
tempted, soon after leaving the ground, to dive up into a huge
black cloud of peculiarly forbidding aspect. This cloud
appeared to remain stationary while he swept beneath it, and,
having reached its central position, he observed that its under
surface was concave towards the earth, and at that moment he
became swept upwards in a vortex that set his balloon spinning
and swinging violently, while he himself was afflicted with
violent nausea and a feeling of suffocation. The cold
experienced now became intense, and the cordage became glazed
with ice, yet this had no effect in checking the upward
whirling of the balloon. Sunshine was beyond the upper limits
of the cloud; but this was no sooner reached than the balloon,
escaping from the uprush, plunged down several hundred feet,
only to be whirled up again, and this reciprocal motion was
repeated eight or ten times during an interval of twenty
minutes, in all of which time no expenditure of gas or
discharge of ballast enabled the aeronaut to regain any control
over his vessel.

Statements concerning a thunderstorm witnessed at short range
by Wise will compare with other accounts. The thunder
"rattled" without any reverberations, and when the storm was
passing, and some dense clouds moving in the upper currents,
the "surface of the lower stratum swelled up suddenly like a
boiling cauldron, which was immediately followed by the most
brilliant ebullition of sparkling coruscations." Green, in his
stormy ascent from Newbury, England, witnessed a thunderstorm
below him, as will be remembered, while an upper cloud stratum
lay at his own level. It was then that Green observed that "at
every discharge of thunder all the detached pillars of clouds
within the distance of a mile around became attracted."

The author will have occasion, in due place, to give personal
experiences of an encounter with a thunderstorm which will
compare with the foregoing description.


Before proceeding to introduce the chief actors and their
achievements in the period next before us, it will be
instructive to glance at some of the principal ideas and
methods in favour with aeronauts up to the date now reached.
It will be seen that Wise in America, contrary to the practice
of Green in our own country, had a strong attachment to the
antique mode of inflation with hydrogen prepared by the
vitriolic process; and his balloons were specially made and
varnished for the use of this gas. The advantage which he thus
bought at the expense of much trouble and the providing of
cumbersome equipment was obvious enough, and may be well
expressed by a formula which holds good to-day, namely, that
whereas 1,000 cubic feet of hydrogen is capable of lifting 7
lbs., the same quantity of coal gas of ordinary quality will
raise but 35 lbs. The lighter gas came into all Wise's
calculations for bolder schemes. Thus, when he discusses the
possibility of using a metal balloon, his figures work out as
follows: If a balloon of 200 feet diameter were constructed
out of copper, weighing one pound to the square foot; if,
moreover, some six tons were allowed for the weight of car and
fastenings, an available lifting power would remain capable of
raising 45 tons to an altitude of two miles. This calculation
may appear somewhat startling, yet it is not only substantially
correct, but Wise entertained no doubt as to the practicability
of such a machine. For its inflation he suggests inserting a
muslin balloon filled with air within the copper globe, and
then passing hydrogen gas between the muslin and copper
surfaces, which would exclude the inner balloon as the copper
one filled up.

His method of preparing hydrogen was practically that still
adopted in the field, and seems in his hands to have been
seldom attended with difficulty. With eight common 130-gallon
rum puncheons he could reckon on evolving 5,000 cubic feet of
gas in an hour, using his elements in the following
proportions: water, 560 lbs.; sulphuric acid (sp. g. 1.85),
144 lbs.; iron turnings, 125 lbs. The gas, as given off, was
cooled and purified by being passed through a head of water
kept cool and containing lime in solution. Contrasted with
this, we find it estimated, according to the practice of this
time, that a ton of good bituminous coal should yield 10,000
cubic feet of carburetted hydrogen fit for lighting purposes,
and a further quantity which, though useless as an illuminant,
is still of excellent quality for the aeronaut.

It would even seem from a statement of Mr. Monck Mason that the
value of coke in his day largely compensated for the cost of
producing coal gas, so that in a large number of Green's
ascents no charge whatever was made for gas by the companies
that supplied him.

Some, at least, of the methods formerly recommended for the
management of free balloons must in these days be modified.
Green, as we have seen, was in favour of a trail rope of
inordinate length, which he recommended both as an aid to
steering and for a saving of ballast. In special
circumstances, and more particularly over the sea, this may be
reckoned a serviceable adjunct, but over land its use, in this
country at least, would be open to serious objection. The
writer has seen the consternation, not to say havoc, that a
trail rope may occasion when crossing a town, or even private
grounds, and the actual damage done to a garden of hops, or to
telegraph or telephone wires, may be very serious indeed.
Moreover, the statement made by some early practitioners that a
trail rope will not catch so as to hold fast in a wood or the
like, is not to be relied on, for an instance could be
mentioned coming under the writer's knowledge where such a rope
was the source of so much trouble in a high wind that it had to
be cut away.

The trouble arose in this way. The rope dragged harmlessly
enough along the open ground. It would, likewise, negotiate
exceedingly well a single tree or a whole plantation, catching
and releasing itself with only such moderate tugs at the car as
were not disturbing; but, presently, its end, which had been
caught and again released by one tree, swung free in air
through a considerable gap to another tree, where, striking a
horizontal bough, it coiled itself several times around, and
thus held the balloon fast, which now, with the strength of the
wind, was borne to the earth again and again, rebounding high
in air after each impact, until freedom was gained only by the
sacrifice of a portion of the rope.

Wise recommends a pendant line of 600 or 800 feet, capable of
bearing a strain of 100 lbs., and with characteristic
ingenuity suggests a special use which can be made of it,
namely, that of having light ribbons tied on at every hundred
feet, by means of which the drifts of lower currents may be
detected. In this suggestion there is, indeed, a great deal of
sound sense; for there is, as will be shown hereafter, very
much value to be attached to a knowledge of those air rivers
that are flowing, often wholly unsuspected, at various heights.
Small parachutes, crumpled paper, and other such-like bodies as
are commonly thrown out and relied on to declare the lower
drifts, are not wholly trustworthy, for this reason--that
air-streams are often very slender, mere filaments, as they are
sometimes called, and these, though setting in some definite
direction, and capable of entrapping and wafting away some
small body which may come within their influence, may not
affect the travel of so big an object as a balloon, which can
only partake of some more general air movement.

Wise, by his expedient of tying ribbons at different points to
his trail rope, would obtain much more correct and constant
information respecting those general streams through which the
pendant rope was moving. A similar expedient adopted by the
same ingenious aeronaut is worthy of imitation, namely, that of
tying ribbons on to a rod projecting laterally from the car.
These form a handy and constant telltale as to the flight of
the balloon, for should they be fluttering upwards the sky
sailor at once knows that his craft is descending, and that he
must act accordingly.

The material, pure silk, which was universally adopted up to
and after the period we are now regarding, is not on every
account to be reckoned the most desirable. In the first place,
its cost alone is prohibitive, and next, although lighter than
any kind of linen, strength for strength, it requires a greater
weight of varnish, which, moreover, it does not take so kindly
as does fabric made of vegetable tissue. Further, paradoxical
as it may appear,its great strength is not entirely an
advantage. There are occasions which must come into the
experience of every zealous aeronaut when his balloon has
descended in a rough wind, and in awkward country. This may,
indeed, happen even when the ascent has been made in calm.
Squalls of wind may spring up at short notice, or after
traversing only two or three counties a strong gale may be
found on the earth, though such was absent in the starting
ground. This is more particularly the case when the landing
chances to be on high ground in the neighbourhood of the sea.
In these circumstances, the careful balloonist, who will
generally be forewarned by the ruffle on any water he may pass,
or by the drift of smoke, the tossing of trees, or by their
very rustling or "singing" wafted upwards to him, will, if
possible, seek for his landing place the lee of a wood or some
other sheltered spot. But, even with all his care, he will
sometimes find himself, on reaching earth, being dragged
violently across country on a mad course which the anchor
cannot check. Now, the country through which he is making an
unwilling steeplechase may be difficult, or even dangerous.
Rivers, railway cuttings, or other undesirable obstacles may
lie ahead, or, worse yet, such a death trap as in such
circumstances almost any part of Derbyshire affords, with its
stone walls, its precipitous cliffs, and deep rocky dells. To
be dragged at the speed of an express train through territory
of this description will presently mean damage to something,
perhaps to telegraph poles, to roofs, or crops, and if not,
then to the balloon itself. Something appertaining to it must
be victimised, and it is in all ways best that this should be
the fabric of the balloon itself. If made of some form, or at
least some proportion of linen, this will probably rend ere
long, and, allowing the gas to escape, will soon bring itself
to rest. On the other hand, if the balloon proper is a silk
one, with sound net and in good condition, it is probable that
something else will give way first, and that something may
prove to be the hapless passenger or passengers.

And here be it laid down as one first and all-important
principle, that in any such awkward predicament as that just
described, if there be more than one passenger aboard, let none
attempt to get out. In the first place, he may very probably
break a limb in so doing, inasmuch as the tangle of the ropes
will not allow of his getting cut readily; or, when actually on
the ground, he may be caught and impaled by the anchor charging
and leaping behind. But, worse than all, he may, in any case,
jeopardise the lives of his companions, who stand in need of
all the available weight and help that the car contains up to
the moment Of coming to final rest.

We have already touched on the early notions as to the means of
steering a balloon. Oars had been tested without satisfactory
result, and the conception of a rotary screw found favour among
theorists at this time, the principle being actually tried with
success in working models, which, by mechanical means, could be
made to flit about in the still air of the lecture room; but
the only feasible method advocated was that already alluded to,
which depended on the undesirable action of a trail rope
dragging over the ground or through water. The idea was, of
course, perfectly practical, and was simply analogous to the
method adopted by sailors, who, when floating with the stream
but without wind, are desirous of gaining "steerage way."
While simply drifting with the flood, they are unable to guide
their vessel in any way, and this, in practice, is commonly
effected by simply propelling the vessel faster than the
stream, in which case the rudder at once becomes available.
But the same result is equally well obtained by slowing the
vessel, and this is easily accomplished by a cable, with a
small anchor or other weight attached, dragging below the
vessel. This cable is essentially the same as the guide-rope
of the older aeronauts.

It is when we come to consider the impressions and sensations
described by sky voyagers of bygone times that we find them
curiously at variance with our own. As an instance, we may
state that the earth, as seen from a highflying balloon, used
to be almost always described as appearing concave, or like a
huge basin, and ingenious attempts were made to prove
mathematically that this must be so. The laws of refraction
are brought in to prove the fact; or, again, the case is stated
thus: Supposing the extreme horizon to be seen when the
balloon is little more than a mile high, the range of view on
all sides will then be, roughly, some eighty miles. If, then,
a line were drawn from the aerial observer to this remote
distance, that line would be almost horizontal; so nearly so
that he cannot persuade himself that his horizon is otherwise
than still on a level with his eye; yet the earth below him
lies, as it seems, at the bottom of a huge gulf. Thus the
whole visible earth appears as a vast bowl or basin. This is
extremely ingenious reasoning, and not to be disregarded; but
the fact remains that in the experience of the writer and of
many others whom he has consulted, there is no such optical
illusion as I have just discussed, and to their vision it is
impossible to regard the earth as anything but uniformly flat.

Another impression invariably insisted on by early balloonists
is that the earth, on quitting it, appears to drop away into an
abyss, leaving the voyagers motionless, and this illusion must,
indeed, be probably universal. It is the same illusion as the
apparent gliding backwards of objects to a traveller in a
railway carriage; only in this latter case the rattling and
shaking of the carriage helps the mind to grasp the real fact
that the motion belongs to the train itself; whereas it is
otherwise with a balloon, whose motion is so perfectly smooth
as to be quite imperceptible.

Old ideas, formed upon insufficient observations, even if
erroneous, were slow to die. Thus it used to be stated that an
upper cloud floor adapted itself to the contour of the land
over which it rested, giving what Mr. Monck Mason has called a
"phrenological estimate" of the character of the earth below;
the clouds, "even when under the influence of rapid motion,
seeming to accommodate themselves to all variations of form in
the surface of the subjacent soil, rising with its prominences
and sinking with its depressions." Probably few aeronauts of
the present time will accept the statement.

It used commonly to be asserted, and is so often to this day,
that a feeling as of sea-sickness is experienced in balloon
travel, and the notion has undoubtedly arisen from the
circumstances attending an ascent in a captive balloon. It
were well, now that ballooning bids fair to become popular, to
disabuse the public mind of such a wholly false idea. The
truth is that a balloon let up with a lengthy rope and held
captive will, with a fitful breeze, pitch and sway in a manner
which may induce all the unpleasant feelings attending a rough
passage at sea. It may do worse, and even be borne to earth
with a puff of wind which may come unexpectedly, and
considerably unsettle the nerves of any holiday passenger. I
could tell of a "captive" that had been behaving itself
creditably on a not very settled day suddenly swooping over a
roadway and down into public gardens, where it lay
incontinently along the ground, and then, before the astonished
passengers could attempt to alight, it was seized with another
mood, and, mounting once again majestically skyward, submitted
to be hauled down with all becoming grace and ease. It is
owing to their vagaries and want of manageability that, as will
be shown, "captives" are of uncertain use in war. On the other
hand, a free balloon is exempt from such disadvantages, and at
moderate heights not the smallest feeling of nausea is ever
experienced. The only unpleasant sensation, and that not of
any gravity, ever complained of, is a peculiar tension in the
ears experienced in a rapid ascent, or more often, perhaps, in
a descent. The cause, which is trivial and easily removed,
should be properly understood, and cannot be given in clearer
language than that used by Professor Tyndall:--"Behind the
tympanic membrane exists a cavity--the drum of the ear--in part
crossed by a series of bones, and in part occupied by air.
This cavity communicates with the mouth by means of a duct
called the Eustachian tube. This tube is generally closed, the
air space behind the tympanic membrane being thus cut off from
the external air. If, under these circumstances, the external
air becomes denser, it will press the tympanic membrane
inwards; if, on the other hand, the air on the other side
becomes rarer, while the Eustachian tube becomes closed, the
membrane will be pressed outwards. Pain is felt in both cases,
and partial deafness is experienced.... By the act of swallowing
the Eustachian tube is opened, and thus equilibrium is
established between the external and internal pressure."

Founded on physical facts more or less correct in themselves,
come a number of tales of olden days, which are at least more
marvellous than credible, the following serving as an example.
The scientific truth underlying the story is the well-known
expedient of placing a shrivelled apple under the receiver of
an air pump. As the air becomes rarefied the apple swells,
smooths itself out, and presently becomes round and rosy as it
was in the summer time. It is recorded that on one occasion a
man of mature years made an ascent, accompanied by his son,
and, after reaching some height, the youth remarked on how
young his father was looking. They still continued to ascend,
and the same remark was repeated more than once. And at last,
having now reached attenuated regions, the son cried in
astonishment, "Why, dad, you ought to be at school!" The cause
of this remark was that in the rarefied air all the wrinkles
had come out of the old man's face, and his cheeks were as
chubby as his son's.

This discussion of old ideas should not be closed without
mention of a plausible plea for the balloon made by Wise and
others on the score of its value to health. Lofty ascents have
proved a strain on even robust constitutions--the heart may
begin to suffer, or ills akin to mountain sickness may
intervene before a height equal to that of our loftiest
mountain is reached. But many have spoken of an exhilaration
of spirits not inferior to that of the mountaineer, which is
experienced, and without fatigue, in sky voyages reasonably
indulged in--of a light-heartedness, a glow of health, a
sharpened appetite, and the keen enjoyment of mere existence.
Nay, it has been seriously affirmed that "more good may be got
by the invalid in an hour or two while two miles up on a fine
summer's day than is to be gained in an entire voyage from New
York to Madeira by sea."


Resuming the roll of progressive aeronauts in England whose
labours were devoted to the practical conquest of the air, and
whose methods and mechanical achievements mark the road of
advance by which the successes of to-day have been obtained,
there stand out prominently two individuals, of whom one has
already received mention in these pages.

The period of a single life is seldom sufficient to allow within
its span the full development of any new departure in art or
science, and it cannot, therefore, be wondered at if Charles
Green, though reviving and re-modelling the art of ballooning in
our own country, even after an exceptionally long and successful
career, left that pursuit to which he had given new birth
virtually still in its infancy.

The year following that in which Green conducted the famous
Nassau voyage we find him experimenting in the same balloon
with his chosen friend and colleague, Edward Spencer,
solicitor, of Barnsbury, who, only nine years later, compiles
memoranda of thirty-four ascents, made under every variety of
circumstance, many being of a highly enterprising nature. We
find him writing enthusiastically of the raptures he
experienced when sailing over London in night hours, of lofty
ascents and extremely low temperatures, of speeding
twenty-eight miles in twenty minutes, of grapnel ropes
breaking, and of a cross-country race of four miles through
woods and hedges. Such was Mr. Spencer the elder, and if
further evidence were needed of his practical acquaintance
with, as well as personal devotion to, his adopted profession
of aeronautics, we have it in the store of working calculations
and other minutiae of the craft, most carefully compiled in
manuscript by his own hand; these memoranda being to this day
constantly consulted by his grandsons, the present eminent
aeronauts, Messrs. Spencer Brothers, as supplying a manual of
reliable data for the execution of much of the most important
parts of their work.

In the terrific ordeal and risk entailed by the daring and
fatal parachute descent of Cocking, Green required an assistant
of exceptional nerve and reliability, and, as has been
recorded, his choice at once fell on Edward Spencer. In this
choice it has already been shown that he was well justified,
and in the trying circumstances that ensued Green frankly owns
that it was his competent companion who was the first to
recover himself. A few years later, when a distinguished
company, among whom were Albert Smith and Shirley Brooks, made
a memorable ascent from Cremorne, Edward Spencer is one of the
select party.

Some account of this voyage should be given, and it need not be
said that no more graphic account is to be found than that
given by the facile pen of Albert Smith himself. His personal
narrative also forms an instructive contrast to another which
he had occasion to give to the world shortly afterwards, and
which shall be duly noticed. The enthusiastic writer first
describes, with apparent pride, the company that ascended with
him. Besides Mr. Shirley Brooks, there were Messrs. Davidson,
of the Garrick Club; Mr. John Lee, well known in theatrical
circles; Mr. P. Thompson, of Guy's Hospital, and others--ten
in all, including Charles Green as skipper, and Edward Spencer,
who, sitting in the rigging, was entrusted with the
all-important management of the valve rope.

"The first sensation experienced," Albert Smith continues, "was
not that we were rising, but that the balloon remained fixed,
whilst all the world below was rapidly falling away; while the
cheers with which they greeted our departure grew fainter, and
the cheerers themselves began to look like the inmates of many
sixpenny Noah's Arks grouped upon a billiard table.... Our
hats would have held millions.... And most strange is the roar
of the city as it comes surging into the welkin as though the
whole metropolis cheered you with one voice.... Yet none
beyond the ordinary passengers are to be seen. The noise is as
inexplicable as the murmur in the air at hot summer noontide."

The significance of this last remark will be insisted on when
the writer has to tell his own experiences aloft over London,
as also a note to the effect that there were seen "large
enclosed fields and gardens and pleasure grounds where none
were supposed to exist by ordinary passengers." Another
interesting note, having reference to a once familiar feature
on the river, now disappearing, related to the paddle boats of
those days, the steamers making a very beautiful effect,
"leaving two long wings of foam behind them similar to the
train of a table rocket." Highly suggestive, too, of the
experiences of railway travellers in the year 1847 is the
account of the alighting, which, by the way, was obviously of
no very rude nature. "Every time," says the writer, "the
grapnel catches in the ground the balloon is pulled up suddenly
with a shock that would soon send anybody from his seat, a jerk
like that which occurs when fresh carriages are brought up to a
railway train." But the concluding paragraph in this rosy
narrative affords another and a very notable contrast to the
story which that same writer had occasion to put on record
before that same year had passed.

"We counsel everybody to go up in a balloon... In spite of the
apparent frightful fragility of cane and network nothing can in
reality be more secure... The stories of pressure on the ears,
intense cold, and the danger of coming down are all
fictions.... Indeed, we almost wanted a few perils to give a
little excitement to the trip, and have some notion, if
possible, of going up the next time at midnight with fireworks
in a thunderstorm, throwing away all the ballast, fastening
down the valve, and seeing where the wind will send us."

The fireworks, the thunderstorm, and the throwing away of
ballast, all came off on the 15th of the following October,
when Albert Smith made his second ascent, this time from
Vauxhall Gardens, under the guidance of Mr. Gypson, and
accompanied by two fellow-passengers. Fireworks, which were to
be displayed when aloft, were suspended on a framework forty
feet below the car. Lightning was also playing around as they
cast off. The description which Albert Smith gives of London
by night as seen from an estimated elevation of 4,000 feet,
should be compared with other descriptions that will be given
in these pages:--

"In the obscurity all traces of houses and enclosures are lost
sight of. I can compare it to nothing else than floating over
dark blue and boundless sea spangled with hundreds of thousands
of stars. These stars were the lamps. We could see them
stretching over the river at the bridges, edging its banks,
forming squares and long parallel lines of light in the streets
and solitary parks. Further and further apart until they were
altogether lost in the suburbs. The effect was bewildering."

At 7,000 feet, one of the passengers, sitting in the ring,
remarked that the balloon was getting very tense, and the order
was given to "ease her" by opening the top valve. The valve
line was accordingly pulled, "and immediately afterwards we
heard a noise similar to the escape of steam in a locomotive,
and the lower part of the balloon collapsed rapidly, and
appeared to fly up into the upper portion. At the same instant
the balloon began to fall with appalling velocity, the immense
mass of loose silk surging and rustling frightfully over our
heads.... retreating up away from us more and more into the
head of the balloon. The suggestion was made to throw
everything over that might lighten the balloon. I had two
sandbags in my lap, which were cast away directly.... There
were several large bags of ballast, and some bottles of wine,
and these were instantly thrown away, but no effect was
perceptible. The wind still appeared to be rushing up past us
at a fearful rate, and, to add to the horror, we came among the
still expiring discharge of the fireworks which floated in the
air, so that little bits of exploded cases and touch-paper,
still incandescent, attached themselves to the cordage of the
balloon and were blown into sparks.... I presume we must have
been upwards of a mile from the earth.... How long we were
descending I have not the slightest idea, but two minutes must
have been the outside.... We now saw the houses, the roofs of
which appeared advancing to meet us, and the next instant, as
we dashed by their summits, the words, 'Hold hard!' burst
simultaneously from all the party.... We were all directly
thrown out of the car along the ground, and, incomprehensible
as it now appears to me, nobody was seriously hurt."

But "not so incomprehensible, after all," will be the verdict
of all who compare the above narrative with the ascents given
in a foregoing account of how Wise had fared more than once
when his balloon had burst. For, as will be readily guessed,
the balloon had in this case also burst, owing to the release
of the upper valve being delayed too long, and the balloon had
in the natural way transformed itself into a true parachute.
Moreover, the fall, which, by Albert Smith's own showing, was
that of about a mile in two minutes, was not more excessive
than one which will presently be recorded of Mr. Glaisher, who
escaped with no material injury beyond a few bruises.

One fact has till now been omitted with regard to the above
sensational voyage, namely, the name of the passenger who,
sitting in the ring, was the first to point out the imminent
danger of the balloon. This individual was none other than Mr.
Henry Coxwell, the second, indeed, of the two who were
mentioned in the opening paragraph of this chapter as marking
the road of progress which it is the scope of these pages to
trace, and to whom we must now formally introduce our readers.

This justly famous sky pilot, whose practical acquaintance with
ballooning extends over more than forty years, was the son of a
naval officer residing near Chatham, and in his autobiography
he describes enthusiastically how, a lad of nine years old, he
watched through a sea telescope a balloon, piloted by Charles
Green, ascend from Rochester and, crossing the Thames,
disappear in distance over the Essex flats. He goes on to
describe how the incident started him in those early days on
boyish endeavours to construct fire balloons and paper
parachutes. Some years later his home, on the death of his
father, being transferred to Eltham, he came within frequent
view of such balloons as, starting from the neighbourhood of
London, will through the summer drift with the prevailing winds
over that part of Kent. And it was here that, ere long, he
came in at the death of another balloon of which Green was in

And from this time onwards the schoolboy with the strange hobby
was constantly able to witness the flights and even the
inflations of those ships of the air, which, his family
associations notwithstanding took precedence of all boyish

His elder brother, now a naval officer, entirely failed to
divert his aspirations into other channels, and it was when the
boy had completed sixteen summers that an aeronautic enterprise
attracted not only his own, but public attention also. It was
the building of a mammoth balloon at Vauxhall under the
superintendence of Mr. Green. The launching of this huge craft
when completed was regarded as so great an occasion that the
young Coxwell, who had by this time obtained a commercial
opening abroad, was allowed, at his earnest entreaty, to stay
till the event had come off, and fifty years after the hardened
sky sailor is found describing with a boyish enthusiasm how
thirty-six policemen were needed round that balloon; how
enormous weights were attached to the cordage, only to be
lifted feet above the ground; while the police were compelled
to pass their staves through the meshes to prevent the cords
cutting their hands. At this ascent Mr. Hollond was a
passenger, and by the middle of the following November all
Europe was ringing with the great Nassau venture.

Commercial business did not suit the young Coxwell, and at the
age of one-and-twenty we find him trying his hand at the
profession of surgeon-dentist, not, however, with any prospect
of its keeping him from the longing of his soul, which grew
stronger and stronger upon him. It was not till the summer of
1844 that Mr. Hampton, giving an exhibition from the White
Conduit Gardens, Pentonville, offered the young man, then
twenty-five years old, his first ascent.

In after years Coxwell referred to his first sensations in
characteristic language, contrasting them with the experiences
of the mountaineer. "In Alpine travels," he says, "the process
is so slow, and contact with the crust of the earth so
palpable, that the traveller is gradually prepared for each
successive phase of view as it presents itself. But in the
balloon survey, cities, villages, and vast tracts for
observation spring almost magically before the eye, and change
in aspect and size so pleasingly that bewilderment first and
then unbounded admiration is sure to follow."

The ice was now fairly broken, and, not suffering professional
duties to be any hindrance, Coxwell began to make a series of
ascents under the leadership of two rival balloonists, Gale and
Gypson. One voyage made with the latter he describes as
leading to the most perilous descent in the annals of
aerostation. This was the occasion, given above, on which
Albert Smith was a passenger, and which that talented writer
describes in his own fashion. He does not, however, add the
fact, worthy of being chronicled, that exactly a week after the
appalling adventure Gypson and Coxwell, accompanied by a
Captain whose name does not transpire, and loaded with twice
the previous weight of fireworks, made a perfectly successful
night ascent and descent in the same balloon.

It is very shortly after this that we find Coxwell seduced into
undertaking for its owners the actual management of a balloon,
the property of Gale, and now to be known as the "Sylph." With
this craft he practically began his career as a professional
balloonist, and after a few preliminary ascents made in
England, was told off to carry on engagements in Belgium.

A long series of ascents was now made on the Continent, and in
the troubled state of affairs some stirring scenes were
visited, not without some real adventure. One occasion
attended with imminent risk occurred at Berlin in 1851.
Coxwell relates that a Prussian labourer whom he had dismissed
for bad conduct, and who almost too manifestly harboured
revenge, nevertheless begged hard for a re-engagement, which,
as the man was a handy fellow, Coxwell at length assented to.
He took up three passengers beside himself, and at an elevation
of some 3,000 feet found it necessary to open the valve, when,
on pulling the cord, one of the top shutters broke and remained
open, leaving a free aperture of 26 inches by 12 inches, and
occasioning such a copious discharge of gas that nothing short
of a providential landing could save disaster. But the
providential landing came, the party falling into the embrace
of a fruit tree in an orchard. It transpired afterwards that
the labourer had been seen to tamper with the valve, the
connecting lines of which he had partially severed.

Returning to England in 1852 Coxwell, through the accidents
inseparable from his profession, found himself virtually in
possession of the field. Green, now advanced in years, was
retiring from the public life in which he had won so much fame
and honour. Gale was dead, killed in an ascent at Bordeaux.
Only one aspirant contested the place of public aeronaut--one
Goulston, who had been Gale's patron. Before many months,
however, he too met with a balloonist's death, being dashed
against some stone walls when ascending near Manchester.

It will not be difficult to form an estimate of how entirely
the popularity of the balloon was now reestablished in England,
from the mere fact that before the expiration of the year
Coxwell had been called upon to make thirty-six voyages. Some
of these were from Glasgow, and here a certain coincidence took
place which is too curious to be omitted. A descent effected
near Milngavie took place in the same field in which Sadler,
twenty-nine years before, had also descended, and the same man
who caught the rope of Mr. Sadler's balloon performed the same
service once again for a fresh visitor from the skies.

The following autumn Coxwell, in fulfilling one out of many
engagements, found himself in a dilemma which bore resemblance
in a slight degree to a far more serious predicament in which
the writer became involved, and which must be told in due
place. The preparations for the ascent, which was from the
Mile End Road, had been hurried, and after finally getting away
at a late hour in the evening, it was found that the valve line
had got caught in a fold of the silk, and could not be
operated. In consequence, the balloon was, of necessity, left
to take its own chance through the night, and, after rising to
a considerable height, it slowly lost buoyancy during the
chilly hours, and, gradually settling, came to earth near
Basingstoke, where the voyager, failing to get help or shelter,
made his bed within his own car, lying in an open field, as
other aeronauts have had to do in like circumstances.

Coxwell tells of a striking phenomenon seen during that voyage.
"A splendid meteor was below the car, and apparently about 600
feet distant. It was blue and yellow, moving rapidly in a N.E.
direction, and became extinguished without noise or sparks."


At this point we must, for a brief while, drop the history of
the famous aeronaut whose early career we have been briefly
sketching in the last chapter, and turn our attention to a new
feature of English ballooning. We have, at last, to record
some genuinely scientific ascents, which our country now, all
too tardily, instituted. It was the British Association that
took the initiative, and the two men they chose for their
purpose were both exceptionally qualified for the task they had
in hand. The practical balloonist was none other than the
veteran Charles Green, now in his sixty-seventh year, but
destined yet to enjoy nearly twenty years more of life. The
scientific expert was Mr. John Welsh, well fitted for the
projected work by long training at Kew Observatory. The
balloon which they used is itself worthy of mention, being the
great Nassau Balloon of olden fame.

Welsh was quick to realise more clearly than any former
experimentalist that on account of the absence of breeze in a
free balloon, as also on account of great solar radiation, the
indications of thermometers would, without special precautions,
be falsified. He therefore invented a form of aspirating
thermometer, the earliest to be met with, and far in advance of
any that were subsequently used by other scientists. It
consisted of a polished tube, in which thermometers were
enclosed, and through which a stream of air was forced by

The difficulty of obtaining really accurate readings where
thermometers are being quickly transported through varying
temperatures is generally not duly appreciated. In the case of
instruments carried m a balloon it should be remembered that
the balloon itself conveys, clinging about it, no
inconsiderable quantity of air, brought from other levels,
while the temperature of its own mass will be liable to affect
any thermometer in close neighbourhood. Moreover, any ordinary
form of thermometer is necessarily sluggish in action, as may
be readily noticed. If, for example, one be carried from a
warm room to a cold passage, or vice versa it will be seen that
the column moves very deliberately, and quite a long interval
will elapse before it reaches its final position, the cause
being that the entire instrument, with any stand or mounting
that it may have, will have to adapt itself to the change of
temperature before a true record will be obtained. This
difficulty applies unavoidably to all thermometers in some
degree, and the skill of instrument makers has been taxed to
reduce the errors to a minimum. It is necessary, in any case,
that a constant stream of surrounding air should play upon the
instrument, and though this is most readily effected when
instruments are carried aloft by kites, yet even thus it is
thought that an interval of some minutes has to elapse before
any form of thermometer will faithfully record any definite
change of temperature. It is on this account that some
allowance must be made for observations which will, in due
place, be recorded of scientific explorers; the point to be
borne in mind being that, as was mentioned in a former chapter,
such observations will have to be regarded as giving readings
which are somewhat too high in ascents and too low in descents.
Two forms of thermometers at extremely simple construction, yet
possessed of great sensibility, will be discussed in later

The thermometers that Welsh used were undoubtedIy far superior
to any that were devised before his time and it is much to be
regretted that they were allowed to fall into disuse. Perhaps
the most important stricture on the observations that will have
to be recorded is that the observers were not provided with a
base station, on which account the value of results was
impaired. It was not realised that it was necessary to make
observations on the ground to compare with those that were
being made at high altitudes.

Welsh made, in all, four ascents in the summer and autumn of
1852 and in his report he is careful to give the highest praise
to his colleague, Green, whose control over his balloon he
describes as "so complete that none who accompanied him can be
otherwise than relieved from all apprehension, and free to
devote attention calmly to the work before him."

The first ascent was made at 3.49 p.m. on August the 17th, under
a south wind and with clouds covering some three-quarters of the
sky. Welsh's first remark significant, and will be appreciated
by anyone who has attempted observational work in a balloon. He
states naively that "a short time was lost at first in an
attempt to put the instruments into more convenient order, and
also from the novelty of the situation." Then he mentions an
observation which, in the experience of the writer, is a
common one. The lowest clouds, which were about 2,500 feet
high and not near the balloon, were passed without being
noticed; other clouds were passed at different heights; and,
finally, a few star-shaped crystals of snow; but the sun shone
almost constantly. Little variation occurred in the direction
of travel, which averaged thirty-eight miles an hour, and the
descent took place at 5.20 p.m. at Swavesey, near Cambridge.

The second ascent took place at 4.43 p.m. on August 26th, under
a gentle east wind and a partially obscured sky. The clouds
were again passed without being perceived. This was at the
height of 3,000 feet, beyond which was very clear sky of deep
blue. The air currents up to the limits of 12,000 feet set
from varying directions. The descent occurred near Chesham at
7.45 p.m.

The third ascent, at 2.35 p.m. on October the 21st was made
into a sky covered with dense cloud masses lying within 3,000
and 3,700 feet. The sun was then seen shining through cirrus
far up. The shadow of the balloon was also seen on the cloud,
fringed with a glory, and about this time there was seen
"stretching for a considerable length in a serpentine course,
over the surface of the cloud, a well-defined belt, having the
appearance of a broad road."

Being now at 12,000 feet, Green thought it prudent to
reconnoitre his position, and, finding they were near the sea,
descended at 4.20 p.m. at Rayleigh, in Essex. Some important
notes on the polarisation of the clouds were made.

The fourth and final voyage was made in a fast wind averaging
fifty knots from the north-east. Thin scud was met at 1,900
feet, and an upper stratum at 4,500 feet, beyond which was
bright sun. The main shift of wind took place just as the
upper surface of the first stratum was reached. In this ascent
Welsh reached his greatest elevation, 22,930 feet, when both
Green and himself experienced considerable difficulty in
respiration and much fatigue. The sea being now perceived
rapidly approaching, a hasty descent was made, and many of the
instruments were broken.

In summarising his results Welsh states that "the temperature
of the air decreases uniformly with height above the earth's
surface until at a certain elevation, varying on different
days, decrease is arrested, and for the space of 2,000 or 3,000
feet the temperature remains nearly constant, or even
increases, the regular diminution being again resumed and
generally maintained at a rate slightly less rapid than in the
lower part of the atmosphere, and commencing from a higher
temperature than would have existed but for the interruption
noticed." The analysis of the upper air showed the proportion
of oxygen and nitrogen to vary scarcely more than at different
spots on the earth.

As it is necessary at this point to take leave of the veteran
Green as a practical aeronaut, we may here refer to one or two
noteworthy facts and incidents relating to his eventful career.
In 1850 M. Poitevin is said to have attracted 140,000 people to
Paris to look at an exhibition of himself ascending in a
balloon seated on horseback, after which Madame Poitevin
ascended from Cremorne Gardens in the same manner, the
exhibition being intended as a representation of "Europa on a
Bull." This, however, was discountenanced by the authorities
and withdrawn. The feats were, in reality, merely the
repetitions of one that had been conceived and extremely well
carried out by Green many years before--as long ago, in fact,
as 1828, when he arranged to make an ascent from the Eagle
Tavern, City Road, seated on a pony. To carry out his
intention, he discarded the ordinary car, replacing it with a
small platform, which was provided with places to receive the
pony's feet; while straps attached to the hoop were passed
under the animal's body, preventing it from lying down or from
making any violent movement. This the creature seemed in no
way disposed to attempt, and when all had been successfully
carried out and an easy descent effected at Beckenham, the pony
was discovered eating a meal of beans with which it had been

Several interesting observations have been recorded by Green on
different occasions, some of which are highly instructive from
a practical or scientific point of view. On an ascent from
Vauxhall, in which he was accompanied by his friend Spencer and
Mr. Rush, he recorded how, as he constantly and somewhat
rapidly rose, the wind changed its direction from N.W. through
N. to N.E., while he remained over the metropolis, the balloon
all the while rotating on its axis. This continual swinging or
revolving of the balloon Green considers an accompaniment of
either a rapid ascent or descent, but it may be questioned
whether it is not merely a consequence of changing currents,
or, sometimes, of an initial spin given inadvertently to the
balloon at the moment of its being liberated. The phenomenon
of marked change which he describes in the upper currents is
highly interesting, and tallies with what the writer has
frequently experienced over London proper. Such higher
currents may be due to natural environment, and to conditions
necessarily prevailing over so vast and varied a city, and they
may be able to play an all-important part in the dispersal of
London smoke or fog. This point will be touched on later. In
this particular voyage Green records that as he was rising at
the moment when his barometer reached 19 inches, the
thermometer he carried registered 46 degrees, while on coming
down, when the barometer again marked 19 inches, the same
thermometer recorded only 22 degrees. It will not fail to be
recognised that there is doubtless here an example of the
errors alluded to above, inseparable from readings taken in
ascent and descent.

A calculation made by Green in his earlier years has a certain
value. By the time he had accomplished 200 ascents he was at
pains to compute that he had travelled across country some
6,000 miles, which had been traversed in 240 hours. From this
it would follow that the mean rate of travel in aerial voyages
will be about twenty-five miles per hour. Towards the end of
his career we find it stated by Lieutenant G. Grover, R.E.,
that "the Messrs. Green, Father and Son, have made between them
some 930 ascents, in none of which have they met with any
material accident or failure." This is wonderful testimony,
indeed, and we may here add the fact that the father took up
his own father, then at the age of eighty-three, in a balloon
ascent of 1845, without any serious consequences. But it is
time that some account should be given of a particular occasion
which at least provided the famous aeronaut with an adventure
spiced with no small amount of risk. It was on the 5th of
July, 1850, that Green ascended, with Rush as his companion,
from Vauxhall, at the somewhat late hour of 7.50 p.m., using,
as always, the great Nassau balloon. The rate of rise must
have been very considerable, and they presently record an
altitude of no less than 20,000 feet, and a temperature of 12
degrees below freezing. They were now above the clouds, where
all view of earth was lost, and, not venturing to remain long
in this situation, they commenced a rapid descent, and on
emerging below found themselves sailing down Sea Reach in the
direction of Nore Sands, when they observed a vessel. Their
chance of making land was, to say the least, uncertain, and
Green, considering that his safety lay in bespeaking the
vessel's assistance, opened the valve and brought the car down
in the water some two miles north of Sheerness, the hour being
8.45, and only fifty-five minutes since the start. The wind
was blowing stiffly, and, catching the hollow of the
half-inflated balloon, carried the voyagers rapidly down the
river, too fast, indeed, to allow of the vessel's overtaking
them. This being soon apparent, Green cast out his anchor, and
not without result, for it shortly became entangled in a sunken
wreck, and the balloon was promptly "brought up," though
struggling and tossing in the broken water. A neighbouring
barge at once put off a boat to the rescue, and other boats were
despatched by H.M. cutter Fly, under Commander Gurling. Green
and Rush were speedily rescued, but the balloon itself was too
restive and dangerous an object to approach with safety. At
Green's suggestion, therefore, a volley of musketry was fired
into the silk' after which it became possible to pass a rope
around it and expel the gas. Green subsequently relates how it
took a fortnight to restore the damage, consisting of sixty-two
bullet rents and nineteen torn gores.

Green's name will always be famous, if only for the fact that
it was he who first adopted the use of coal gas in his calling.
This, it will be remembered, was in 1821, and it should be
borne in mind that at that time household gas had only recently
been introduced. In point of fact, it first lighted Pall Mall
in 1805, and it was not used for the general lighting of London
till 1814.

We are not surprised to find that the great aeronaut at one
time turned his attention to the construction of models, and
this with no inconsiderable success. A model of his was
exhibited in 1840 at the Polytechnic Institution, and is
described in the Times as consisting of a miniature balloon of
three feet diameter, inflated with coal gas. It was acted on
by fans, which were operated by mechanism placed in the car. A
series of three experiments was exhibited. First, the balloon
being weighted so as to remain poised in the still air of the
building, the mechanism was started, and the machine rose
steadily to the ceiling. The fans were then reversed, when the
model, equally gracefully, descended to the floor. Lastly, the
balloon, with a weighted trail rope, being once more balanced
in mid-air, the fans were applied laterally, when the machine
would take a horizontal flight, pulling the trail rope after
it, with an attached weight dragging along the floor until the
mechanism had run down, when it again remained stationary. The
correspondent of the Times continues, "Mr. Green states that by
these simple means a voyage across the Atlantic may be
performed in three or four days, as easily as from Vauxhall
Gardens to Nassau."

We can hardly attribute this statement seriously to one who
knew as well as did Green how fickle are the winds, and how
utterly different are the conditions between the still air of a
room and those of the open sky. His insight into the
difficulties of the problem cannot have been less than that of
his successor, Coxwell, who, as the result of his own equally
wide experience, states positively, "I could never imagine a
motive power of sufficient force to direct and guide a balloon,
much less to enable a man or a machine to fly." Even when
modern invention had produced a motive power undreamed of in
the days we are now considering, Coxwell declares his
conviction that inherent difficulties would not be overcome
"unless the air should invariably remain in a calm state."

It would be tedious and scarcely instructive to inquire into
the various forms of flying machines that were elaborated at
this period; but one that was designed in America by Mr.
Henson, and with which it was seriously contemplated to attempt
to cross the Atlantic, may be briefly described. In theory it
was supposed to be capable of being sustained in the air by
virtue of the speed mechanically imparted to it, and of the
angle at which its advancing under surface would meet the air.
The inventor claimed to have produced a steam engine of extreme
lightness as well as efficiency, and for the rest his machine
consisted of a huge aero-plane propelled by fans with oblique
vanes, while a tail somewhat resembling that of a bird was
added, as also a rudder, the functions of which were to direct
the craft vertically and horizontally respectively. Be it here
recorded that the machine did not cross the Atlantic.

One word as to the instruments used up to this time for
determining altitudes. These were, in general, ordinary
mercurial barometers, protected in various ways. Green encased
his instrument in a simple metal tube, which admitted of the
column of mercury being easily read. This instrument, which is
generally to be seen held in his hand in Green's old portraits,
might be mistaken for a mariner's telescope. It is now in the
possession of the family of Spencers, the grandchildren of his
old aeronautical friend and colleague, and it is stated that
with all his care the glass was not infrequently broken in a

Wise, with characteristic ingenuity, devised a rough-and-ready
height instrument, which he claims to have answered well. It
consisted simply of a common porter bottle, to the neck of
which was joined a bladder of the same capacity. The bottle
being filled with air of the density of that on the ground, and
the bladder tied on in a collapsed state, the expansion of the
air in the bottle would gradually fill the bladder as it rose
into the rarer regions of the atmosphere. Experience would
then be trusted to enable the aeronaut to judge his height from
the amount of inflation noticeable in the bladder.


Mention should be made in these pages of a night sail of a
hundred miles, boldly carried out in 1849 by M. Arban, which
took the voyager from Marseilles to Turin fairly over the Alps.
The main summit was reached at 11 p.m., when the "snow,
cascades, and rivers were all sparkling under the moon, and the
ravines and rocks produced masses of darkness which served as
shadows to the gigantic picture." Arban was at one time on a
level with the highest point of Mont Blanc, the top of which,
standing out well above the clouds, resembled "an immense block
of crystal sparkling with a thousand fires."

In London, in the year of the Great Exhibition, and while the
building was still standing in Hyde Park, there occurred a
balloon incident small in itself, but sufficient to cause much
sensation at the crowded spot where it took place. The ascent
was made from the Hippodrome by Mr. and Mrs. Graham in very
boisterous weather, and, on being liberated, the balloon seems
to have fouled a mast, suffering a considerable rent. After
this the aeronauts succeeded in clearing the trees in
Kensington Gardens, and in descending fairly in the Park, but,
still at the mercy of the winds, they were carried on to the
roof of a house in Arlington Street, and thence on to another
in Park Place, where, becoming lodged against a stack of
chimneys, they were eventually rescued by the police without
any material damage having been done.

But this same summer saw the return to England of Henry
Coxwell, and for some years the story of the conquest of the
air is best told by following his stirring career, and his own
comments on aeronautical events of this date. We find him
shortly setting about carrying out some reconnoitring and
signalling experiments, designed to be of use in time of war.
This was an old idea of his, and one which had, of course, been
long entertained by others, having, indeed, been put to some
practical test in time of warfare. It will be well to make
note of what attention the matter had already received, and of
what progress had been made both in theory and practice.

We have already made some mention in Chapter IV. of the use
which the French had made of balloons in their military
operations at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of
nineteenth the century. It was, indeed, within the first ten
years after the first invention of the balloon that, under the
superintendence of the savants of the French Academy, a
practical school of aeronautics was established at Meudon. The
names of Guyton, De Morveau (a distinguished French chemist),
and Colonel Coutelle are chiefly associated with the movement,
and under them some fifty students received necessary training.
The practising balloon had a capacity of 17,000 cubic feet, and
was inflated with pure hydrogen, made by what was then a new
process as applied to ballooning, and which will be described
in a future chapter. It appears that the balloon was kept
always full, so that any opportunity of calm weather would be
taken advantage of for practice. And it is further stated that
a balloon was constructed so sound and impervious that after
the lapse of two months it was still capable, without being
replenished, of raising into the air two men, with necessary
ballast and equipment. The practical trial for the balloon in
real service came off in June, 1794, when Coutelle in person,
accompanied by two staff officers, in one of the four balloons
which the French Army had provided, made an ascent to
reconnoitre the Austrian forces at Fleurus. They ascended
twice in one day, remaining aloft for some four hours, and, on
their second ascent being sighted, drew a brisk fire from the
enemy. They were unharmed, however, and the successful
termination of the battle of Fleurus has been claimed as due in
large measure to the service rendered by that balloon.

The extraordinary fact that the use of the balloon was for many
years discontinued in the French Army is attributed to a
strangely superstitious prejudice entertained by Napoleon. Las
Cases (in his "Private Life of Napoleon at St. Helena ")
relates an almost miraculous story of Napoleon's coronation.
It appears that a sum of 23,500 francs was given to M. Garnerin
to provide a balloon ascent to aid in the celebrations, and, in
consequence, a colossal machine was made to ascend at 11 p.m.
on December 16th from the front of Notre Dame, carrying 3,000
lights. This balloon was unmanned, and at its departure
apparently behaved extremely well, causing universal delight.
During the hours of darkness, however, it seems to have
acquitted itself in a strange and well-nigh preternatural
manner, for at daybreak it is sighted on the horizon by the
inhabitants of Rome, and seen to be coming towards their city.
So true was its course that, as though with predetermined
purpose, it sails on till it is positively over St. Peter's and
the Vatican, when, its mission being apparently fulfilled, it
settles to earth, and finally ends its career in the Lake
Bracciano. Regarded from whatever point of view, the flight
was certainly extraordinary, and it is not surprising that in
that age it was regarded as nothing less than a portent.
Moreover, little details of the wonderful story were quickly
endowed with grave significance. The balloon on reaching the
ground rent itself. Next, ere it plunged into the water, it
carefully deposited a portion of its crown on the tomb of Nero.
Napoleon, on learning the facts, forbade that they should ever
be referred to. Further, he thenceforward discountenanced the
balloon in his army, and the establishment at Meudon was

There is record of an attempt of some sort that was made to
revive the French military ballooning school in the African
campaign of 1830, but it was barren of results. Again, it has
been stated that the Austrians used balloons for
reconnaissance, before Venice in 1849, and yet again the same
thing is related of the Russians at the time of the siege of
Sebastopol, though Kinglake does not mention the circumstance.
In 1846 Wise drew up and laid before the American War Office an
elaborate scheme for the reduction of Vera Cruz. This will be
discussed in its due place, though it will be doubtless
considered as chimerical.

On the other hand, eminently practical were the experiments
co-ordinated and begun to be put to an actual test by Mr.
Coxwell, who, before he could duly impress his project upon the
military authorities, had to make preliminary trials in private
ventures. The earliest of these was at the Surrey Zoological
Gardens in the autumn of 1854, and it will be granted that much
ingenuity and originality were displayed when it is considered
that at that date neither wireless telegraphy, electric
flashlight, nor even Morse Code signalling was in vogue.
According to his announcement, the spectators were to regard
his balloon, captive or free, as floating at a certain altitude
over a beleaguered fortress, the authorities in communication
with it having the key of the signals and seeking to obtain
through these means information as to the approach of an enemy.
It was to be supposed that, by the aid of glasses, a vast
distance around could be subjected to careful scrutiny, and a
constant communication kept up with the authorities in the
fortress. Further, the flags or other signals were supposed
preconcerted and unknown to the enemy, being formed by
variations of shape and colour. Pigeons were also despatched
from a considerable height to test their efficiency under novel
conditions. The public press commented favourably on the
performance and result of this initial experiment.


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