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   Chapter 5 SOME FAMOUS EARLY VOYAGERS.

The Dominion of the Air: The Story of Aerial Navigation By John M. Bacon Characters: 17684

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

age with which they withstood it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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