1902 Encyclopedia > Aeronautics > Early Balloon Ascents in England (cont'd): James Tytler; Vincenzo Lunardi..

(Part 14)

Early Balloon Ascents in England (cont'd): James Tytler; Vincenzo Lunardi.

The first person who rose into the air from British ground appears to have been Mr. J. Tytler, who ascended from the Comely Gardens, Edinburgh, on August 27, 1784, in a fire-balloon of his own construction. He descended on the road to Restalrig, about half-a-mile from the place where he rose. A brief account appeared in a letter, under date August 27, in the London Chronicle, and we have seen a picture of the balloon copied in some journal from a "ticket in the British Museum." Mr Tytler's claims were for a long time entirely overlooked, the honour being invariably assigned to Lunardi, till attention was called to them by Mr. Monck Mason in 1838. after Lunardi's successful ascents in 1785, Mr. Tytler addressed a set of verses to him (quoted in Astra Castra, p. 108), in a note, to which he gives a modest account of his own "misfortunes," describing his two "leaps." This is, perhaps, the most correct name for them, as his apparatus having been damaged at different times, he merely heated the air in the balloon, and went up without any furnace, being seated in an ordinary basket for carrying earthenware. He reached a height of from 350 to 500 feet.

Lunardi Balloon image

Balloon of Vincenzo (Vincent) Lunardi

Although by a few days Tytler has the precedence, still his attempts and partial success were all but totally unknown; whereas Lunardi's experiments excited an enormous amount of enthusiasm in London, and it was he that practically introduced aerostation into this country in the face of very great disadvantages. We have already referred to the extraordinary apathy displayed in England with regard to aerostatic experiments, one consequence of which was that their introduction was due to a foreigner. Vincent Lunardi was secretary to Prince Caramanico, the Neapolitan ambassador, and his published letters to his guardian, the Chevalier Compagni, written while he was carrying out his project, and detailing all the difficulties, &c., he met with as they occurred, are very interesting, and give a vivid account of the whole matter. His balloon was 33 feet in circumstance, and was exposed to the public view at the Lyceum in the Strand, where it was visited by upwards of 20,000 people. It was his original intention to have ascended from Chelsea Hospital, but the conduct of a crowd at a garden at Chelsea, which destroyed the fire-balloon of a Frenchman named De Moret, who announced an ascent on August 11, but was unable to keep his word, led to the withdrawal of the leave that had been granted. Ultimately, after some difficulties had been arranged, he was permitted to ascend from the Artillery ground, and on September 15, 1784, the inflation with hydrogen gas took place. It was intended that Mr. Biggin, an English gentleman should accompany Lunardi; but the crowd becoming impatient, the latter judged it prudent to ascend with the balloon only partially full rather than risk a longer delay, and accordingly Mr. Biggin was obliged to leave the car. Lunardi therefore ascended alone, in presence of the Prince of Wales and an enormous crowd of spectators. He took up with him a pigeon, a dog, and a cat, and the balloon was provided with oars, by means of which he hoped to raise or lower it at pleasure. Shortly after starting, the pigeon escaped, and one of the aors became broken and fell to the ground. In about an hour and a half he descended at south Mimms, in Hertfordshire, and landed the cat, which had suffered from the cold: he then ascended again, and descended, after the lapse of about three-quarters of an hour, at Standon, near Ware, where he had great difficulty in inducing the peasants to come to his assistance; but at length a young woman, taking hold of one of the cords, urged the men to follow her example, which they then did. The excitement caused by this ascent was immense, and Lunardi at once became the star of the hour. He was presented to the king, and was courted and flattered on all sides. To show the enthusiasm displayed by the people during his ascent, he tells himself, in his sixth letter, how a lady, mistaking the oar which fell for himself, was so affected by his supposed destruction that she died in a few days; but, on the other hand, he says he was told by the judges "that he had certainly saved the life of a young man who might possibly be reformed, and be to the public a compensation for the death of the lady;" for the jury were deliberating on the fate of a criminal, whom they must ultimately have condemned, when the balloon appeared, and every one became inattentive, and to save time they gave a verdict of acquittal, and the whole court came out to view the balloon. The king also was in conference with his ministers; but on hearing that the balloon was passing, he broke up the discussion, remarking that they might resume theur deliberations, but that perhaps they might not see Lunardi again; upon which he, Mr Pitt, and the other ministers viewed the balloon through telescopes. The balloon was afterwards exhibited in the Pantheon. In the latter part of the following year (1785) Lunardi made several very successful ascents from Kelso, Edinburgh, and Glasgrow (in one of which he traversed a distance of 110 miles): these he has described in a second series of letters. He subsequently returned to Italy, where we believe he still followed the practice of aerostation, and made many ascents. He died on July 31, 1806, at Lisbon, according to the Gentleman's Magazine, but a contemporary newspaper gives Genoa as the place, and adds that he died in a state of very great indigence.

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