Flight of the Balloon Victoria

From Historical Hastings

In 1851, the Duke of Brunswick made a cross-channel balloon flight from Hastings to near Bologne. This was widely reported in both local and national press. The Duke was attempting to flee justice, having committed perjury in a libel case and he never returned to England[1]

Newspaper report

On March 31st, 1851, the Duke of Brunswick and Mr. Green made an ascent from Hastings in the balloon Victoria. At about quarter to eight, the process of inflation was commenced in the Priory meadow near the Hastings Gas Works[2], and the ascent was announced for ten o'clock, which hour that neighbourhood and the West Hill were covered with spectators. The balloon was specially provided for sea voyages with an arrangement of lines with logs of wood, by which the ascent or descent could be effected without throwing over any ballast. By mid-day, there were five or six thousand[2] spectators out of doors, without speaking of the numbers gathered at all the windows which overlooked the spot.

At about ten minutes to one, the inflation was complete, and the car was attached. The Duke, who was clad in a suit of oilskin, at once jumped in, and there was also put in a speaking-trumpet and walking-stick (so simple an article as the latter having once saved Mr. Green's balloon from destruction). The word was given, and the balloon released. His Highness sat firmly his seat, while Mr. Green kept his legs, waving his hat, and returning the huzzas of the assembled multitude. The machine rose steadily and majestically from the earth, and cleared the Castle hill with a beautiful sweep; it then stood off a south-eastern direction, entering some distance into the watery cloud a few minutes. It afterward appeared more distinct and remained in sight for nearly three-quarters of an hour.

On leaving Hastings, the balloon took a course to the south-east for a distance of about twelve miles. The current then set the south and prevailed in that direction till the balloon reached mid-channel, when it became becalmed, and took a low level. Several fishing-boats got nearly under it, and the aeronaut could converse with the crews. When in the mid-channel, after floating becalmed for some time, current to the south-east was again obtained. By this period the balloon had changed her level, and she attained the highest elevation arrived during the voyage—viz; 4,000 ft This ascent was occasioned by the action the sun's rays, which expanded the gas in the balloon. On reaching this elevation, the rarity of the atmosphere at so height caused the gas to expand still more, and it commenced escaping through the safety-valve at the bottom of the balloon.

The balloon gradually descended till the guide-line and logs again touched the water, when a fixed level was obtained, and the aeronauts went sailing majestically over the water. On gaining a distance of about twenty miles from the land of France, the coast was visible towards the west, bending out into the sea, and terminating in a point which Mr. Green believed to be in the neighbourhood of Cherbourg. At length, the voyagers approached the land. The tide was low, and the sands were of great width. The grapnel was lowered, and drew after the balloon, together with the guide-line.

At this juncture, two men were observed walking the sands, and the trailing ropes emerged from the sea, and passed over the sand they caught at them. The result was that the first man was dashed to the ground with fearful violence, and the second performed a complete somersault in the air, but they soon recovered themselves. The land beneath the balloon after the shore was crossed was observed to be of very undulatory character. In the distance appeared a lofty hill, which Mr. Green cleared by an altitude of about 50 feet, and then rapidly descended on the other side, the grapnel tumbling heavily down the steep, and almost getting ahead of the car.[2] A village was observed close at band, and the peasantry was perceived to be on the alert. On approaching the bottom of the valley, the Duke shouted directions to the crowd through the speaking trumpet. The balloon presently touched the earth, but the shock was slight to be almost imperceptible It immediately shot up again about thirty feet, but was soon so secured that the Duke was enabled to alight in a field of fallow land, after which the balloon took another short flight, and Mr. descended at a few minutes after six. The voyage so successfully completed was found to have terminated about English miles south of Boulogne. The Duke immediately proceeded to Paris, while Mr. Green packed up his balloon, and drove to Boulogne, from where he returned to Hastings the following day[2].


References & Notes

  1. The Hastings Chronicle: 1850-1899 – The Hastings Chronicle, accessdate: 19 January 2020
  2. a b c d Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 1 Chap. 46