JF Ptak Science Books Post 270
Here's a great opening sentence: "Images of 19th century flying horses have always been difficult to find". And, since this is a serious issue, it really is a true statement, until today, when I noticed them in a little project I was dong. I found a lovely history of balloon and aeroplane flight published in The Illustrated London News for 3 July 1909, called "The Evolution of the Great War-ships of the Air: Balloons, Non-Dirigible and Dirigible, and Aeroplanes, from the Seventeenth Century to the Twentieth Century. Its a big, double-page spread of a picture, featuring 60 or so of these flying machines--its so wonderful that I decided to reproduce the thing in a large format (35 x 45 inches), and it was then that I noticed something quite strange, at least to my experience.
Actually, 8% or so of the images in the display involved horses.
Now perhaps men on horseback in balloons in the 19th century is a well know bit of aviation history; however, not being an historian in this area I've got to admit that I was very surprised (!!) when I first noticed these horses.
Missing them is understandable if you weren't looking closely at the image's little bits and pieces, what with the horses occupying something like 1/1,000 of the print's surface. But there they are, clear and bright as day: "1798, Ascent by Testu-Brissey", and "1828 London Chas Green on horseback", and "1850 Paris Poiteven's ascent on horseback (10,000 spectators)".
In what is certainly a very uncommon notice there is also "Sep 1850 English Aeronaut Gale on horseback suffocated Bordeaux". Is this the first man-on-horseback-in-flight death? And death by suffocation? (?) I'm not so sure that the ascent records for 1850 would've made allowance for running out of oxygen at high altitudes--if not, then how did this man suffocate? According to the Dictionary of National Biography, which, somehow, admitted (George) Gale (1797-1850) to its pages, reported that he died as a result of a misunderstanding of language, sent back into the heavens after landing with his pony, his balloon mistakenly released with none of its ballast remaining, with him attached to it still. It was his 114th flight, which was quite allot, but not evidently enough. Gale was a very colorful character, being an actor, then finding his way out to the American west and returning with several of the Indians he encountered and "exhibiting" them at the Victoria Theatre, and then becoming an Irish blockade defender before turning to ballooning.
Then there is the utterly fantastic "1804 Paris Margat on a stag". Somehow I guess M. Margat thought that being on a horse just wasn't quite enough, and elected to ride a stag. I'm not sure what to say, exactly, except that all of this renders "1836 Surrey Gardens--monkey "Jacopo" & parachute (with a little monkey dropped/thrown from the balloon in an experimental parachute device) somewhat anti-climactic.
What I was really after in this print and which I'll get to in another post--sidetracked as I am by the horse issue--is found in the subtitle: "first used for pleasure and by scientists, destined to become engines of war...the balloon", about the short but furious transformation of the aeroplane into a machine of war, all of which takes place in about a five-year period. But that's for another day.