The Correspondence of Charles Henry Brown - Aeronaut
As an aeronaut, Brown’s lifelong obsession with aerostation took him from his native Great Britain to Australia. While his aeronautical endeavours met with only limited success he was, however, determined to record his contribution to the science, and from an early stage established a vital correspondence with a number of leading figures in the world of ballooning.
The letters provide insights into the developing field of aeronautics, and reveal the tensions, rivalries and downright underhand conduct of some of the pioneers of aviation.
Brown’s intention was to publish his collected correspondence, but his failure to fully realise his own lifelong ambition as an aeronaut of note led him in despair to take his life before he achieved his objective of bringing the compiled correspondence to print.
The manuscript was later recovered by a relative and deposited at the State Library of Victoria where it sat receiving but scant attention until now.
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Part I Correspondence: England, 1843–1857
- Chapter 1 1843
- Chapter 2 1845
- Chapter 3 1847
- Chapter 4 1848
- Chapter 5 1849
- Chapter 6 1850
- Chapter 7 1851
- Chapter 8 1852
- Chapter 9 1853
- Chapter 10 1854
- Chapter 11 1855
- Chapter 12 1856
- Chapter 13 1857
- Part II Correspondence: Australia, 1858–1864
- Chapter 14 1858
- Chapter 15 1859
- Chapter 16 1860
- Chapter 17 1861
- Chapter 18 1862
- Chapter 19 1863
- Chapter 20 1864
I wish to acknowledge the encouragement and financial support I received from Professor Terry Lloyd, then CEO of the Sovereign Hill Museums Association, Ballarat. I thank also Professor Alice Mills and Doctor Jan Croggin, who were enthusiastic supporters of this endeavour to get Charles Henry Brown’s correspondence into print.
Dr Kate Simons patiently proofread the drafts and endured the peculiarities of Victorian era grammar and punctuation.
Thanks must be given to the staff at the Manuscript Section of the State Library of Victoria.
I would also like to thank Lucy Melville, Peter Lang’s Publishing Director, for her patience, support and encouragement. A particular acknowledgement is due to Michael Garvey for his incisive contributions to the formulation and finalisation of Brown’s correspondence.
It may be considered a perverse point of view, but cemeteries can be vibrant places. A stroll through Melbourne’s General Cemetery can provide such a buoyant experience; with the proviso, perhaps, that one is not at the time a mourner. There is the occasional grove, providing colour, shade and, at times, movement. The north-eastern division of the necropolis, in particular, provides a glistering vista of marble memorials and a gallery of portraits of those whose lives are now recorded for prosperity in pithy graven bio-sketches.
For those of an inquisitive disposition, a glance at the original 1852 plans for this graveyard will show that its planners had devised an ordered and spacious placement of graves set amongst a network of curving avenues, lawns, pavilions and pathways. The traditional grid system had been abandoned and a new design, favoured at the time by London and Paris, had been espoused: landscaped gardens and sweeping pathways were the new style.
In the midst of these changes the various religious denominations were to be decently segregated, with broad commodious allotments given over to the Church of England, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians and Jews – the Lutherans, and ‘other denominations’, had to make do with a small plot just off the central avenue.
As time passed, as with many well-planned undertakings, this one too succumbed to the pressure of increasing needs. As the numbers seeking a place of final repose increased, and the available space to accommodate them diminished, grassy knolls gave to give way to additional graves, with a resultant boisterous ecumenical jostling of Anglicans, Roman Catholics and others. Jones and Smith now lay close to Rossi and Bianchi, while Anglo-Angels, perched with outstretched wings atop Corinthian columns, gazed down on marble Italianate Madonnas. It presented a glorious example of just how circumstances and necessity can frustrate visionary planning and intention.←1 | 2→
Along the cemetery’s Sixth Avenue, up from the Jewish Mortuary Chapel, stands a Church of England enclave, now ringed about with the mortal remains of Italians, Greeks and Vietnamese. Today, should you step through the ranks of these graves, and if you search carefully enough, you will come upon a low cement plinth on which is set a small bronzed plaque bearing the following inscription:
Charles Henry Brown
Built Australia’s first balloon Australasian
which made the first manned flight in
Australia, from Richmond to Heidelberg
on 1st February, 1858.
Also his wife Eliza (1825–1898)
This plaque was dedicated on the 22nd May 1994
by the Brown Family, The Balloon Association
of Victoria, Australian Ballooning Federation
and the Aviation Society of Victoria.
Here amongst this magnificent clutter lie the remains of the aeronaut whose correspondence you are about to peruse. There is no trace of any earlier tombstone so, on the face of it, this 1994 memorial is Brown’s valedictory.
* * *
Close to the site of the Cremorne Gardens, the place from which Brown made some of his pioneering balloon ascents, school children have created a mural showing early balloon ascents from the gardens. This commemorative work carries no direct reference to the man himself and only an ←2 | 3→inaccurate depiction of the balloons that went aloft from that venue. The art work shows hot-air Montgolfier balloons taking to the sky. This type of craft was never flown at Cremorne. Unfortunately the bronze memorial, belatedly erected, also incorporates incorrect information.
The Australasian was not the first balloon built in the Australian Colonies. Indeed Brown himself never claimed it to be such. The Australasian was built in England and the well-established aeronaut, Henry Coxwell, in his 1887 autobiography, claimed responsibility for the balloon’s construction.
A number of noted balloons predated the Australasian. In Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) during May 1844, ‘Professor’ Rea (the title being self-awarded) constructed a Montgolfier balloon and announced his intention to ascend in this vehicle from Hobart. The Frenchman, Pierre Maigre, declared his intention of making the ‘first balloon ascent in the Australian colonies’ and scheduled it for Monday, 15 December 1856. He proposed to demonstrate his proficiency as an aeronaut, claiming to have successfully flown in France, the United States and the East Indies. His craft, the Sydney Balloon, stood 100 feet high with a circumference of 160 feet. It was also a Montgolfier balloon and was to ascend from Sydney’s Domain. The large vessel managed to rise only a few feet and the enraged spectators, believing themselves victim of a scam, rioted and destroyed the balloon. In the melee a large post used to tether the balloon crashed to the ground killing a young spectator. Bells Life in Sydney and Sporting Review reported the event as being a ‘bare-faced swindle’.
With all this clutter of information to hand it was puzzling as to how the sponsors of the memorial to Brown came to make the claim they did. With my own background in aviation and law, I was not prepared to leave this conundrum sit unexamined and resolved to investigate further.
The search for additional information relating to Charles Henry Brown led to the discovery of a twenty-page pamphlet on early ballooning in Australia. The author, Helene Rogers, identified as one of her primary sources a notebook from the State Library of Victoria’s archives, credited as the property of Brown. My request at the library yielded a card-bound volume, eight inches in length and six and a half inches wide. Its blue cloth cover was embossed with the title ‘Public Library of Victoria’. It ←3 | 4→was a substantial document containing 434 foolscap folio pages, clearly something more than a mere ‘notebook’. In fact, it was a collection of copies of letters to and from Brown, transcribed in a neat, though minute, copperplate hand. The blue pages were carefully pencil-lined with a 1-inch margin. On a cursory examination the document appeared to be a typical Victorian letter-book; a collection of copied letters intended to form a running commentary of one’s activities, social or business. This initial belief proved to be erroneous.
Brown had inserted a smaller folio at the front of the document, and had inscribed it: Aeronautica – Correspondence of C. H. Brown. With Explanatory Notes etc. The last pages of the document recorded an extensive index. I concluded that the text was not a letter-book in the proper sense of the word. Clearly Brown had prepared and intended Aeronautica for publication; further reading confirmed this view. The manuscript, however, never made it to print, hindered perhaps in part by the fact that in 1838 Monck Mason had produced a popular work which was known to devotees by its main title, Aeronautica.
Among Brown’s letters there are instances of lengthy passages of time without any entered correspondence being entered. Notable family events such as births and deaths pass without record, but perhaps this was only to be expected in a document that evidenced such a singular focus, aeronautics, and was obviously intended for a particular readership.
It is likely however, that Brown did keep a letter-book: there seems to be no other reasonable explanation as to how he was able to reference such a diverse collection of letters from which to compile his Aeronautica. We can therefore presume he managed this compilation of selected extracts from a missing letter-book.
The correspondence covers the period from 1843 through to 1864. Any initial gaps in the letters recorded may well demonstrate that Brown was not aware that some of the correspondences were to blossom into long-term exchanges; or it may reflect nothing more than a young man’s less that assiduous attention of maintaining his letter-book.
There are also tantalising references to other material that in all likelihood would have helped build a greater understanding of Brown’s aspirations, both for himself and aerostation. He had written a book on ←4 | 5→ballooning and, in his aeronautical correspondence, he makes reference to having submitted this work to the London publishes, William Shorberl. The manuscript was rejected; not necessarily because of any deficiency on Brown’s part as a writer. It was a work which Shorberl read with ‘considerable pleasure’ – but, as was explained, the times were ‘very inauspicious to literary speculations’. There is now no trace of that manuscript. Later, in his letters, Brown makes mention of a number of manuals he had written on the subject of aerostation, some of which were privately published, but these documents too have vanished. All of this correspondence was entered into at a time when the craft of aerostation was beginning to exciting a degree of scientific interest outside of its coterie of enthusiasts.
We have only a few early biographical details of Brown and, in his Aeronautica, he does little to enlighten the reader as to his youth in Leeds. By reference to other sources we can identify his father, Benjamin Brown, a bookkeeper who married Hannah Higgins in St Peter’s Church, Leeds, in April 1823. The couples’ first child, Edwin, was born in June of the following year, with Charles Henry Brown arriving two years later, though apparently undocumented, registration of births not then being required by law, the task falling to the local clergyman – the matter dependent on his diligence.
Undoubtedly Brown received a sound education, a fact shown by his neat handwriting and his competent use of language. His father intended this son should follow a career as a clerk, ideally in a permanent and pensionable position. However, the young Brown was already in the process of building up an extensive library of aeronautical literature as well as a number of illustrations.
Conquest of the air had been demonstrated by the French brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. In 1782 they had sent aloft their hot air balloon. The first manned flight followed in 1783. Again it was two pioneer Frenchmen, De Rozier and the Marquis de A’landes, who made that balloon ascent. The title ‘aeronaut’ came to be applied to all such aerial adventurers.
Aerostation was introduced into Britain in September of the following year by an Italian, Vincenzo Lunardi. This novelty elicited a bevy of mixed responses; indifference, ridicule, through the new art was embraced by ←5 | 6→an enthusiastic few. Young Charles Henry Brown was a member of this last group.
- X, 322
- ISBN (PDF)
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- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2020 (June)
- Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2020. X, 322 pp.