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The Unfortunate Endeavours of Charles Henry Brown

Aeronaut 1827–1870

Terence FitzSimons

This is the biography of a pioneer aeronaut, Charles Henry Brown, whose life-long obsession with aerostation took him from his native Great Britain to Australia and India. The story of his quest for recognition is deeply researched, while being told in an anti-generic mode – imagined dialogue, play scripts and speculative interventions.
To date Brown’s story has not been told in any great detail, and in the few instances where his achievements have been noted the records are marred by inaccuracies. While the story is prima facie an historical biography it also highlights the travail and frustrations faced by the early aviation pioneers – in an age of innovation and advancement they were viewed by many in the scientific community, and the general public, as being no more than providers of novelty entertainment. Brown never accepted this role and had a greater vision of the future of aviation.
Brown’s story also reflects the many interesting, and to us, peculiar aspects of contemporary Victorian society.
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Chapter 10: Something in the Air

Extract

CHAPTER 10

Something in the Air

The 1856 flying season had begun early for the Leeds Royal Gardens. Chambers was still incapacitated and trying to sell the Victory. Since the Gardens had no balloon Brown could not offer his own services as pilot. There was, however, some good news for Brown. Clapham announced he had decided to engage once again the redoubtable Coxwell. Brown was elated, as Coxwell had repeatedly offered to have him come aloft as his co-pilot.

Coxwell was booked to ascend on Easter Monday and Tuesday for a fee of ₤25. Well aware of the trouble Chambers and Green had experienced at the gardens, and additionally briefed by Brown on problems with inflation at the venue, Coxwell asked Brown to ensure there would be no trouble with the supply of gas. Delighted to have his friend return to Leeds, Brown quickly complied with the request. But the whole arrangement came close to falling through when Clapham, whom Coxwell regarded as a sharp dealer always on the look-out for number-one, attempted to have a Wednesday ascent tagged to the deal. It was not the prospect of an additional ascent that disturbed Coxwell, but he was angered at the suggestion that he undertake the ascent for a paltry ₤5 fee. ‘The idea of such a thing!’ exploded Coxwell. ‘He must think me a fool.’1 Brown quickly moved to play peacemaker and counselled Coxwell to let the matter rest.

The Easter...

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