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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 2: In the Beginning

Extract

CHAPTER 2

In the Beginning

‘I am determined I will be an aeronaut, if possible, if I am obliged to make my balloon of paper’. This statement of purpose was set out by Charles Henry Brown in a letter sent in June 1849 from Leeds to the veteran aeronaut, John Hampton. Brown was careful to qualify his statement about taking to the air, and indicate that it was a future objective rather than a present prospect.1 Hampton at the time was across the Irish Sea in Cork, procuring a living by making balloon ascents from the main cities and towns. He augmented his earnings by presenting the occasional pyrotechnic display along with providing panoramic exhibits relating to topical events. Hampton was flattered by the attention with which young Brown seemed to be following his aeronautical endeavours in Ireland, and the lad was certainly abreast of all the other news from the esoteric world of aerostation.

Leeds in the mid-nineteenth century was a confused place with a multiplicity of architectural styles and a bewildering skyline challenging all sense of order and perspective. Visitors would remark on its visible ‘busy-ness’ as well as its enthusiastic businesses, and the tremendous movement of all sorts of vehicular traffic on its none-too-wide paved streets.2 William Osburn, a town overseer and one time trustee of the Leeds Parish Workhouse, commented in verse on the state of the town’s waterway, the Aire River:

The AIRE below is doubly dyed...

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