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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 21: The Reprise

Extract

CHAPTER 21

The Reprise

Within a few days of concluding the purchase of the balloons, Brown decided to take the Australasian to Sydney and to use it to initiate the new venture.1 With the death of his infant son just behind them and Eliza newly pregnant, he was not prepared for his family to join him on this trip. Green was quite content to have his new partner to look after all the troublesome and pernickety details of preparing the balloon, netting, car and appurtenances. The Tavistock, repaired in a makeshift way and fitted with a new car, was left in Melbourne in the custody of a friend, a Mr Bellin, who had loaned Brown ₤30 to help secure the deal with Coppin.

Already a celebrity in Sydney, Brown assured his partner they would meet with a good reception when they arrived. But he did not have the same connections that Brooke had able to call on, and there was no certainty that he could secure a good venue for the proposed ascent. When last in Sydney he had struck up an acquaintance with Abraham Polack, an auctioneer with a colourful background.

In his younger days Polack had gained a certain notoriety by taking his horsewhip to a local who had ‘mentioned his name to a widow lady in a disrespectful manner’.2 When Brown had been in Sydney Polack had expressed to him his interest in aerostation. He was running two steamers...

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