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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 6: Bradford Fiasco

Extract

CHAPTER 6

Bradford Fiasco

Quietly pleased at Hampton’s failure in Dublin, and ascribing it to a faulty fuel mixture and unwarranted alterations to his design for the balloon, Brown continued to complain of Hampton in his letters to MacSweeny and Wise, and no doubt to any locals who would listen. He told Wise of the failure of the Arctic Surveying Balloon, but avoided any mention of the extent to which the craft had been of his own design. The American, Wise, was an exciting correspondent. He called himself a Citizen of the World and proclaimed that ‘the human family is entitled to the grand and glorious prerogative of Aerial locomotion – surely intelligent beings should be as much so as buzzards’. In turn Brown sent off his plans for a double opening valve as well as a drawing of his proposed parachute. Wise wrote back that he would thereafter use the valve and assured Brown that he would experiment with the parachute and should it prove to his satisfaction, ‘I will notice it at the time as your invention’.1 MacSweeny too was making his contribution to buoying Brown’s spirits. He espoused a scheme which he termed ‘Balloon Ways’, that would see craft move from place to place along a network of guide ropes suspended on poles. He asked Brown to outline the proposal to Wise the next time he wrote, since, he believed, ‘Balloon Ways, if once tried in the “go ahead” country, America, would soon spread’.2...

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