A peep at the balloon

On Saturday, 7 July 1810, the Oxford-born chemist James Sadler (1753-1828) took part in the celebrations of the installation of the new Chancellor of the University by ascending in a balloon from Merton fields with his fourteen-year-old son, Windham. The Literary Panorama reported on the occasion that “he took with him in the car, 100 small bags filled with sand […], some cold beef, a bottle of brandy, four bottles of water, and a cat fastened in a wicker basket”.

The following year, he did it again, this time to celebrate the Regent’s birthday. The popular enthusiasm surrounding the ascent of Sadler’s balloon from the gardens of the Mermaid Tavern, Hackney, was captured in this satirical print by William Elmes, from Douce’s collection:

William Elmes, Prime bang up at Hackney or a peep at the balloon 12th. Augt., 1811, hand-coloured etching (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

The coronation of George IV in 1821 was similarly marked by this ‘Coronation Balloon’, on board of which Charles Green ascended from Green Park in London:

John Arliss, Mr. Green’s Coronation Balloon, 1821, woodcut (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Douce was interested in balloons not only as spectacle, but also as a mechanical innovation. In the folder labelled ‘Aerostation’, we find images that focus on the technical aspects of ballooning -this print, for instance, belonged to a series illustrating an improved type of balloon. Signed by the Gerli Brothers (Carlo Giuseppe,¬†Giuseppe, and Agostino), the plates were published as part of their Maniera di migliorare e dirigere i balloni aerei (Rome, 1790):

Fratelli Gerli, Balloon, c. 1790, etching and engraving (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

It seems that Douce joined in the ‘balloonomania’ that followed the invention of the balloon in 1783. Judging from the print below, he might have been one of the ticket-holders disappointed by the failure of Durs Egg and S. J. Pauly, whose “Dolphin Balloon” propelled by a steam engine never materialized:

Richard William Silvester, Ticket, c. 1815, etching and engraving (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

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