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Charles Green

The Voyage of the Royal Vauxhall

 
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Charles Green (1785 - 1870) was probably the most experienced airman of his day. In 1836 he decided to undertake a really adventurous flight, and the distance he travelled (nearly 500 miles) remained unbeaten for more than 40 years. He set out from London on 7 November, with his companions Mr. Monk-Mason and Mr.Robert Holland, M.P. Not knowing where they might end up, they had taken the precaution of obtaining passports for every country in Europe! They had also stocked the basket well with provisions. The balloon was a magnificent creation in red and yellow silk, with a capacity of 85,000 cu. ft., named the Royal Vauxhall. A little after one o'clock she rose and headed south-east over Kent towards the continent.

Charles Green
(From right) Charles Green, Monk Mason and Robert Holland

Here is Monk-Mason's account:

It was forty-eight minutes past four that we first saw the line of waves breaking on the shores beneath us. It would have been impossible to have remained unmoved by the grandeur of the spectacle that spread out before us. Behind us were the coasts of England, with their white cliffs half lost in the coming darkness. Beneath us on both sides the ocean spread out far and wide to where the darkness closed in the scene. Opposite us, a thick barrier of clouds like a wall, surmounted all along its line with projections like so many towers, bastions, and battlements, rose up from the sea as if to stop our advance. A few minutes later we were in the midst of this cloudy barrier, surrounded with darkness, which the vapours of the night increased. We heard no sound. The noise of the waves breaking on the shores of England had ceased, and our position had for some time shut us off from all the sounds of the earth.

The voyagers crossed the French coast a little later, and the ground became visible once more ...

Darkness was now complete, and it was only by the lights, sometimes isolated, sometimes seen in masses, and showing themselves far down on the earth beneath us, that we could form a guess of the countries we traversed, or of the towns and villages which appeared before us every moment. The whole surface of the earth for many leagues round showed nothing but but scattered lights, and the face of the earth seemed to rival the vault of heaven with starry fires.

Charles Green over Liege
The travellers crossing Liege and the Meuse

Passing over the industrial town of Liége, the ground seemed a blaze of street lights, furnaces, smelting-works and foundries. Around midnight, however, the lights began to be extinguished as people went to their beds, and the travellers were left floating on in impenetrable blackness. The barometer indicated that they should be at a height of 2,000 ft. Their alarm and terror can easily be imagined when at about 3 o'clock an explosive crack was heard in the darkness, and the basket lurched sharply. It was followed by a second and then a third, accompanied by heavy jolts to the basket. The cause was found to be the expansion of the envelope due to the altitude. It had pressed against the network of ropes that secured it to the basket, and some of these, being saturated with water and now frozen by the intense cold, had suddenly snapped with a noise like a rifle shot. The release of a little gas eased the pressure and solved the problem ...

TheRoyal Vauxhall / NassauFrom time to time, vast masses of clouds covered the lower regions of the atmosphere, and spread a thick, whitish veil over the earth, intercepting our view, and leaving us for some time uncertain if this was not a continuation of the same plains covered with snow which we had already noticed. From these masses of vapour, there seemed more than once during the night to come a sound as of a great fall of water, or the contending waves of the sea; and it required all the forces of our reason, joined to our knowledge - such as it was - of the direction of our route, to repress the idea that we were approaching the sea, and that, driven by the wind, we had been carried along the coasts of the North Sea or the Baltic. As the day advanced these apprehensions disappeared. In place of the unbroken surface of the sea, we gradually made out the varied features of a cultivated country, in the midst of which flowed a majestic river, which lost itself, at both extremities, in the mist that still lay on the horizon.

The river was the Rhine, and Green elected to land here, where the ground was suitable, rather than go further into the heart of Europe. It was 7:30 a.m. From the friendly inhabitants, they learnt that they had landed near Weilburg in the Duchy of Nassau, not far from the spot where the aeronaut Blanchard had landed 51 years earlier, in 1785. To the flag of Blanchard, in the duke's castle, they added the flag which they had carried with them from England; and the balloon was renamed the Nassau.
 
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