John Money was born in Trowse Newton, near Norwich, probably in 1741. Some accounts say 1752, but I think this is almost certainly wrong, since it would require him to begin his career in the regular army at the age of ten! Since he is said to have served in the Norfolk militia before then, he would have done so at an impossibly early age.
Whenever he began his military career, it was very much his life and he rose to become a general in the armies of Britain, France under King Louis XIV, and the Austrian Netherlands. His military career would make an excellent subject in itself, and I may return to it at some time. However, for the moment I am concerned with his other claim to fame, which is as one of Britain’s very first aeronauts or balloonists.
Money took to the air first in June 1785, less than two years after the Montgolfiers had made their very first ascent using a hot air balloon. What’s still more interesting is that Money, like several other early balloonists in Britain, used a balloon filled with hydrogen gas, not hot air. This first ascent was made from near London. However, what I wish to write about is his second ascent, made on July 23rd, 1785 from Quantrell’s Gardens in Norwich. Since the story is long and exciting, and much of it is available in John Money’s own words, I am going to spread it over several posts.
Let’s begin, therefore, with the details of this particular ascent from Norwich. Here is what was written in the Norfolk Chronicle for Saturday, July 23rd, 1785:
The BRITISH BALLOON THAT ascended from London the Third of June last with Major Money, Mr. Blake, and Mr. Lockwood, will ascend from Quantrell’s Gardens with the above Gentlemen at Half after Three THIS DAY, the 23d of July, for the Benefit of the NORWICH and NORFOLK HOSPITAL;
This is the finest Balloon in England, was constructed by Count Zambecari, and is the only one that has, or is capable of ascending with three Persons; and as the Expence attending the filling is so great, it is probable no such Balloon will ever be seen again in this County.
From the Disappointment the Public felt at the last Aerostatic Experiments made here, this Balloon will be kept some Time floating in the Air, before the Cord is cut, so that the Spectators IN THE GARDEN ONLY may receive every Satisfaction they can wish.
Tickets of Admission only Half a Crown each, to be had at the Gardens THIS MORNING; and Tickets for a publick Breakfast, Music, &c. &c. Five Shillings each, to be had at Tuck and Johnson’s Coffee-houses.
A Bad Start
Things began to go wrong from the start. To produce the hydrogen gas, the balloonists of the time needed copious supplies of iron filings. Somehow, the supply available on that day was insufficient to make enough gas to fill the balloon. It was not able to lift the three people intended, so John Money elected to go on his own. There was barely enough gas even for this, as the same newspaper related just one week later on Saturday, July 30th:
It was intended that Mr. Blake and Lockwood, the gentlemen who before ascended in the same balloon from London with the Major, should also at this time have accompanied him, but there being a deficiency of iron filings [to generate the hydrogen for the balloon] (there not having been, Mr. Lockwood says, time to procure a sufficient quantity) it was found, at four o’clock, that it could not be sufficiently inflated for that purpose, and even when the Major was alone in it, that it would not admit of his taking up any ballast, for it rose in the garden with reluctance, and was at first entangled in a tree, but the Major disengaged himself from this, and soon after throwing out his great coat, the balloon ascended without further interruption, gradually indeed, but in a manner peculiarly graceful and majestic.
So far so good. To discover what happened next, you have to wait for the next instalment of the story.
As an aside, it appears there must be some strange link between Norfolk and balloons, since in the same year of 1785, another distinguished Norfolk resident, William Windham M.P., made a flight in a hydrogen balloon – and almost met the same fate as John Money.