First Balloon Ascent in the Australian Colonies

Images held in the RHSV collection:
Top-Left: Glass Negative of Aerostatic Medal to commemorate flight.
Bottom-Left: Panoramic view of Cremorne Gardens in 1854. Photographer unknown
Right: George Selth Coppin (1819-1906), c. 1870. Oil on canvas. Artist unidentified.

Researched by Alan Hall

How many thousand persons assembled yesterday afternoon to witness the first balloon ascent which has been effected in these colonies it would be difficult to estimate. The roads leading to Cremorne were thronged with vehicles, and the paths with foot- passengers from 3 until 5 o’clock, and when the latter hour arrived the environs of the gardens were thronged with curious spectators. The steamboats and the smaller craft on the river had contributed to swell the crowd, and, independently of the multitude which had streamed eastward from Melbourne, there was a large concourse gathered together from St. Kilda, Prahran, and the other populous suburbs. Every eminence from which a view of the gardens could be obtained was dark with human beings. The parapets and verandahs of the neighboring houses were occupied by anxious sight-seers; the banks of the river were lined with them, and they assembled in thronging numbers everywhere but in the grounds themselves. In fact the public seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Coppin had imported balloons and aeronauts, and had incurred a heavy outlay in the purchase of the requisite gas, and in the transport of the balloon to and from the works at Batman’s Swamp, with no other object than that of providing the assembled thousands with a gratuitous spectacle, and the car-drivers and boatmen with a rich harvest.

Pecuniarily speaking, the balloon ascent must have been a failure, while, as a matter of fact in science, it was a great success. As we have previously mentioned, it had been partially inflated at the Melbourne Gas Works at an early hour yesterday morning, and thence conveyed, by the aid of a horse and car[t] and about 30 men, to the gardens, where a further inflation took place from Mr. Coppin’s own gasometer. Unfortunately, however, owing to some neglect of the valve, a considerable quantity of gas escaped—so much so that it was found impracticable for more than one aeronaut to ascend in the car. The honor of being the first to navigate the Australian air became a subject of contention thereupon between the Messrs. Brown and Dean, the former claiming the privilege as the constructor of the balloon, and the latter on the ground of his superior experience. Eventually Mr. Brown generously gave way, and Mr. Dean took his place in the car.

Meanwhile the huge machine, surrounded by a few hundred spectators, swayed to and fro in the breeze, which was blowing steadily from the south; and the inflated sphere seemed impatient to soar into the blue element, tugging violently at the ropes which restrained its flight, and executing such capricious movements as ever and anon scattered the spectators to the right and left, and widened the clear space which had been reserved around the car.

An adequate supply of ballast having been taken in, and all the preparations completed, the signal was given to let go; and the huge machine slowly arose amidst the cheers of the assembled multitude inside and outside the gardens—cheers which were repeated and re-echoed by the spectators in more distant localities. As the balloon arose, it cleared the Pantheon very dexterously, and sailed but a few feet over the gates at the northern enclosure of the gardens. The aeronaut hastily flung out a bag of sand en masse, and the balloon commenced a rapid but perfectly easy ascension, its sole passenger waving his cap in response to the cheers which rose from the crowd below, and every now and then discharged ballast until the machine had attained a considerable altitude, when she shaped her course towards the north-west. It was about eight minutes to six when the balloon quitted her moorings, and in twenty minutes she had become a mere speck, a homoeopathic globule in the far distance, serenely and steadily sailing onwards, as though native to and rejoicing in the buoyant element.

Those who, half an hour before, had expressed nervous misgivings of the success of the experiment, and had made confidential inquiries of Mr. Coppin touching the “incumbrances” of the aeronaut and his life insurance, and had declared that the gift of a fabulous sum of money would not induce them to hazard their lives in such a desperate enterprise, might now be heard speaking of the entire safety of such aerial excursions, and professing their willingness to ascend upon the next occasion… .

About half-past 6 the balloon appeared to have commenced its descent, and speculations became very rife as to the part of the country in which Mr. Dean would once more touch his mother earth. ‘Somewhere the other side of Heidelberg’ was the vaguely-worded conclusion generally arrived at...” (1)

– later advised by Mr. Coppin as Plenty Road (2).

1 FIRST BALLOON ASCENT IN THE AUSTRALIAN COLONIES. (1858, February 2). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 5. Retrieved from

2 THEATRE ROYAL. (1858, February 2). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 5. Retrieved from