A Ballooning Humourist

Albert Smith ( 1816 - 60 ), a qualified physician turned humorist, who unlike some of the more famous writers for Punch, is rather forgotten now, was, for a short while, an enthusiastic balloonist, until he came a cropper. One of the letters featured here is addressed to a certain Barton, and may refer to an impending ascent, because 'Vauxhall Station' is described as 'a meeting place' and we know that in this period many balloons took off from Vauxhall Gardens. In the other letter, written on a Monday night, he warns ‘Sir Edwin ‘ (possibly the painter Landseer ) that he has a morning ‘ascent’ on Tuesday morning ( no date, alas), but will come to see him in the late afternoon, when he has landed.

The letter to Sir Edwin may refer to an impending balloon flight from Cremorne in July 1847 in which Smith and nine other passengers, who included fellow Punch contributor Shirley Brooks. The ecstatic Smith recalled the novelty of his experience thus:

‘ The first sensation experienced was not that we were rising, but that the balloon remain fixed whilst all the world below was falling away; while the cheers with which they greeted our departure grew fainter, and the cheerers themselves began to look like the inmates of many sixpenny Noah’s Arks grouped upon a billiard table…’

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