Summary

Australia Victoria Melbourne
Coppins Balloon 1858 (AD)
Mint:
Other Details: Medal issued to commemorate the flight of Coppin's Balloon. On 1 February 1858 the people of Melbourne witnessed a flight of the 'Australasian', a gas-powered balloon piloted by English aeronaut Joseph Dean and imported by George Coppin. It rose from Cremorne Gardens, on the north bank of the Yarra, to a height of three thousand feet, flew for half an hour and landed in Heidelberg Road. It was heralded as Australia's first flight.

Physical Description

A white metal medal (38 mm diameter) featuring Coppin's Balloon in flight with two people

Obverse Description

At centre a balloon, above on broad border, COPPIN'S BALLOON; across centre of balloon AUSTRALASIAN

Reverse Description

At centre, AEROSTATIC / MEDAL; around on broad border, CREMORNE GARDENS * VICTORIA 1858 *

Edge Description

Plain

Significance

On 1 February 1858 the people of Melbourne witnessed a flight of the 'Australasian', a gas-powered balloon piloted by English aeronaut Joseph Dean. It was heralded as Australia's first human flight. Earlier that year Coppin, theatre owner, entertainer and entrepreneur, had returned from England with two balloons and two aeronauts. The 'Australasian' was made for Coppin by C. H. Brown and/or Henry T. Coxwell of Tottenham, England. It was constructed from 500 yards of material coated the varnish, was 60 feet high, 40 feet in diameter and used 31,000 cubic feet of gas. Coppin hoped to make money by charging people to view the flight from his private amusement park, Cremorne Gardens, on the north bank of the Yarra (bounded by Cremorne Street, Balmain Street, the railway and the Yarra River. The Gardens opened around 1856 and closed in the 1860s.). Unfortunately, as the Melbourne Punch recorded in a poem composed for the occasion:

'The multitude that throngs the roads
A heavy haul for Coppin bodes;
But alas! for him but few are willing
To pay for the spectacle 'five shilling'
When they in their fobs
Can keep their bobs,
And see just as well from outside the wickets
As if they had honestly paid for their tickets.'

The balloon was partly inflated at the Melbourne Gas Works and filled at Mr Coppins' residence. The Melbourne Punch described the filling:

'While the big bag bulges and bellies and shakes
For through some unseen crannies and chinks
The hydrogen gas escapes'

The Age recorded anxiously: 'Looking at the flaccid state of the balloon, almost every one seemed to form the most unfavorable anticipation of success...patience seemed to have been exhausted and every one expected a postponement'. Many spectators probably remembered the attempt by Thomas Rea to make a balloon flight in Launceston nine years earlier that had ended in failure and a pile of fabric.

The escaping gas meant that the balloon lacked sufficient lift to take aloft both Dean and another aeronaut, Charles Henry Brown, and Brown hastily jumped out, leaving Dean to ascend alone. The balloon climbed to a height of three thousand feet, maneuvered deftly to miss the Pantheon, flew for half an hour and landed in Heidelberg Road.

Although hailed at Australia's first human flight, it is possible that a balloon actually bore another aeronaut, William Green, aloft in Ballarat the previous month, as part of celebrations for the visit of Victorian Governor Sir Henry Barkly. The flight was prepared but was never reported in the papers, perhaps because co-owner of Cremorne Gardens, Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, had local influence and prevented the flight being reported. His partner Coppin had every intention of facilitating the first flight himself.

-Melbourne Punch 4/2/1858, pp.18-19; Age, 2/2/1868, p.4; O'Neill-FitzSimons, Terence. 2000. A Balloon on the Ballarat: Green's Balloon Extraordinary. Victorian Historical Journal. 71 (1); Monash University The Centre for Telecommunications and Information Engineering web site http://www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/dean_bio.html -D. Tout-Smith 7/10/2003.

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