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An 1828 Balloon Ascent…On a Pony! – Mimi Matthews

Technical Illustrations of Early Balloon Designs by Ambrose William Warren, 1781-1856.

In 1828, famed British balloonist Charles Green announced that he would make his ninety-ninth ascent while riding on horseback. The 19th century public could not wait to see such a spectacle and, on July 29, 1828 at 5 oclock in the morning, an immense crowd gathered outside of the Eagle Tavern in City Road, London. Spectators filled all of Old Street, City Road, and even stood atop nearby buildings, all vying for the first glimpse of the famous aeronaut on his steed. The August 2nd edition of the Edinburgh Evening Courant reports:

For a long time the spectators, some of whom had assembled at a very early hour, were lost in conjecturing what Mr. Green meant in announcing an ascent on horseback, till they were at length shewn a very pretty Shetland pony, one of the smallest breed we ever saw.

Portrait of Charles Green by Hilaire Ledru, 1835.

Contemporary accounts differ regarding the breed of the pony. Most newspapers of 1828 describe him as a Welsh Pony, while the most detailed 1828 article on Mr. Greens balloon ascent states that it was, indeed, a Shetland Pony. This pony, according to the Edinburgh Evening Courant, had been carefully trained by Mr. Green and had already made one or two balloon ascents with him to such heights as the ropes would allow. Described as being very docile, the pony was reportedly accustomed to climbing the stairs, lying down on the hearth-rug, and drinking tea from a cup. In addition, the pony was trained to bow to ladies and to offer its foot to gentlemen when commanded to salute them. The article states:

In order to show the wondering and doubting crowd that no trick was intended, the beautiful little and well-trained animal, decorated with blue satin housing, bridle and ribbands, was led round the gardens, bowing to the company, and much exciting their admiration.

At seven oclock, the pony was led into a stall underneath the balloon. Mr. Green then mounted the pony and the balloon was set loose. It had been showery and stormy the previous evening and, though the weather was calmer, there was still a good breeze. As a result, the balloon at once soared aloft taking a southerly direction, carrying with it the man and the animal. The poor pony did not know what to make of this new experience and, quite predictably, panicked. As the Edinburgh Evening Courant reports:

The pony evidently disliked the excursion, and plunged violently at the moment of the ascent, greatly to the terror of the spectators. What Mr. Green may have felt at commencing such a journey, with such a companion, we know not; his exertions to preserve quiet and order seemed wholly to occupy him, and perhaps his fears were not equal to the spectators apprehensions; but we never saw a neck that we thought in greater jeopardy than Mr. Greens, except one that was placed in the hands of the executioner.

The Eagle Tavern, 1841.

Fortunately, the pony soon reconciled himself to the situation and, for the rest of the voyage, remained comparatively quiet. The journey itself lasted over sixteen hours, the balloon going wherever the wind decided to take it. The July 30th edition of the Morning Post reports:

A messenger arrived at the Eagle Tavern at half-past eleven last night, with the intelligence that Mr. Green descended safe, after a very fine voyage, at Beckenham, in Kent.

George IV in profile, lithography by George Atkinson, 1821.

Mr. Greens balloon ascent on his pony proved so popular that he sought to repeat the performance. He announced that he would do so in honor of King George IVs birthday on August 12, 1828. However, the weather was not cooperative and the ascent had to be postponed for three days. On August 15, 1828, the Morning Chronicle reports that the ascent was finally accomplished with the trifling omission of the horse part of the entertainment.

The Morning Chronicle likens the exclusion of this Welsh Pegasus from the balloon ascent to the exclusion of the character of Iago from Shakespeares Othello, writing:

As soon as we were aware of this circumstance, it forcibly recalled to our mind the Irish mode of performing Othello, with the character of Iago omitted, under the direction of Father OLeary, as too immoral for any stageso, in like manner, under the beauteous trees of White Conduit House (poplars half-grown, and beech not grown at all), we heard the faint echoes of sundry sighs and moaning for the omission of the pony

Another complaint was that on this occasion, Mr. Green sailed by deputy, sending his son in his place. But the publics response to the absence of the famous aeronaut was nothing compared to their response to the absence of his tiny steed. As the Morning Chronicle states rather aptly:

The balloon, to be sure, went up; but what is a balloon without a pony?

Shetland Pony.

Thus concludes another of my Friday features on Animals in Literature and History. If you are interested in helping a horse or pony in need, I encourage you to utilize the following links as resources:

Equine Rescue League(United States)

RSCPA Horses and Ponies Rehoming and Adoption(United Kingdom)

Works Referenced or Cited in this Article

Balloon Ascent with a Welsh Pony. Morning Post. July 30, 1828.

The Horse Balloon. Morning Chronicle. August 16, 1828.

Perilous Balloon Ascent on Horseback. Edinburgh Evening Courant. August 2, 1828.

2015 Mimi Matthews

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