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Author Topic: The Worlds First Fatal Parachute Accident. 24th July 1837  (Read 662 times)

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The Worlds First Fatal Parachute Accident. 24th July 1837
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2017, 19:22:25 »
The worlds first parachute jump was made by a Frenchman, Louis-Sébastien Le Normand, from the tower of Montpellier Observatory in December 1783. A second Frenchman, André-Jacques Garnerin, made a series of parachute jumps from October 1797. On the 21st September 1802 Garnerin demonstrated his parachute over London, jumping from a balloon at 10,000 feet. One of the onlookers was Robert Cocking, the son of an Irish clergyman, professional watercolourist and amateur scientist.

Garnerins' parachute had oscillated wildly and Cocking concluded, based on the work of Sir George Cayley,  that a more stable parachute should be in the form of an inverted cone. After experiments with models he built a full-sized parachute. Three metal hoops connected with wooden spars formed the framework, which was then covered with Irish linen. The parachute had a diameter of 34 feet and a weight, including the basket slung beneath the parachute, of 223 lb. 

Cocking persuaded Messrs Gye and Hughes, the proprietors of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in London and the financiers of the Charles Green designed Royal Nassau balloon, to assist him with his experiments. Charles Green, who was to be the balloons pilot, had grave misgivings, the sudden loss of nearly 400 lbs, the combined weight of the parachute and Cocking, would place the balloon and its occupants in danger. The Royal Nassau was modified to allow as much gas as possible to be released as soon as Cocking was dropped, otherwise the balloon would rise too fast and possibly burst as the gas expanded. Green also had misgivings about the parachute itself and insisted that Cocking himself should be responsible for releasing it.

On the 24th July 1837 at 7.30 pm on a perfect summers evening, the Royal Nassau rose from Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens where it was the well advertised main attraction of a grand fete. In the balloon basket were Charles Green and Edward Spencer. The parachute hung beneath the balloon basket with Cocking in the parachute basket. To the disappointment of the crowd the balloon soon disappeared in the clouds.

At 5,000 feet over Greenwich Green advised Cocking that he could rise no further. After checking where he was Cocking released his parachute. The balloon then rose rapidly, reaching a height of over 23,400 feet, then, as the gas vented, falling just as rapidly, the two men desperately throwing out everything possible to slow their descent.

Meanwhile watchers on the ground had seen Cocking release his parachute, then watched horrified as the parachute collapsed. Beneath a cloud of wildly flapping fabric Cocking fell to earth at Six-Acre Field near Lee Green in Kent (as then), Cocking dying as he was being carried to the nearby Tigers Head Inn. Regrettably many of Cockings' personal processions were stolen, even his shoes and buttons. It was even possible, until the authorities put a stop to it, to view the body at the inn for 6d.

At 8.45 pm Charles Green skillfully managed to bring the Royal Nassau down to a perfect landing at Offham near Malling in Kent, the pair staying the night with the rector of Malling. It was not till the next day that they learned of Cockings' death.

The two images below are taken from a scrapbook of early aeronautica collected by William Upcott and available online @ It includes more illustrations as well as newspaper and magazine cuttings on the subject. Pages 1 to 29.
Padstow May Song Lisa Knapp


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