Mrs Laetitia Sage became the first English woman to fly in a hydrogen balloon in Vincent Lunardi's ascent of 29 June 1785. Vincent (or Vincenzo) Lunardi (1759-1806), was Italian secretary to the Neapolitan ambassador in London and had made the first ascent in a hydrogen balloon in Britain on 15 September 1784 from Moorfields in London. Unfortunately, the combined weight of Mrs Sage and the other two passengers, George Biggin and Colonel Hastings, was too much for the balloon. Lunardi and Hastings agreed to stay behind, allowing Mrs Sage and Biggin, a wealthy Etonian, to continue alone. Together they flew in a red, white and blue balloon from St. George's Fields in London, over St James's Park and Piccadilly, before landing over two hours later in fields near Harrow.
Mrs Sage was described as Junoesque, and apparently weighed in at over 200 pounds. In a later account, Mrs. Sage blamed herself for the balloon going over the weight limit, as she hadn't volunteered her exact weight to Mr. Lunardi and he'd been too polite to ask it of her. The gondola was draped in swags, but the gate had a neat arrangement of lacing so that the watchers on the ground could see the people up in the air. Upon exiting the gondola, Lunardi failed to do up the lacings of the gondola door. As the balloon sailed away over Picadilly The beautiful Mrs Sage was on all fours re-threading the lacings to close the door.
Watercolour sketch by Cordy, a spectator, showing Lunardi's
second balloon carrying George Biggin and Mrs Sage
The flight followed the line of the Thames westwards finally landing heavily in Harrow on the Hill where the balloon damaged a hedge and gouged a strip through the middle of an uncut hayfield, leaving the farmer ranting abuse and threats. The honour of the first female aeronaut was saved by the young gentlemen from Harrow school who had a whip-round to pay off the farmer and then carried Mrs Sage bodily, in triumph, to the local pub. Mrs. Sage later published her experience as Britain’s first female aeronaut, an account which realized two printings.
Labels: Kristine Hughes