Leila Adair at Palmerston North

Leila Adair ran into problems with her balloon ascent at the Palmerston North Racecourse on 24 May 1894, held during a tournament organised by the Manawatu Mounted Rifles. When the supply of kerosene proved insufficient to inflate the balloon, Captain Dunk (standing on the far right in the photo below) confiscated their takings of £28... Continue Reading →

James William Price: Balloonist

The genealogical research behind the characters in my novel has been addictive, frustrating, and fascinating. I managed to solve the elusive narrative (blurred by exaggeration, lies, and unexplained gaps) which the two sisters invented to conceal their true origins, but James Price was a bit more slippery. In passport applications made from 1915 – 1920,... Continue Reading →

Park Van Tassel: Aeronaut

Park Van Tassel could well have been the inspiration behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Part flamboyant showman and part bumbling humbug, he barnstormed his way around the southwest of the United States, Australia, South East Asia, India and Iran, drawing in the crowds to see an aeronaut jump from a balloon with a parachute.... Continue Reading →

The Van Tassel Sisters: Lady Parachutists

Outrage and a political scandal followed Gladys Van Tassel’s balloon ascent and parachute jump at Townsville on a Sunday. The implications are explained in this entertaining journal article Lady Parachutists and the End of Civilisation in Queensland by Bill Metcalf and the saga consumed a large amount of ink in newspapers and letters to various... Continue Reading →

Sequah: Medicine Man

Sequah was a quack doctor who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand in 1894. Dressed like a Native American, he hired a vacant lot on the corner of Queen and Customs Street to set up his business. With a brass band, gilded wagon and his slick patter, witnesses described it as “an event equal to that... Continue Reading →

Madame Cora de Lamond: Magicienne

Madame Cora de Lamond (real name Ursula Bush) was the first woman to tour as a magician in Australia and New Zealand. She first appeared at Sydney’s Prince Of Wales Theatre in November 1871. Her performance consisted of troublewit (folding paper into shapes) and legerdemain (sleight of hand). The high point of her show was... Continue Reading →

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