Captain Lorriane Loses his Life
The Balloon Carried out to Sea
A Terrible Fall. The Aeronaut Drowned, Fruitless Search for his Body.
Star, Issue 6633, 3 November 1899, Page 4
Not one of the thousand spectators who gathered at Lancaster Park yesterday afternoon to witness the balloon ascent of Captain Lorraine would willingly pass through a period of such awful anxiety and suspense as that which then fell to their lot. It is thrilling and exciting enough, in all conscience, to watch an intrepid aeronaut clinging to his great, swelling balloon, carried up to the clouds till he is lost to sight and nothing but a speck remains visible in the vault, and then to see him drop, and as his parachute opens above him like a tiny umbrella, make a long, slow, slanting descent to the earth.
There is a fascination in such an exhibition of daring and skill, and the spectators gain something of the performer’s confidence, feeling sure that, with his experience and strength, he will return in safety. But there was an element in yesterday’s ascent which robbed it of all enjoyment as a spectacle. If there was a fascination in the affair, it was the fascination of horror; and if eyes strained eagerly to watch each development, they strained with anxiety and fear. Nervous and helpless, thousands of men and women saw Captain Lorraine borne away to his death. Hoping against hope, in suspense the more terrible because the adventurer was beyond the aid of their hands, they gazed at the fast diminishing spot against the eastern sky. Even while they attempted to persuade themselves that the man might return safely, they felt in their hearts that there could be but one ending, and that a tragic one. When at last he could be seen no more, conjecture took the place of certainty. Nothing but absolute self-command and marvellous power, crowned by a superhuman effort of daring and strength, could give him life. Yet he seems to have made that effort, and it was in a battle against the waves of the sea that he finally met his death.
It was to have been Captain Lorraine’s “benefit”; it proved his undoing. His two previous ascents were wonderfully successful, but the financial results were disappointing. The circumstances of such a performance as his make it impossible to draw an entrance fee from all spectators, and that is why the Mayor of Christchurch and many prominent citizens decided to organise a benefit in recognition of the aeronaut’s daring and skill. The elements were propitious. The day was warm, and clouds tempered the heat and glare of the sun, and not until the appointed hour did a nor’wester rise to mar the proceedings with its gusts and clouds of dust. Captain Lorraine himself was in the gayest of moods, and the generosity of the citizens of Christchurch moved him to the decision, that this ascent should eclipse all his previous efforts. It was to be his “record” performance. He would mount higher than ever, and would vary the graceful parachute descent by evolutions on the suspended trapeze.
By four o’clock the balloon was filled with gas, and as the final arrangements were made, the Captain chatted and laughed with some of the numerous friends he has made in Christchurch. The Mayor, who was present, took a keen interest in the affair, examining balloon and parachute critically. In the corner of the Park, near the baths, the “Empress” swayed lightly, as it received the last few feet of gas. It was held to the ground by heavy sand-bags, and when all was ready these were removed, while twenty willing assistants clung to the ropes. The captain attended to the final and important details himself. The great oiled silk bag is covered with a strong cord netting, and beneath hang many fine ropes. These the captain gathered together, and fastened to a short, thick, knotted rope, on which he proposed to sit. Then he took the parachute himself, and, climbing on to the shoulders of an assistant, tied it with a piece of loosely-twisted cotton to a ring at the side of the balloon, half-way up the netting. He took his stand beneath the balloon, in the centre of a ring formed by those who held the great globe captive. His wife brought him the trapeze which hung from the parachute, and all was ready.
The captain sat quite at ease, a strong, well-knit figure, clad in dark blue uniform, the coat of which he had laid aside. There was not a trace of anxiety on the fine, clean shaven face, and there was nothing of self-esteem or bombast in the bearing of the man. A quieter or more modest gentleman it would be impossible to meet. He looked last at his wife as she stood beside him within the circle of ropes, and there was more timidity nervousness in her looks than in his. Those who stood around will not readily [remember] the scene, even though the subsequent events may be more strongly impressed on their memories. All interest centred in the gaily-coloured ball which swayed just above the heads of the knot of rope-holders on the green lawn. The Elite Band, which had played many enjoyable airs during the afternoon, struck up “Rule Britannia,” and the inspiriting strains raised the spirits of the spectators. Men, women and children, who crowded round the enclosure, strained their necks to get a glimpse of the aeronaut. “Hold steady” cried the captain, as his wife stepped aside, and as soon as the lady was clear of the circle he cried again, “Now, then, gentlemen! Let her go.”
With a great, easy spring the balloon bounded up clear of the people, but immediately there was a gasp of horror from the crowd, and a cry, “The parachute!” By some means or other the silk parachute had broken free from the ring, and while Captain Lorraine held the trapeze to which its cords were attached, the silk itself trailed below. An assistant caught it and was lifted from his feet, calling to the captain to jump to the ground. But the aeronaut called back, confidently “It’s all right; let go,” and he was obeyed. In a moment the balloon was up a hundred feet in the air, and all now depended on the strength and skill of the man himself. “How we watched him!” exclaimed an eye-witness afterwards. “It was agony almost to breathe. And we dare not, could not, think. I looked around, and everywhere I saw white faces and staring eyes drawn, tense faces, on which sat now horror, now fear. A minute passed, and we saw the parachute open below Lorraine and stop his ascent. It was a kind of anchor.” But the worst was yet to come. The now strong north-west wind blew the balloon eastwards, while the open parachute hung out to windward. Captain Lorraine sat on his rope-loop, holding to the cords above him with one hand, while with the other be clutched the trapeze of the parachute. He tried to haul it in towards him, but the pull was too strong, and then to swing it above him. But again he was unsuccessful. Then came the real agony, for the suspense was broken by a catastrophe. The strain of holding the parachute rapidly became too great, and the captain was forced to let go. Suddenly the flimsy silk fell together in folds, and fluttered, a shapeless bundle, to the earth. The cry that went up, from the thousands of spectators was truly one of agonised horror.
The Balloon Journey
Relieved of the drag caused by the open parachute, the balloon shot upwards with a great rush, and the wind caught it and carried it strongly towards Sumner. Captain Lorraine could be clearly seen, tugging with might and main at the netting, evidently striving to tilt the balloon, so that the gas could escape from the opening below. Once, indeed, he succeeded, but the top shaped body righted itself immediately, and in a few minutes the naked eye could see only a small round object, dark against the grey sky. It seemed that the ascent would never cease. Up and on the balloon journeyed, until only those who possessed powerful field-glasses could see anything of the aeronaut’s movements. The Captain appeared to be drawing the netting down on one side and to be climbing up to the bellying silk. Then it was remembered that he had no knife; that he had had to borrow one to cut the cords at the gas mouth beforehand. What, then, could he do? He might manage to reach the silk and tear it, strong as it was, with his teeth or hands. His only chance of life seemed to lie in his own nerve and strength. If he could turn the balloon ever so slightly so as to allow the gas to escape gradually, he would descend. The event proved that one or other of these courses must have been adopted. The great globe travelled away for half an hour, ever growing smaller and smaller, and it became evident that the Captain had gone out past the coast line. Those who possessed field-glasses were the centre of knots of eager enquirers, and when at last it really seemed that the balloon was collapsing, and that it was acting as a parachute, though a poor one, folk breathed easier, and the set, anxious look disappeared from their faces. By a quarter to five the speck of black against the sky was no longer visible, and the fate of the aeronaut became a matter for conjecture.
Shortly after half-past five the balloon reached Sumner, sailing high over the Port Hills. It was watched with a powerful glass, and Lorraine was seen to have climbed up into the netting on the lee side, thus tilting the balloon over. The gas must have escaped with a rush, for the aeronaut was descending rapidly as he disappeared behind the hill towards Taylor’s Mistake.
The final scene of the tragedy of Captain Lorraine’s ending had only one witness, Mr John Toomey, one of the staff of signalmen at the South Head of Lyttelton Harbour. He saw the balloon, with its ill-fated passenger, sail over the hills towards the sea, and watched it till it was directly over the ocean. It was only half-full then, and was descending rapidly. Lorraine was sitting quietly in the ropes, evidently waiting for the final fall. Mr Toomey had a good view of the circumstances through his glass. He watched the unfortunate aeronaut, and in a telephone interview with a representative of the Lyttelton Times described how, when the balloon was about half a mile from the shore, and at an altitude which he estimated at 1000 ft, it collapsed and fell “like a stone” into the water. The spot where he fell was about half-way across the entrance to Port Levy, half a mile from Port Levy Rocks. Mr Toomey saw the balloon floating on the surface of the water, looking, as he said, like a great tank. Sitting on it he descried its unfortunate owner. It sank gradually, till, as he said, it seemed to shrink to the dimensions of a bucket. Then it, disappeared, and the form of the man was seen on the face of the waters. For a quarter of an hour he was visible, and he was, presumably, endeavouring to swim to the shore, though on that point Mr Toomey did not appear to be certain.
Meanwhile, the boat from the Pilot Station had been manned by Messrs T. Carter and J. Toomey, and put out from Little Port Cooper. Mr John Toomey had then to leave his point of vantage to direct the boat by shouts and signs towards the spot where he last saw Captain Lorraine. Fifteen minutes elapsed before he regained the top of the cliff, and then the aeronaut was nowhere to be seen. The boat at that time was within five hundred yards of the spot where Lorraine had fallen.
Lorraine, Mr Toomey said, must have kept his senses, though he might have been benumbed and exhausted by his long and terrible journey. The mental strain, not less than the physical exhaustion, would have rendered him incapable of battling with the waves. He finally fell with frightful velocity, and in striking the water may have suffered some injury. And yet he was able to climb to the top of the balloon and rest there for some ten minutes, until it sank. The nor’-wester caused a nasty jobble, and the sea was making somewhat.
Mr Toomey first saw the balloon as it rose from Christchurch, and thus had a clear view of the whole journey. There can be no doubt that if Captain Lorraine had been able to hold out a few minutes longer his life would have been saved. Whether cramp attacked him, or whether breath and strength had been beaten out of him when lie struck the water, it is, of course, impossible to say.
Attempts of Rescue
Immediately it became evident that Captain Lorraine was being carried helplessly towards the sea, several prominent citizens communicated by telephone with Sumner and Lyttelton. Inspector Broham went to Sumner by cab, and others proceeded by train to Lyttelton.
At twenty minutes past four o’clock, Sergeant Rutledge, in charge of the Lyttelton Police, received information by telephone that Captain Lorraine had dropped his parachute and was clinging to his balloon, which was being driven towards Lyttelton. The Sergeant at once saw the Harbour-master, Captain Clark, who arranged to send out the tug to pick up the aeronaut, if possible. She was got ready with all despatch, and left the wharf at 4.55 p.m.. with Captain Galbraith, the pilot, Captain Hendry, and Sergeant Rutledge on board. The boat was driven hard, and reached the spot where Captain Lorraine disappeared, some seven and a half miles from port, about 5.30 p.m. No trace of either the aeronaut or his balloon was to be seen. The dingey from the Pilot Station was there, engaged in a search, which proved to be fruitless. On the chance that the Captain might have gained the shore, all the rocks and precipices in the vicinity were carefully scanned with the aid of telescopes, but no trace of him could be perceived. Cruising round and round, the tug maintained the search, and was joined, about six o’clock, by the Sumner lifeboat, manned by a volunteer crew under Mr Alfred Day. Messrs Carter and B. Toomey, who manned the pilot dingey, indicated the spot which had been pointed out before they left as the place at which the balloon had dropped, but nothing could be seen there. About seven o’clock darkness began to come on, and the search had to be reluctantly abandoned. The tug towed the pilot’s dingey back to near the station, and then took the Sumner lifeboat in tow and brought it close to the bar. The tug then headed for Lyttelton, and came alongside No. 6 wharf at a quarter past eight o’clock. On the wharf was a large crowd of people, who still clung to the hope that the plucky aeronaut might have been saved. That hope was quickly dissipated. Ere the tug was alongside she was hailed with the question, “What have you found?” “Nothing,” was the dispiriting response.
Shortly before six o’clock a number of Lyttelton residents and others, including, a brother of Mrs Lorraine, left Lyttelton in Messrs Agar and Thomas’s steam launch Waiwera,- and proceeded to the pilot station. They saw no trace of the lost man, but some of them landed and obtained from Mr J. Toomey particulars of all that presumably, can be known, about the closing scene of the tragedy.
It would appear that everything possible was done to rescue the unfortunate man. The boat at the pilot station was launched as soon as it could be after the necessity for its services became known there, but the men in it had to pull about a couple of miles to reach the spot where Captain Lorraine fell. Though that spot was only half a mile from the shore, it was very much more than that distance from the boat-slip in Little Port Cooper. As Captain Lorraine was a strong and expert swimmer, it is surmised that he was exhausted by his fearful passage through the air, or was injured when striking the water.
It was about 4.45 p.m. when word of the mishap was received at Sumner, and the lifeboat was immediately launched. She put to sea under the charge of Mr Alfred Day and manned by a crew of four. They pulled over the bar and over to Port Levy, where they assisted in the search. When darkness fell, the tug took the lifeboat in tow and brought her back to Sumner. Mr Day found a nasty, jumping sea at Lyttelton Heads, just the kind of sea that would render swimming difficult. The crew had a trying experience on the bar, the northwest wind and ebb tide together raising a dangerous break. The boat was therefore beached at the baths.
Intense excitement was occasioned in Lyttelton yesterday afternoon by the appearance of Captain Lorraine’s balloon, which was seen high in the air over Mount Pleasant driving rapidly before the strong north-west wind. The streets were quickly thronged with people gazing at the fast travelling object, on which all available glasses were brought to bear. They revealed that it was in an upright position, and that some object was depending from it. When this object was made out to be a man, the excitement increased, and was further enhanced by the news, rapidly passed from mouth to mouth, that the intrepid aeronaut had dropped his parachute, and was clinging to the balloon. In the meantime Captain Clark, the harbour-master, had received a telephone message informing him of what hod taken place at Christchurch, and he at once telephoned to the Pilot Station at the Heads to keep a lookout, and to prepare to rescue the adventurer. The men at the station needed no second bidding, and their boat was promptly ready. The balloon, in a few minutes, disappeared from the view of the watchers in the street, behind the hills between the town and Sumner, from which place a telephone message was received stating that it was over the sea off Taylor’s Mistake. A few more minutes, and the Lyttelton tug went out to attempt a rescue, leaving the wharf at 4.45 p.m. Five minutes afterwards a message came from the Pilot Station that the Captain and his balloon had dropped half a mile from the Port Levy Rocks, and between them and the Heads. Details soon followed. It was told how the man had been seen to climb up to the top of his balloon, which speedily collapsed and fell into the water. Then at 5.10 p.m. he had been seen on top of the balloon, which, however, sank in a few moments. After a period of suspense which seemed interminable, Captain Clark had a startling message from the Pilot Station. He was told that the swimming man could nowhere be seen, and that the dingey from the station had apparently passed over the spot where he had been last seen. The consternation caused by this message was deepened by another, received at five minutes to six, to the effect that the tug, the Sumner lifeboat and the pilot dingey were all cruising around the spot where the aeronaut had been seen to fall into the water, but that no trace of him could be discerned.
About 6.15 p.m. word came that the tug had gone towards Port Levy, and was seemingly engaged in searching the rocks along the shore.
The general feeling of sympathy with the brave but unfortunate man was deepened by the arrival of Mrs Lorraine, who came from Christchurch by train at 6 p.m.. It was felt, however, that the chance of Captain Lorraine’s having escaped was very small, especially as the wind increased in violence as the sun went down. About half-past six the s.s. Wakatu arrived from the north, but those on her only reported that they had seen the tug searching between Pigeon Bay and Port Levy.
A rumour that the captain had been rescued was current shortly after six o’clock, but at ten minutes to seven a telephone message was received from the lighthouse that nothing could then be seen from there, and that the lighthousekeeper believed that the man must have been drowned.
The lighthousekeeper telephoned a few minutes later that the tug and the two boats had been thoroughly searching the spot where the man had disappeared, and seemingly, without picking anything up, and that at seven o’clock the tug gave up the search and was returning to Lyttelton.
The Fatal Parachute
The parachute was attached to the balloon by Captain Lorraine himself, and was fastened to a ring about nine feet up the side of it with a short piece of twisted cotton, resembling soft lamp-wick. To reach the ring the aeronaut pulled the balloon over as far as was safe, and then climbed upon the shoulders of Hercules, the strong man at present appearing in connection with the Fuller Vaudeville Company at the Oddfellows’ Hall. As for as could be seen by the bystanders, he took a couple of turns round the ring with the fastening, and tied what is known as a loose “granny-knot.” Having satisfied himself that everything was apparently right, the captain gave the word to let go. Immediately the balloon shot up, but just as the parachute was clearing the ground in some unaccountable manner it was released from the balloon, and the silk fell within a few feet of the ground. Hercules made a clutch at it and caught the end, and was hanging on to it when Captain Lorraine called to him to let go, which he accordingly did, and the balloon immediately shot up at a very rapid pace. A cry of horror went up from the assembled crowd, but the captain called out “All right,” and by the time he had reached a height of three hundred feet the parachute had opened out and was acting as an anchor. The aeronaut then endeavoured to get it above him, but as the balloon was carrying him to leeward at a fast pace the parachute was pulled behind, and in a very short time was torn out of his hands. When it was picked up, no trace of the piece of stuff with which it had been tied to the balloon could be found, and it is therefore assumed that this must have given way and let the apparatus down.
Captain Lorraine was a son of an Auckland resident, and was born at Ponsonby in 1872. At an early age he showed a strong penchant for ballooning, and in 1892 he went to England and studied the profession under a Captain Lorraine there. He was an apt pupil, and in a very short time he began to make public ascents on his own account, and was engaged to give exhibitions in connection with the re-opening of the Alexandra Palace after it was rebuilt. At these and other places he ascended by means of captive balloons; and to these were attached cars in which he took numbers of the public. He also made several ascents and parachute descents at the Crystal Palace and other places of amusement.
After a successful run in England, he returned to the colony in the Ruahine, landing, in Wellington on Nov. 28 of last year. He rejoined his family in Auckland, and shortly afterwards made a very successful ascent, at the Cricket Ground in the Auckland Domain, which was followed by others at the North Shore and elsewhere. In March of the present year he married Miss Juriss, a daughter of Mr John Juriss, of Montreal Street, Sydenham, and a few months ago he came south, making an ascent in Wellington, and then came on to Christchurch, where he had made two very successful ascents. As these were but poorly patronised by the public, the Mayor of Christchurch, with a number of citizens, arranged the benefit which ended so disastrously yesterday. Captain Lorraine had made a great many friends during his short stay in Christchurch through his unassuming manner, and the news of his untimely and tragic end caused quite a thrill of horror in the city, last evening. The local newspaper offices were thronged with people anxious, to hear the latest news of the unfortunate affair, and when the “Star” extra announcing his drowning was published there were expressions of general regret to be heard on all sides. Up to the very last it was hoped that the news was not true, but late last evening when it became known that the tug and the boats had returned to Lyttelton without having found any traces of the body it became evident that the news was only too true.
Last evening a meeting of the committee which had made the arrangements for the ascent was held, the Mayor presiding, and it was decided to arrange for a benefit for the young widow. It was resolved to hold a sacred concert in the Opera House on Sunday evening, and the committee will meet again to-day at noon to receive offers of assistance. The committee of the Canterbury Athletic and Cycling Club met last night, and made arrangements for assisting Mrs Lorraine financially in her trouble. Captain Lorraine had been retained to give a balloon ascent in connection with the club’s meeting at Lancaster Park on Nov. 10, and it was decided to hand over to the widow the whole of the takings for the day, after paying expenses, and arrangements were made for interviewing the proprietors of Lancaster Park with a view to inducing them to allow her a percentage of the ground fees.
It is curious that the lighthouse-keeper at Godley Head saw absolutely nothing of Captain Lorraine. He was working inside and outside the house, and the first news he received of the catastrophe was by telephone from Lyttelton. He took a telescope and searched busily from 5 p-m. to 7 p.m., but saw nothing except the various boats.
A gentleman who had a very powerful spy-glass on the parachutist the whole time says that when the balloon reached about seven thousand feet Captain Lorraine appeared to be crawling up into the netting on the lee side and endeavouring to let some of the gas escape out of the balloon, and afterwards came down on to the rope seat as if to rest. When the balloon had reached its highest altitude he repeated the performance, and appeared to be successful in letting out a good deal of gas, as the balloon began to descend at a rapid pace.
The feeling of sorrow at the disaster was very strong in Lyttelton, and it is intended to send out a party this morning to endeavour to find the body.
Mrs Lorraine, after the death of her unfortunate husband had been verified, returned to Christchurch by the 9.45 p.m. train. The lady has friends in Lyttelton, and very general sympathy is felt for her in the Port.
[From Our Correspondent.] Auckland, Nov. 2.
Captain Charles Lorraine, otherwise David Mahoney, was born in Parnell, Auckland, about thirty years ago. He was educated, at the Parnell District School. In his young days he followed a number of occupations, being at one time engaged in driving a baker’s cart and at another working for a local dentist. His roving disposition caused him to seek his fortune in Australia, and, according to some remarks let fall here, he was for some time touring the country with theatrical companies. Eventually he found his way to England, and there his love of adventure led to his first ballooning experience. From this onward he continued in the profession. He made several daring and successful parachute descents in London and English provincial cities. The most notable ascents were at the Crystal Palace and Kew Gardens. Finally he returned to Auckland and made a successful ascent of 7000 ft on New Year’s Day from the Domain, the best ascent ever made in Auckland. In all his ascents he showed the utmost daring, almost to foolhardiness, and an utter disregard of danger. While in Auckland he married a Christchurch lady. He was very popular, owing to his genial disposition. He made two successful ascents at the Basin Reserve, Wellington. 
- Star, Issue 6616, 14 October 1899, Page 5
- The Weekly Press, 7 Nov. 1899, p. 8. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0077
- Christchurch City Libraries, Photo CD 1, IMG0043
- Taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News 10 November 1899 . Image: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-18991110-7-4
- Christchurch City Libraries PhotoCD 3, IMG0095. Source: The Weekly Press, 7th November, 1899, Page 9.
- New Zealand Graphic & Ladies Journal. Ref: PUBL-0126-1890-002. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22809422
- The Weekly Press, 7 Nov. 1899, p. 9. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0094.
- Christchurch Star, 16 Mar. 1965, p. 10. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0084.
- The Graphic, December 30, 1899, Page 906.
- Star, Issue 6633, 3 November 1899, Page 4.