Monday, 24 March 2014

Claude de Crespigny balloonist

Claude Champion de Crespigny (1847-1935), the fourth baronet, was my fourth cousin three times removed.

He was a notable sportsman and he wrote several books about his sporting adventures, including "Forty Years of a Sportsman's Life", published in 1910.

On the publication of this book, the New York Times quoted a review in the Globe which had commented that Sir Claude appeared to have never begun a day without considering in what new and unheard-of way he could put his life and his limbs in danger.

The book is at

New York Times 9 October 1910
Claude's first experience of balloons was shooting at them outside Paris during the summer of 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war. He was with the Prussian army at St Denis.  Small balloons were ascending from Paris for the "purpose of disseminating false information about the state of things prevailing in the front". As they weren't flying at a great height, "we were sometimes able to riddle them with bullets". (page 38 of Forty Years)

Claude's first balloon voyage was in 1882, an attempt to cross the channel from Essex to Calais. He was accompanied by Joseph Simmons, who had attempted the crossing previously. When the balloon was being launched, assistants held onto the basket for too long. The basket collided with a wall and Sir Claude broke his leg and some ribs fending off. Simmons continued without him and made it to France. According to Sir Claude, Simmons travelled one hundred and seventy miles in just over an hour and a half. This claim seems unlikely. (pages 127-131 of Forty Years)

In July 1883 Claude crossed the North Sea with Simmons, landing near Flushing.  He was awarded the Balloon Society's gold medal for the voyage as the first man to cross the North Sea in a balloon.  (pages 134-142 of Forty Years) The journey was described in newspapers around the world. An account of this adventure appeared in New Zealand's Timaru Herald on 27 September 1883.

In July 1909 Claude was pictured in a balloon at Hurlingham. Based on his reminiscences this was probably in the "St Louis" piloted by John Dunham (whose wife accompanied them). (page 316 of Forty Years)

There were several races that year from Hurlingham, and in May Claude also participated in the  1909 Hurlingham International Balloon Race.. Claude travelled in a balloon with H. Hassac Buist, the author of an article for the Flight Magazine published 29 May 1909. They were passengers of Mr Griffith Brewer on the "Vivienne," of 75,000 cubic feet capacity, the biggest balloon of the afternoon.
There were five of us aboard, and everyone was busy throughout, including Sir Claude, as the self-appointed honorary look-out man, than whom none could have been better chosen for the purpose in that hereabout was all his own country, every hedge and ditch of which was familiar to him through hunting. In brief, what he did not know, had he chosen to communicate it, concerning such-and-such a hall that had been in the hands of three generations of drunkards; such-and-such a house, where is the finest cellar of port to be found in England; such-and-such a lodge, the heir to which married so many tens of thousands a year and got through the lot in as many months; such-and-such another place, where a disastrous fire had reduced a palatial residence to Goldsmith's "four naked walls that stared upon each other," and so forth, was not knowledge. Seemingly, our genial fellow-passenger and impromptu cicerone had advised all his friends for miles around to be on the look-out for us so that we should be sure of a hearty welcome anywhere within a wide range of the winning post, not omitting Champion Lodge.
 The "Vivienne" came fourth. His son, Captain V. C de Crespigny (Vierville 1882-1927), flew in "Kismet" with Philip Gardner but they were unplaced.

1909. Griffith Brewer's 'Vivienne' balloon and Frank McClean's 'Corona' balloon. retrieved from
 More pictures of the balloon race can be viewed at

Sir Claude also took part as a passenger in the race in 1908. The winner that year was Mr Griffith Brewer in the "Lotus" and Claude was a passenger in that balloon. (Race in the Air. (1908, July 18). The World's News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 - 1955), p. 9. Retrieved March 24, 2014, from (pages 312-314 of Forty Years)