Author Archives: Kerrie Dougherty

The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 11

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Maurice Guillaux relaxing on board HMAT Orvieto after departing Australia. This photo was taken by a young RG Casey , later to become Governor-General of Australia. Courtesy National Archives of Australia: M1145, 3B/20

Maurice Guillaux relaxing on board HMAT Orvieto after departing Australia. This photo was taken by a young RG Casey , later to become Governor-General of Australia. Courtesy National Archives of Australia: M1145, 3B/20

After thrilling Australian audiences with his airshows and making history by flying the first airmail, in September 1914 Maurice Guillaux realised one of the plans he had made earlier in the year by establishing a flying school at Ham Common, which is now the site of Richmond RAAF Base, to the west of Sydney. In March 1912, pioneer Australian aviator W E Hart (see part 2 of this series) had purchased a part of Ham Common, which he described as “the finest site in Australia for an aviation ground”. However, after suffering a serious flying accident in September of that year, Hart did not proceed with any plans he may have had for the site, so Guillaux was the first to actually make use of the area for aviation purposes.

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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 10

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Maurice Guillaux sitting in his Blériot aircraft before a performance. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

Maurice Guillaux sitting in his Blériot aircraft before a performance. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

As Maurice Guillaux recovered from the August 1 crash of his aircraft (see Part 9 of this story), war broke out in Europe, plunging that continent into the conflict that would become known as The Great War. Guillaux recovered from his injuries within a few weeks, and his Blériot aircraft was repaired, but the French aviator began to realise that the time for aerial displays was over: crowds were beginning to wane and the public’s attention was occupied by news of the war. Guillaux began to talk of returning to France, to help defend his homeland, and a newspaper article in the Perth Sunday Times on August 30 reported prematurely that he had already gone back to Europe. This erroneous report may have resulted from confusion between Guillaux and his translator/manager Lucien Maistre, who seems to have embarked for France some time in August.

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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 9

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Guillaux preparing to take off from Ascot racecourse in August 1914. These film frames come from a segment of newsreel in the Museum’s collection. Presented by Mr F Kilian, Editor, Movie Tone News, 1961. P2670-10/2

Guillaux preparing to take off from Ascot racecourse in August 1914. These film frames come from a segment of newsreel in the Museum’s collection. Presented by Mr F Kilian, Editor, Movie Tone News, 1961. P2670-10/2

Despite the rigours of the first airmail flight from Melbourne to Sydney over July 16-18 (as recounted in parts 6-8 of this story), Maurice Guillaux was not one to rest on his laurels. Within days he was in the air again, making several flights with Lebbeus Hordern’s Farman Hydro-aeroplane (see part 3 of this story), including one on July 22 when he carried two passengers, Hordern and Lt. Colonel WWR Watson, on the first three-person flight in Australia. With Hordern perched precariously on the aircraft’s fuel tank, Guillaux took the Hydro-aeroplane up to 1500ft (almost 500m) and put it through a series of manoeuvres, including a thrilling dive towards the water.

In carrying without difficulty a slightly higher total payload (209kg) than the aircraft was supposed to carry (203kg), this flight demonstrated the potential of the aeroplane as a weapon capable of carrying a militarily useful bomb load, in addition to a pilot and bombardier. With the clouds of war gathering in Europe at the outbreak of World War I, Guillaux made frequent comments about the utility of planes in warfare and their probable use in the conflict: “aerial machines would prove perhaps the greatest factor in the present struggle.”

: Lebbeus Hordern’s Farman “hydro-aeroplane”, in which Guillaux would carry two passengers, an Australian first, in July 1914 Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. P3283-1

Lebbeus Hordern’s Farman “hydro-aeroplane”, in which Guillaux would carry two passengers, an Australian first, in July 1914, Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. P3283-1

On July 25, Guillaux gave another aerial performance with the Bleriot at Newcastle, drawing a crowd of about 10,000 exactly three months after his first performance in that city. He discussed plans for a tour of the northern regions of NSW, but these would never eventuate due to the war. Guillaux agreed to undertake an advertising stunt for Black and White Whiskey, dropping envelopes containing money over Circular Quay on July 31, but the police cancelled this event over fears of possible injuries in the waiting crowd of 5,000, as people jostled to catch the falling prizes.

Guillaux’ last major aviation display for Sydney was scheduled for Saturday, August 1. Unfortunately for the French pilot, his only serious accident in Australia occurred during this performance. Shortly after his takeoff from Ascot racecourse (on the site of what was later to become Kingsford-Smith Aerodrome), while he was flying at a height of 100-200 ft (30-60m; accounts vary as to the altitude), Guillaux seemed to lose control of the Bleriot, which dipped as if commencing a dive, but then plummeted to the ground, with Guillaux apparently wrestling with the controls. The stunned crowd stood transfixed as the Bleriot smashed into the ground alongside one of the track railings, the body of the aircraft breaking into two pieces.

Frames from a film clip of the Bleriot’s crash at Ascot racecourse, showing Guillaux being rescued from the wreckage and led away, bandaged, for hospital treatment. Presented by Mr F Kilian, Editor, Movie Tone News, 1961. P2670-10/2

Frames from a film clip of the Bleriot’s crash at Ascot racecourse, showing Guillaux being led away, bandaged, for hospital treatment. Presented by Mr F Kilian, Editor, Movie Tone News, 1961. P2670-10/2

Trapped in a tangle of broken fuselage and wires, the half-conscious Guillaux was rescued from the wreckage by members of the crowd, who cut away the debris and carefully lifted him free. Although he suffered cuts to his face, arms and legs, his clothes were badly torn and the ligaments of his right ankle ruptured, Guillaux luckily did not sustain any more serious injuries. Treated at the crash site, with his head swathed in bandages, he nevertheless waved as he was helped away, at which the crowd cheered wildly and the band played the Marseillaise.

Guillaux was taken in a car to St Vincent’s Hospital, in Darlinghurst, where he was treated by Sir Alexander McCormick. He spent a few days in hospital recovering, receiving many messages of sympathy and support. The Bleriot, however, was quite severely damaged “the framework was broken in two pieces, the tail planes badly damaged….the propeller was smashed to matchwood, the oil tanks were bent into one another and the engine was buried in the ground”.

The cause of the accident seems to have been the steering gear controlling the warping of the wings to provide lateral control (the Bleriot did not use ailerons) jamming in some way. Guillaux reported that he was unable to steer the plane left or right, but he did still have control of the elevator planes and could have landed safely in the crowd; but as this would have meant danger to the spectators he chose, instead, to make the plane dive into the ground away from them.

Newsreel film frames showing he wreckage of the Bleriot after the crash, nose first into the ground. Guillaux clearly had a lucky escape from serious injury. Presented by Mr F Kilian, Editor, Movie Tone News, 1961. P2670-10/2

Newsreel film frames showing he wreckage of the Bleriot after the crash, nose first into the ground. Guillaux clearly had a lucky escape from serious injury. Presented by Mr F Kilian, Editor, Movie Tone News, 1961. P2670-10/2 

 

Look out for the next instalment of Guillaux’ story in September. If you’d like to explore the newspaper reports of Guillaux’ flights, which were drawn upon for this blogpost, you can find them by searching on the National Library of Australia’s Trove Newspapers site. The Aviation Historical Society of Australia conducted a re-enactment of the first airmail flight between July 12-14. The Powerhouse Museum is also celebrating the centenary of the first Australian airmail with various events this year. Check our website and that of the Powerhouse Discovery Centre for further details.

Written by Kerrie Dougherty Space Technology and Aviation Curator

The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 8

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Maurice Guillaux and an unidentified spectator. This photo is generally identified as having been taken at the conclusion of the airmail flight, but as the aircraft lacks the OT Cordial advertising on the wings, the picture may have been taken before the airmail flight, or some weeks later. This image was loaned to the museum for copying, by a private individual.

Maurice Guillaux and an unidentified spectator. This photo is generally identified as having been taken at the conclusion of the airmail flight, but as the aircraft lacks the OT Cordial advertising on the wings, the picture may have been taken before the airmail flight, or some weeks later. This image was loaned to the museum for copying, by a private individual.

After being delayed at Harden on July 17, due to poor weather conditions for flying, Maurice Guillaux was determined to continue the first airmail flight the following day. While conditions had improved, they were still far from ideal, but on July 18 Guillaux took off at 7.15am and battled a strong headwind and freezing temperatures to reach Goulburn, 150km away, exactly two hours later. He described this section of his flight: “I shall never forget the awful experience I had to undergo…..I had to battle my way and to negotiate a passage though the icy atmosphere above those cruel mountains”. Visibility was limited and Guillaux was guided towards Goulburn by the smoke from a locomotive, though he found it impossible to follow the railway lines themselves.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 7

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Maurice Guillaux in his Bleriot, 1914. The ‘bird on globe’ mascot in front of Guillaux is a swallow (‘hirondelle’ in French), which was Guillaux’ avian nickname in the society of French pilots known as “Les Oiseaux de France”.   P3282-2 Gift of S. Dyson, 1982

Maurice Guillaux in his Bleriot, 1914. The ‘bird on globe’ mascot in front of Guillaux is a swallow (‘hirondelle’ in French), which was Guillaux’ avian nickname in the society of French pilots known as “Les Oiseaux de France”. P3282-2 Gift of S. Dyson, 1982

After being forced by a strong headwind to turn back to the town of Harden late in the afternoon of July 16, 1914, Maurice Guillaux spent the night in the town, staying at the Carrington Hotel, which still survives today. He had landed on the racecourse and overnight the police placed a guard on his plane, yet it must have been accessible to the people of Harden at some time during Guillaux’ stay there, as when the aviator eventually arrived in Goulburn, the Blériot was found to have many pencilled messages from Harden on it.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 6

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One of the official souvenir postcards that were produced to be carried on Guillaux’ history making airmail flight. Note that the aircraft depicted is not a Bleriot XI, but a generic biplane. EA and VI Crome Collection A8213-1/5

One of the official souvenir postcards that were produced to be carried on Guillaux’ history making airmail flight. Note that the aircraft depicted is not a Bleriot XI, but a generic biplane. EA and VI Crome Collection A8213-1/5

“Wizard” Stone’s unfortunate crash on June 1 (see part 5) provided the opportunity for Maurice Guillaux to undertake the history-making first airmail flight. With Stone injured and his aircraft destroyed, Arthur Rickard, the entrepreneur behind Stone’s proposed airmail flight, approached Guillaux to make the journey instead. Revised plans were made for the mail flight to commence on July 9. However, negotiations between Guillaux and Rickard apparently broke down on July 8 and the flight did not proceed, even though crowds had already gathered at Seymour (Victoria), the first intended refuelling stop.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-part 5

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: Crowds gather to see “Wizard” Stone’s Blériot during his regional Queensland airshow tour. Photo courtesy of the Queensland State Library

Crowds gather to see “Wizard” Stone’s Blériot during his regional Queensland airshow tour. Photo courtesy of the Queensland State Library

Despite his fame as a daring aviator, Maurice Guillaux was not the pilot originally intended to fly the first Australian airmail from Melbourne to Sydney. That honour should have gone to an American, Arthur Burr “Wizard” Stone, who had been presenting aerial shows around Australia and New Zealand since 1912.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 4

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: A view of the Blériot XI aircraft that flew the first Australian airmail, on display in the Powerhouse Museum’s Transport exhibition

A view of the Blériot XI aircraft that flew the first Australian airmail, on display in the Powerhouse Museum’s Transport exhibition

Following his spectacular aerial exhibitions in Sydney and Newcastle, Guillaux’ fame quickly spread and after his pioneering seaplane flight on May 8, 1914, the French aviator began to make plans for a series of airshows around southern NSW and Victoria.

On May 16, Guillaux gave his first performance in Wagga Wagga, to which he would return during his airmail flight. So anticipated was this event that special train services were run from the towns of Junee and Culcairn in order to bring spectators to Wagga. Around 8,000 people paid entry to the Wagga Racecourse to see Guillaux’ exhibition with another two to three thousand watching from outside. They were not disappointed, with Guillaux’ stunt show including a thrilling vertical dive from which he only pulled out just above the heads of the crowd.

The Wagga event set the pattern for the rest of Guillaux’ airshow tour, with large crowds drawn from surrounding towns at each regional display and special transport laid on to get them to the show. In Albury, on May 23, interest in his performance was so strong that the golf club competition was postponed and shops which remained open operated on reduced staff. Once again, Guillaux garnered breathless praise from local journalists: “No words describe what he does and can do. All other aviators pale before him; looping the loop at an altitude of 14,000 feet is mere child’s play to him….”

The silk scarf worn by Maurice Guillaux during his aerial spectaculars. It’s red, white and blue colours (now somewhat faded by time) reflect the colours of the French national flag. L3120/2. On loan from Australia Post, NSW

The silk scarf worn by Maurice Guillaux during his aerial spectaculars. It’s red, white and blue colours (now somewhat faded by time) reflect the colours of the French national flag. L3120/2. On loan from Australia Post, NSW

Departing Albury, Guillaux, the Blériot and his team by train to Melbourne, where he established a base at the Showground in Flemington, having apparently been offered a guarantee of over £1000 to induce his visit to the city. On May 28, he flew from Flemington to the grounds of Government House, the seat of Australia’s Governor-General in the period between Federation and the construction of Canberra. The Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson his wife, the Governor of Victoria, Sir Arthur Stanley and his wife, were all on hand to greet the intrepid French pilot and inspect his aircraft. One of the few snippets of surviving film of Guillaux’ time in Australia shows the Blériot taking off after this visit.

Invited to visit the newly established military flying school at Point Cook, outside Melbourne, Guillaux flew there on May 29, gave a flying display in the Bleriot and then flew over the area in one of the flying school’s own aircraft. The following day he gave his first public display at the Flemington Showground, which drew a crowd of 25,000 to 30,000. Guillaux practically stopped the races at the Moonee Valley course when he performed some stunts overhead and, as he pulled out of one of his signature thrilling dives, a bookmaker supposedly offered to bet six to four that he had broken his neck! But the daring pilot once again survived and a Melbourne Herald report compared Guilaux’ performance to an earlier show by Australian aviator Harry Hawker thus: “M. Guillaux was to Mr. Hawker as a Drury Lane melodrama is to a repertory play”.

A contemporary 1914 postcard showing Guillaux’ Blériot aircraft. A8213-5/12 EA and VI Crome Collection

A contemporary 1914 postcard showing Guillaux’ Blériot aircraft. A8213-5/12 EA and VI Crome Collection, Powerhouse Museum

On Monday June 8, the King’s Birthday holiday, Guillaux performed at Bendigo, after which he flew to Ballarat, causing a sensation en route as he flew overhead. On this flight Guillaux carried a letter from the Mayor of Bendigo to the Mayor of Ballarat, however this was not officially consigned mail. Once again travelling by train, the Guillaux team moved from Ballarat to Adelaide, where another spectacular stunt show was staged on June 20. By June 27, Guillaux and the Blériot were back in Melbourne, before flying to Geelong on July 3, for the last aerial show before the airmail flight. To reach Geelong, Guillaux followed the railway line, a form of navigation he would also use on the airmail flight, and arrived there just at the end of a race meeting at the Plumpton course. Guillaux gave an impromptu display to the crowd of racegoers before his public show the following day. While performing in Geelong, Guillaux carried his first recorded passengers in the Blériot.

Look for the next post in this series in a few days, which will cover the background to that first airmail flight. Next week I will be posting an account of each day of the airmail flight, between July 16 and 18. The Aviation Historical Society of Australia will be conducting a re-enactment of the first airmail flight between July 12-14 and hosting other commemorative events. The Powerhouse Museum is also celebrating the centenary of the first Australian airmail with various events this year. Check our website and that of the Powerhouse Discovery Centre for further details. If you’d like to explore the newspaper reports of Guillaux’ flights, which were drawn upon for the quotes used in this blogpost, you can find them by searching on the National Library of Australia’s Trove Newspapers site.

Written by Kerrie Dougherty, Space Technology and Aviation Curator

The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-part 3

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Maurice Guillaux flying Lebbeus Hordern’s Farman “hydro-aeroplane” over Sydney in May 1914

Lebbeus Hordern’s Farman “hydro-aeroplane” floating on Sydney Harbour in May 1914
Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. P3283-1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Not content with dazzling crowds in Sydney and Newcastle with his aerial acrobatics, on May 8, 1914, French stunt pilot Maurice Guillaux also made the first seaplane flight in Australia, test flying a Farman “hydro-aeroplane” imported into the country by Lebbeus Hordern (1891-1928), a member of the wealthy and influential Sydney merchant family.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-part 2

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Maurice Guillaux flying his Blériot monoplane over Victoria Racecourse. Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Maurice Guillaux flying his Blériot monoplane over Victoria Racecourse. Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Flying in Cloudland! Looping the Loop! The World’s Most Daring Aviator! Aviation Extraordinary! Not long after his arrival in Sydney on April 8, Maurice Guillaux began to make headlines, as his promoters and newspaper reporters searched for superlatives to express the excitement of Guillaux’ aerial performances.
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