THIS week we will be looking at a time when Eype made national news due to a bizarre accident involving a gas balloon.

The Bridport Balloon Tragedy took place on Friday, December 10 in 1881, and the information for this article has been provided by Neil Mattingly.

The tragic event took place when Walter Powell, MP for Malmesbury, his friend, leading balloonist Mr Arthur Agg-Gardener, and Captain James Templer in the gas balloon named the ‘Saladin’ travelled from Bath to Bridport.

The passengers had set off in the balloon to Capt Templer’s family home in Bridport, to allow the captain to make some experiments for the Meteorological Society.

However only two of the passengers ever set foot on English soil again.

All had originally gone to plan as the balloon journeyed south, until they had nearly reached their destination.

The balloon flew over Glastonbury, Crewkerne and then Beaminster, with the roar of the sea giving an indication that the balloon had nearly reached its destination.

A letter from Capt Templer, stated that they coasted along to Symondsbury, where he shouted to a man below to ask how far they were from Bridport, receiving the answer that Bridport was about a mile off.

The balloon was said to have been travelling at 35 miles an hour and dangerously close to the sea, and it was noted that had there been a southerly current, then the balloon and its passengers would have been out to sea.

Despite this, the crew threw out ballast, and rose to a height of 1,500 feet, and came down again only just in time, touching the grounds at a distance of about 150 yards from cliff.

From here, the balloon dragged a few feet, which led to Capt Templer, who had been letting off the gas, rolling out of the car, still holding the valve line in his hand.

This proved to be the last chance of a safe escape for everyone on board.

The balloon, with its weight slightly lighter, flew up eight foot in the air.

Mr Agg-Gardner dropped out of the basket, where upon his landed, broke his leg, as well as suffering bruising.

Mr Powell remained the sole occupant in car.

Capt Templer, who still had hold of the rope, shouted to Mr Powell to disembark down the line, which he attempted to do, but in a few seconds and before he could continue his descent, the line was torn of Captain Templer’s hands.

Capt Templer, in his first Meteorological Society report after the accident, recalled: “The car was capsized and turned right over and I was thrown violently out.

“Mr Gardner was thrown out at the same time, as also were several bags of ballast.

“Mr Powell was, I think, partially thrown out, but as far as I could see, he had hold of the hoop, and with the car righting underneath him, he recovered his position.

“I retained my hold of the valve line and was dragged along the earth by it for a considerable distance.

“I tried very hard to get the line between my teeth, and could I have done so, I have no doubt the balloon would have been crippled.

“I shouted to Mr Powell to come down the line.

“At this time, he was close to me and about eight feet from the earth.

“The line was torn from my grasp by a succession of jerks, both my hands being severely lacerated.

“The balloon then floated along close to the earth for some 300 feet until it reached a fence, which the car grazed as it went by.

“I had risen to my feet and could see Mr Powell standing up in the car.”

Capt Templer assumed that Mr Powell was trying to save the balloon, by either bringing it down later on the beach of flying across the Channel.

He said: “The balloon rose rapidly and Mr Powell waved his hand to me.

“The balloon, after passing the fence, began to ascend and continued to do so steadily for about ten minutes when it was lost to sight in the clouds.”

An article from the The Times described this scene well, where it said: “All communication with the earth was cut off, and the balloon rose rapidly, taking Mr Powell with it in a south-easterly direction out to sea.”

Mr Powell was never seen again.

An article from the Bridport News at the time, said: “The wind at the time of the occurrence was blowing gently from the NNW, and it was confidently hoped that Mr Powell would reach the island of Guernsey, where no doubt he would habe made an effort do descend.”

The reporter later said: “The only vestige of hope now entertained is that the balloon possibly fell near the course of some outward-bound vessel in the Channel

and that Mr Powell was rescued in that


“The irresistible conclusion, therefore, which most scientific and other persons have reluctantly arrived at, is that the hon. gentleman has been drowned in the Channel and the balloon is now at the bottom of the sea.”

For weeks after the event, many expected to read reports of Mr Powell’s recovery, but the news never came.

It was not until two years later that his position as an MP was filled, the first time this had ever happened.