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John Dunville Dunville, CBE, DL (1866-1929)
The 1908 Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

published in The Airship, January-February 1909

Mr. John Dunville's attempt to win the Northcliffe Cup - mentioned in our last issue - was successful, and we have pleasure in giving some of his ballooning experiences.

It may be noted that, in addition to winning the Northcliffe Cup two years running and thus becoming the absolute possessor of this cup, Mr. Dunville, in the opinion of most unprejudiced people, was the real winner of the Gordon-Bennett Cup for 1908.

Mr. John Dunville is the son of Mr. R. G. Dunville, D.L., of Redburn, Holywood, and a director of the well-known firm of which his father is the head. He is an aeronaut of considerable experience, for during the past two years he has made no fewer than fifty-five ascents, crossing the English Channel on three of his aerial voyages. The great majority of these were accomplished in his first balloon, "La Mascotte," in which he won the Northcliffe Challenge Cup on September 28, 1907, and the Hare and Hounds Race from Hurlingham on June 24, 1908. The Northcliffe Cup is awarded each year to the British aeronaut who makes the longest voyage during the twelve months, starting from any point in England, and the trip which gained Mr. Dunville the trophy in 1907 was from London to Wales, a distance of 190 miles, the second longest aerial journey ever made wholly in England. These experiences stood him in good stead in his more important undertaking, the attempt to gain the Gordon-Bennett Cup for 1908.

In this attempt he was accompanied by Mr. C. F. Pollock, the most experienced amateur aeronaut in England. The "Banshee" started from Berlin at 3.15 p.m. on Sunday, August 11, in a light north-westerly wind which held in that direction until 11.30, when it shifted to N.E. and then to E., and by sunrise next morning (6.25) it was E.S.E., so that they were being brought back in a semi-circle round Berlin. They were travelling in a north-westerly direction towards Hamburg. It was extremely difficult to ascertain the position during the next day, as very few conspicuous landmarks were passed over, excepting the River Elbe, which was crossed at 12.10 p.m. on Monday, October 12. At 8.30 that evening they approached two large cities, with a river of considerable size flowing between them, which were identified on the right as Hamburg and the left Harburg. It then became a question whether they should descend after passing over these cities, or whether the journey should be continued. Mr. Dunville decided to hold on, and keep a sharp look-out for the sea, and at 10.15 p.m. they passed over Kiel Canal, a most interesting landmark, brilliantly lighted with arc lights its whole length. At 1.15 a.m. on Tuesday, October 13, the weather began to get very hazy, and it became more and more difficult to see the land. They were then at an altitude of 2,500 ft., and at 3 a.m. the country below was completely obliterated by the fog. Mr. Dunville then brought the balloon down to 500 ft. to be within closer reach, when they could hear dogs barking and other sounds indicating they were still over the land. At 3.30 a.m. the trail rope was lowered to the ground, when it was found the speed had greatly increased. The fog was becoming more dense, so that it was evident they were near the sea. At 4.7 a.m. it was decided to come down, as nothing could be seen below, but when the valve was opened and the balloon began to fall it was found to be descending right into a railway. Taking the first bump on the track, the balloon rebounded off the railway and over a large building, which proved to be a factory on the other side of the line. Seeing there was a clear space on the far side of this building, the valve was again opened, and they landed quite comfortably in a large field. When daylight came, and inquiries were made from the natives they learned that they were on the frontier of Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark, close to Hvidding Station and about a mile from the North Sea. The duration of this journey was 36 hrs. 54 mins., the longest time any British Balloon had ever been kept in the air. There is little doubt Mr. Dunville could have remained "up" twenty-four to thirty hours longer, as he had one-fourth of his ballast still left when he descended

This race was the third for the Gordon-Bennett Cup. On the first occasion it was won by an American. The second race started, therefore, from St. Louis, U.S.A., one of the rules being that the race must be held each year in the country of the winner of the previous contest. This year the starting-point was Berlin as it was won by the German Club the year before. It was at first reported that the owner of the "Banshee" had won the cup, but subsequently the authorities at Berlin awarded the prize to the Swiss balloon "Helvetia," a decision which had recently been upheld, and which it is useless therefore to comment upon.

On Friday, December 11, a strong north-westerly wind seemed to offer another opportunity of competing for the Northcliffe Cup, and the barometer, which was standing below 29 in. in the morning, having begun to rise steadily in the afternoon, Mr. Dunville decided to attempt an ascent in his balloon, "The Banshee." All preparations were completed by 9 p.m., and seventeen minutes later, a start was made from Battersea, the balloon carrying Mr. Dunville, Mr. C.F. Pollock, and Mr. Philip Gardner.

The moon was then well up and the wind had freshened considerably, blowing in strong gusts, which made it most difficult to "weigh up."

Just as the balloon was let go a heavy squall hit her, driving her back towards the northern gasometer; the lower part of the net caught on one of the pillars, several meshes gave way, and after an anxious moment, during which three bags of ballast were discharged, the balloon got free and set out upon her journey. The lights of London were quickly left behind, and forty minutes after starting the first coast light came into view which proved to be Dungeness. At 10.23 p.m. the coast line was crossed at New Romney - sixty miles in sixty-six minutes - and a few minutes later the Cape Grisnez and Tonquet lights were sighted. The speed continued to increase, and at 11 p.m. the French coast was reached at Cape D'Alprech, just South of Boulogne, the thirty-five miles of sea having been traversed in 37 minutes.

The direction during the next few hours continued to be south-east, a bright moon affording an excellent view of the country, over which the balloon continued to sail at express speed. At 2.30 a.m. the wind began to moderate, the direction at the same time becoming more easterly so that it seemed certain that Germany would be reached before daylight.

During the next two hours the thermometer registered 17 degrees of frost, and at 6 a.m., by English time, a clock from a town below striking seven gave a definite assurance that German territory lay below. At 6.45 a.m., the first signs of dawn appeared, and half an hour later the river Rhine was crossed near a large town, which proved to be Carlsruhe. As the sun got up and gained power, the balloon, which had been travelling at altitudes varying between 2,500 ft. and 4,200 ft. during the night, began to rise steadily, 8,000 ft. being reached at 9 a.m. and 10,400 ft. at 9.45 a.m. The sun was then quite hot, although the thermometer showed 11 degrees of frost. Occasional glimpses of the country were obtained through the white cloud which floated below, and it was seen to be of undulating character, somewhat thickly wooded, and covered with a thin coating of snow. By this time it seemed certain that nearly 500 miles must have been covered from London, and as the direction was beginning to change towards the north-east, it was decided to bring the balloon to a low altitude, and look out for a suitable spot for landing.

Shortly after 10 a.m. a railway came into view, communicating with a large town lying a few miles to the north, so having carried on over the railway and some woods which lay just beyond a descent was made at 10.17 a.m., within fifty yards of a small hamlet, the weather at the time being quite calm, and the aneroid showing 1,100 ft. above sea level. The exact place of descent was five miles east of Crailsheim; the distance direct from London 485 miles, and the duration of the journey thirteen hours.

See also:

Col. John Dunville Dunville, CBE, DL (1866-1929): The Famous Belfast Balloonist

Belfast Aeronaut Crosses the Irish Sea

Mainly About Aeronauts

Flights by the Dunvilles and Cups Won


Photographs of John Dunville Dunville, CBE, DL (1866-1929)

Robert Lambart Dumville (1893-1931): Chairman of Dunville & Co. Ltd.

The Dunvilles of Northern Ireland and Dunville's Whisky

William Dunvill (c1740-1793): The Distillery Line of the Dunvilles

Family Tree