Mr. John Dunville, whose crossing of the Irish Sea in the St. Louis balloon was one of the most interesting events of last week, is one of the most popular members of White's Club; few men in clubland have more friends. His first experience in the upper atmosphere was by no means encouraging. Hearing one day, about three years ago, that passengers would be taken up in the War Office balloon at Aldershot, on payment of £5, he decided to have five pounds' worth, and ascended with a distinguished officer of the Army Balloon Corps. It so happened that they got into a tree, out of which they climbed with considerable difficulty, the balloon being badly torn. This adventure did not deter Mr. Dunville from deciding to take up the sport seriously.
He became a member of the Aero Club, made the acquaintance of leading aeronauts, and served his apprenticeship on a balloon named "La Mascotte," which he purchased in partnership with Mr. Ker-Seymer. During the early days of his aeronautical studies, Mr. Dunville's ascents numbered more in a few months than some aeronauts have made in their lifetime; three a week was no unusual allowance.
At the time of the Gordon-Bennett race of 1908, he came forward patriotically and undertook the financial responsibility of helping to represent Great Britain, the conditions necessitating a balloon of 77,000 cubic feet capacity. There are those who are prepared to maintain that Mr. Dunville won the race, but complications arose, which considerations of space prevent us from discussing here, and the delegates of the countries interested afterwards gave a decision by a small majority in favour of Col. Schaeck, a Swiss competitor.
Twice Mr. Dunville has won the Northcliffe Challenge Cup for the balloon covering the greatest distance in any year, having to travel a long way eastwards on Continental territory on each occasion in order to defeat the Hon. Mrs. Assheton Harbord and other cross-Channel competitors. He also carried off the Hare and Hounds race from Hurlingham and several other important events.
The most exciting descent that he can record was an awkward descent near a conservatory, when the trail rope succeeded in breaking 87 panes of glass, the glass bill being swollen by a further claim for plants ruined by mildew as a result of the abruptly-lowered temperature.
There is another side to Mr. Dunville's life not generally known to the public. For more than twenty years he was private secretary to the late Duke of Devonshire, a position that entails upon him even now many duties in connection with that distinguished statesman's estates. Not himself an active political partisan, he has an intimate knowledge of the political world behind the scenes, and his walls are covered with cartoons of his political friends.
Mrs. John Dunville has hardly yet got over her disappointment at being debarred from accompanying her husband on his balloon sea-trip from Ireland to England. The lifting capacity made it necessary to limit the passengers to two, and Mr. Pollock, with his experiences of nine journeys over the English Channel, was booked for the second place. She is a fine horsewoman, and hunts with her husband all the winter. Their hunting place is about 30 miles outside Dublin, and they use a 40 h.p. Mercedes to get to the meets. Mrs. Dunville's popularity in Irish society is quite exceptional; her friends have long ago given her the name of "La Mascotte," the name given by her husband to his first balloon in her honour.