James Sadler – the First English Aeronaut

A view of the balloon of Mr. Sadler's ascending. Print illustrating Sadler's ascent on 12 August 1811

A view of the balloon of Mr. Sadler’s ascending. Print illustrating Sadler’s ascent on 12 August 1811

On February 27, 1753, English chemist, pastry chef, and aviation pioneer James Sadler was born. He is best known for being the first English aeronaut, whose first successful ascent was on 4 Oct 1784, in a hot-air balloon, from Christ Church Meadow, Oxford.

James Sadler was the second known person in England to achieve an ascent in a balloon after Tuscan Vincent Lunardi, who premiered on 15 September 1784. Sadler however, probably made his first ascent about one month later from Christ Church Meadow, Oxford. His balloon reached an altitude of approximately 3,600 feet before landing near Woodeaton, which is located about six miles from the launch site.

In November of the same year, Sadler attempted another ascent. This time, he used a hydrogen-filled balloon and reached Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. This flight is believed to have lasted about 20 minutes. James Sadler became more and more courageous and attempted to reach France during May of the following year, launching in Moulsey Hurst, Surrey. Additionally, Sadler was accompanied by the passenger W. Wyndham MP. Unfortunately however, he descended in the Thames Estuary and the attempt failed.

During the month of May 1785, Sadler made further attempts. On one flight, he was accompanied by a cat. Another attempt on which he had travelled by himself, Sadler managed to ascent to an altitude of 13,000 feet. He also managed to travel 50 miles before landing in Pontefract, West Yorkshire. Unfortunately, he sustained bad injuries after being dragged for around 2 miles by the balloon. Eventually, he fell out before the balloon took off again empty.

Next to his pioneering aviation activities, James Sadler was also a professional chemist and was appointed in 1796 to the newly created Naval Works Department under Sir Samuel Bentham. It is believed that their cooperation was not very fruitful, however, Sadler managed to publish some works. For instance, he made major contributions to the invention of the table steam engine.

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