Benjamin Franklin Papers
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To Benjamin Franklin from Joseph Banks, 13 August 1784

From Joseph Banks

ALS: University of Pennsylvania Library; AL (draft): Royal Society

Soho Square Augst. 13 1784

Dear Sir

Willing as much as is in my Power to Clear the R. Society & myself from our share of the Charge of Illiberal treatment towards you with which I fear this Countrey may too justly be accusd, I take my Pen with no small Pleasure to inform you that I am instructed by the Council of the Royal Society to Present to you in their name the Gold medal they have struck in honor of Captn. Cook7 as a testimony how truly they respect those liberal Sentiments which inducd you when his return to Europe was expected to Issue your orders to such American Cruizers as were then under your direction to abstain from molesting that great Circumnavigator an act worthy those sentiments of General Philanthropy by which I have observd your Conduct ever actuated since I have had the honor of your acquaintance. At the Same time give me leave to Congratulate you on the honorable manner in which you receivd a Copy of Captn. Cooks voyage sent to you by his Britanic Majesties orders as a testimony of his Royal approbation of the same liberal Conduct.8

As I suppose you would wish to know to whom you are obligd for the representation which inducd his Majesty to Send it I can Inform you that it was Ld Howe, when I, who by desire of the Admiralty conducted the General Business of that Publication reported the names of those to whom Presents of the work ought in my opinion to be sent I did not venture to insert your name in the List but when Ld Howe on hearing my reasons for Sending one to his Most Christian Majesty approvd of them in warm Terms I thought it proper to acquaint him that you had an equal right to the same compliment a circumstance of which he was ignorant on which his Lordship of his own mere motion & without hesitation orderd your name to be inserted in the List & Obtaind his Majesties Royal assent with as little difficulty.

We have at last began to Exhibit Ballons as a matter of Profitable shew two days ago a French man who Calls himself Chevr. Moret advertisd that he would ascend at Chelsea in a machine made on Mont Golfiers Principles, Tickets were sold for a Guinea half & half a Crown & a most numerous assembly got together especialy on the outside of the Enclosure it seemd however that the Chevr. knew by Previous experiment that his Machine was so ill Constructed & so heavy that it Could not raise even its own weight above 10 feet from the Ground this at best was the result of the Experiment & the Company Finding reasons to beleive that the Chevr. never meant to ascend which they deduced from the fire pla[ce?] within being held up by wyers so thin that they soon burnd off but more especialy by a Dram bottle which they had examind in his Gondola & found empty became quite outrageous & tore to peices in a few minutes the whole apparatus.9

To day a Montgolfier is to ascend in which we are told a Major Gardiner who came here from America as a Loyalist about 3 or 4 years ago is to go up with another Gentleman whose name is secret1 in a few days more a Globe of 32 feet filld with Gas & well made is to Carry up a Mr. Lunardi a writer in the office of the Neapolitan minister & a Mr. Biggins who seems a well Educated young man who lives upon his Means.2

Adieu dear sir beleive me Your Obedient & Faithfull servant

Jos: Banks

P.S. I will send the Gold medal by the first safe opportunity & the bronze one with it which you receive from the Soc. as one of the fellows

Addressed: Dr. Franklin / Passy / near / Paris

James Cook Gold Medal

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7See Bridgen to BF, June 22.

8See Lord Howe to BF, [June 1].

9In January, 1784, London newspapers announced the construction and imminent ascent of “the largest balloon ever made in this country,” which was in the form of a “Chinese Temple.” This hot-air balloon was the brainchild of the chevalier de Moret, whose flair for drama exceeded his competence as an engineer. Moret’s oft-postponed exhibition finally took place on Aug. 10 at Five Fields Row, Chelsea. The temple-shaped balloon, made of coarse, porous cotton covered by thin paper, was reportedly 65 feet high and 120 feet in circumference. After watching for three hours as a mass of burning straw failed to budge the colossal edifice, the angered crowd stormed the balloon and shredded it, while Moret, hidden by the thick smoke, made his escape. A few days later he apologized and offered various excuses: J. E. Hodgson, The History of Aeronautics in Great Britain … (London, 1924), pp. 111–13.

1“Major Gardiner” was probably Valentine Gardner, a British army officer who went to America in the 1750s, at the beginning of his military career. In 1769 he married Alida Livingston, daughter of Robert Livingston of New York. His regiment was thereafter transferred for a time to the British Isles, but he returned to America in 1775 as an aide-de-camp of Gen. Burgoyne, and in 1776 was promoted to a major in the 16th Regiment of Foot, which occupied Philadelphia in 1777. He seems to have returned to London c. January, 1782, whereupon he was elected to the Coffee House Philosophical Society: Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., Patriot-Improvers: Biographical Sketches of Members of the American Philosophical Society (3 vols., Philadelphia, 1997–2009), II, 293–5; T. H. Levere and G. L’E. Turner, eds., Discussing Chemistry and Steam: the Minutes of a Coffee House Philosophical Society (Oxford and New York, 2002), p. 23. Gardner collaborated with the anatomist John Sheldon and the merchant Allen Keegan on the construction of a hot-air balloon that was 84 feet high and 80 feet wide. Sheldon was to perform various scientific experiments during the balloon’s voyage, but the launch, originally scheduled for early August, was postponed several times. During an attempted launch on Sept. 29, the balloon was destroyed by fire, for which the three participants blamed one another: Hodgson, History of Aeronautics, pp. 113–16; ODNB, under Sheldon.

2Vincenzo Lunardi staged the first successful manned balloon flight in England on Sept. 15 before thousands of spectators on the Artillery Ground at Moorfields. Banks had contributed to the public subscription for this hydrogen balloon, which was distinguished from its predecessors by the addition of oars and wings, intended to make it steerable. The balloon’s launch had been scheduled for August, but the permission to use the grounds of Chelsea Hospital was revoked after the riot attending Moret’s failed demonstration. On the day of the experiment, Lunardi discovered that he had overestimated the balloon’s lift, forcing him to leave behind his collaborator, George Biggin. Lunardi’s flight from London to Hertfordshire, which made him famous, inspired a popular tune and a fashion trend, and prompted the striking of a commemorative medal: Hodgson, History of Aeronautics, pp. 117–25; ODNB, under Lunardi.

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