Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-bqjwj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-04T15:33:59.328Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

The Gloucester balloon: a communication from Franklin?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 October 2009

W. Gillies Ross
Department of Geography, Bishop's University, Lennoxville, Quebec JIM 1Z7, Canada


On 5 October 1851 a balloon was found near Gloucester, England, bearing a message from one of Sir John Franklin's two ships, last seen by Europeans six years before. The Admiralty responded swiftly and investigated the circumstances for several days before announcing that the message was a fake. During their inquiries no news appeared in the press. When newspapers at last published the story, most of them called the episode a hoax, although their accounts differed from each other and from the facts in many details. The Admiralty's brief announcement late in the day on 11 October gave the impression that the incident had been trivial, but in fact they had taken it very seriously. The author suggests that the hoax was carried out with an authentic balloon made for Admiralty expeditions to the Arctic, inflated with hydrogen or coal gas.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2002

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ackland, H. 1851. Letter [to the Admiralty?], 9 10 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 211.Google Scholar
Admiralty, . 1851a. Peice [sic] of papercovering the puncture in the balloon found at Gloucester. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 200.Google Scholar
Admiralty, . 1851b. Card from balloon found at Gloucester 8 [sic] Oct. 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 201.Google Scholar
Admiralty, . 1851c. Summary of Mr Weinling's opinions on the Gloucester balloon. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 227.Google Scholar
Admiralty, . 1851d. Minute, 8 10 1851, signed by A.M. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 215–220.Google Scholar
Admiralty, . 1851e. Minute, 13 10 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 238.Google Scholar
Barr, W. 1992. Franklin in Siberia? Lieutenant Bedford Pim's proposal to search the Arctic coast of Siberia, 1850–1851. Arctic (45) 1: 3646.Google Scholar
Becher, A.B. 1851. Letter to the Admiralty, 9 10 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 226.Google Scholar
Beechey, [F.W.]. 1851. Report from Captain Beechey of enquiries made at Gloucester respecting the balloon. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 222–224.Google Scholar
Brown, J. 1858. The North-west Passage, and the plans for the search for Sir John Franklin. London: E. Stanford.Google Scholar
Corner, G.W. 1972. Doctor Kane of the Arctic seas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
Cyriax, R.J. 1939. SirJohn Franklin's last Arctic expedition: a chapter in the history of the Royal Navy. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
Gould, R.T. 1936. The Franklin mystery. In: Winchester, C. (editor). Shipping wonders of the world. 2 vols. London: Amalgamated Press: I, 350359.Google Scholar
Britain, Great. 1850. Arctic expeditions. Return to an address of the Honourable House of Commons dated 10 May 1850, for: Copies of instructions from the Admiralty to Captain Austin and to any other officers in Her Majesty's service engaged in Arctic expeditions, since the date of the last Parliamentary return. Admiralty, 28 May 1850. London: HSMO. (House of Commons. Sessional Papers. Reports and papers. 1850:35 (397).)Google Scholar
Britain, Great. 1851. Arctic expeditions. Report of the committee appointed by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to inquire into and report on the recent Arctic expeditions in search of SirJohn Franklin, together with the minutes of evidence taken before the committee, and papers connected with the subject. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.Google Scholar
Grinnell, H. [n.d.]. Scrapbooks: 3. Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Library (American Geographical Society Collection).Google Scholar
Hogarth, W. 1850. Letter to William Penny, 27 02 1850. Cambridge: Scott Polar Research Institute MS 116/38/1; D.Google Scholar
Holland, C. 1980. The Arctic Committee of 1851: a background study. Polar Record 20 (124): 317; 20 (125): 105–118).Google Scholar
Jackson, G. 1978. The British whaling trade. Hamden, CT: Archon Books.Google Scholar
Lloyd-Jones, R. 2001. The paranormal Arctic: Lady Franklin, Sophia Cracroft, and Captain and ‘Little Weesy’ Coppin. Polar Record 37 (200): 2734.Google Scholar
Magoun, F.A. 1931. A history of aircraft. New York and London: Whittlesey House.Google Scholar
Nautical Magazine. 1851a. A review of the proceedings of the Arctic searching expeditions, under the command of Captain H.T. Austin, CB, and Captain Wm. Penny. London: J.D. Potter. (Reprinted from Nautical Magazine).Google Scholar
Nautical Magazine. 1851b. Return of the Arctic searching expeditions. Nautical Magazine (20): 569–591.Google Scholar
Owen, R. 1978. The fate of Franklin. London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
Penny, W. 1851. Letter to the Admiralty, 11 10 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 232.Google Scholar
Phillips, C.G. 1851a. Letter to John Barrow, [15 10 1851]. Public Record Office ADM/5610: 233.Google Scholar
Phillips, C.G. 1851b. Letter to the Admiralty, 15 10 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 235–237.Google Scholar
Rae, J. 1851. Extracts from letter to SirJohn Richardson, 21 04 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 214.Google Scholar
Scoresby, W. 1820. An account of the Arctic regions with a history and description of the northern whale-fishery. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Arnold Constable.Google Scholar
Shepherd, G. 1850. Letterto the Admiralty, 12 03 1850. Public Record Office ADM 1/5606: 287.Google Scholar
Shepherd, G. 1851a. Letter to the Admiralty, 9 10 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 231.Google Scholar
Shepherd, G. 1851b. Letterto the Admiralty, 10 09 [sic: probably October] 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 228230.Google Scholar
Shepherd, G. 1851c. Advertisement for Shepherd balloons, manufactured by F. Weinling. Public Record Office Adm 1/5610: 242.Google Scholar
Taylor, S. 1851a. Letterto the Admiralty, 6 10 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 208.Google Scholar
Taylor, S. 1851b. Letter to the Admiralty, 7 10 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 210.Google Scholar
Taylor, S. 1851c. Letter to [F.W.] Beechey, 14 10 1851. Public Record Office ADM 1/5610: 240242.Google Scholar
Wallace, H. 1980. The Navy, the Company, and Richard King: British exploration in the Canadian Arctic, 1829–1860. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.Google Scholar