In the evening of Monday, August 15, 1859, an immense number of people were assembled in the old Cricket Ground, Bath Road, Newcastle, to witness a balloon ascent, the aeronaut being a man named William Henry Hall, better known as “Captain Hall,” who had a great reputation as a gymnast. The entertainment, or “grand gala” as it was called, was a speculation of Mr. Smith, the first lessee of the Victoria Music Hall, Grey Street, and as regards attendance the affair was certainly a success. Special trains were run to Newcastle, not only from many places in the locality, but from even as far as Berwick. As the evening was very fine, everything promised to pass off pleasantly. It took three hours to inflate the balloon ; but at ten minutes to seven the ascent was made amidst the crash of music and the loud cheers of the spectators.
When at the height of about a thousand feet, Hall got out of the car, and began a series of most extraordinary gyrations on a trapeze, holding on first by his hands and then by his feet, while he performed his sickening exploits. Women screamed, and even strong men averted their faces in terror, so that it was quite a relief when the acrobat again took his seat in the car. Shortly after this, attention was called to the apparent eccentricities of the balloon, which at times descended quite low, and again shot up suddenly to a great height, until it appeared no larger than an ordinary hat. Finally, it passed out of sight, and the people in the grounds became interested in the music of the bands and other entertainments provided for them.
Soon after ten o’clock, the cab which had been engaged to follow the balloon and its occupant arrived at the Cricket Ground. The driver had a sad story to tell. He reported that the poor “captain” had fallen from the car, and was then lying in a critical condition at the residence of Mr. Hugh Lee Pattinson, Scots House, near the Felling. Mr. Smith, accompanied by a surgeon, immediately drove to the scene of the accident. Some men who were working in a field when the balloon descended, stated that it came down slowly and steadily, and that Mr. Hall was just in the act of stepping out when it rose again with great velocity. Hall’s feet became entagled in the ropes, and for some seconds he hung suspended head downwards, and then fell a distance of fully 120 feet. He was taken up unconscious, placed upon a couple of corn “stooks,” and carried into Mr. Pattinson’s house. That gentleman did all he could for the sufferer; and on the arrival of Mr. Smith with medical assistance, it was found that no bones were broken, nor were there wounds of any kind to be seen. Mr. Pattinson provided a spring cart, which was made as comfortable as possible with cushions, &c., and the injured man was conveyed to Newcastle. On his admission into the Infirmary, he was attended chiefly by Dr. Gibb, who from the first did not take a very cheerful view of the case, and it soon appeared that the doctor was right in his diagnosis. Poor Hall lingered until Thursday, 18th August, when he succumbed to the effects of his terrible fall. The funeral took place on the following Sunday, at Elswick Cemetery, an immense crowd being present at the ceremony.
Two or three incidents in this fatal balloon ascent are worth recording. When Hall fell from the car, the ground was deeply indented in two places; and yet his watch was quite uninjured, and continued to “go” until it had run down. A favourite little dog, of great intelligence, was in the car with his master, and was at his heels ready to jump when the balloon escaped from the grapplings. Much pity was felt for the poor dumb animal which was never seen afterwards. Nor was the balloon itself ever re-captured.