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American daredevil parachutes from balloon

21 January 1889

‘Professor’ Thomas Baldwin in later life
‘Professor’ Thomas Baldwin in later life (Library of Congress, LC-H261- 3339 [P&P])

‘Professor’ Thomas Baldwin landed safely by parachute from a balloon floating high above South Dunedin. The American acrobat had worked up a circus act using a trapeze and a hot-air balloon before making his first parachute jump a few years earlier, and subsequently toured the world as a paid entertainer.

Baldwin’s first planned ascent from the Caledonian Ground was abandoned because the wind was too strong. Two days later, thousands turned up to watch his second attempt, in which he reached a height of at least 1000 feet before leaping out of the balloon clutching his parachute, which inflated after a heart-stopping period of free-fall. A sail on the side of the parachute allowed him to steer away from danger. The act of detaching the parachute also opened a hole through which gas escaped from the balloon, bringing it back to earth. Baldwin landed in a paddock beside the Hillside Railway Workshops.

A few days later, a local boy jumped off the roof of his house clutching an umbrella, which proved to have inferior aerodynamic properties to Baldwin’s parachute – he broke his arm. 

Five years later, Baldwin’s young countrywoman ‘Leila Adair’, who billed herself as ‘the only living lady parachutist’, would make a lengthy tour of the colony during which she had several narrow escapes (see 24 March).

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American daredevil parachutes from balloon, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated