Gertrude Bacon

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Gertrude Bacon
Dr. Conan Doyle's pig.
(march 1899)
Gertrude and her father John Bacon.

Gertrude Bacon (19 april 1874 - 22 december 1949) was an aeronautical pioneer. She achieved a considerable number of "firsts" for women in aeronautics, as well as making contributions in the areas of astronomy and botany. She became famous for being the first woman to fly in a balloon in 1898. Gertrude popularized aeronautics through her writing and promoted both commercial and popular flying as fields for women. She wrote several books : The Record of an Aeronaut (1907), How Men Fly (1911) and Memories of Land and Sky (1928).

Bertrude Bacon and Conan Doyle

In march 1899, she wrote the article Pigs of Celebrities published in The Strand Magazine where she asked several celebrities, including Arthur Conan Doyle, to draw a pig blindfold, and she analysed the result.

A few months after the article on pigs, she lived a singular adventure that may have inspired Arthur Conan Doyle. With her father, an aeronaut, they were given the mission to fly over the clouds with a balloon to photograph the meteor rains on behalf of The Times. On the night of 16 november 1899, the flight began for an estimated duration of 3-4 hours. Everything went as planned and at dawn the mission being successful, they began the descent. But against all odds the balloon did not stop going up! It must be said that the balloon had been reinforced to prevent hydrogen leakage and to make the flight last longer. But a longer flight, without visibility, was risked as it could lead them on the high seas without the possibility of being rescued. This is the problem in England, you are never far from a coast... The journey lasted ten hours in all, but by "luck" ended in a crash on dry land. Detailed account here...

Several details of this anecdote : the fear of the dangers of altitude, the cap lost, the distress messages thrown overboard and then found on the ground, the crash... are details that can be found in other forms in Conan Doyle's short story The Horror of the Heights published in 1913 (6 years after Gertrude's account in his 1907 book).