Imágenes de páginas

on the 12th the 'Daguerre' was shot at, brought down, and seized a few leagues from Paris. The loss of three balloons within a few days alarmed the Government; the vigilance of the enemy had been aroused, and whenever a balloon was seen, notices were telegraphed along its probable line of flight, and the swiftest Uhlans were put on the alert, with the hope of capturing it. Moreover, there was said to have arrived at Versailles a new rifled gun of enormous range, made by Krupp, to fire shell at the aerial messengers. On this account the Government determined that the future departures should take place at night. But the darkness added greatly to the difficulties of the voyage, and some of the ascents were attended with strange adventures.

On the 24th of November, near midnight, the Ville d'Orléans' left with an aeronaut and a passenger; the wind blew from the north, and it was hoped the balloon would fall near Tours; but before long the voyagers heard a sound below them which they recognised but too well as the lashing of breakers on the shore. They were in a thick mist, and when at daybreak this cleared away they found themselves over the sea, out of sight of land. They saw several vessels, and made signals for help, but were not answered, and one vessel fired on them. They were scudding rapidly to the north, and had given themselves up for lost, when they came in sight of land to the eastward. But they were descending from loss of gas, and their ballast was gone; in despair they threw out a bag of despatches, and this saved them, for the balloon rose, and encountered a westerly current, which carried them to the shore. They had no idea. what part of the world they were in; the ground was covered with snow, they saw no inhabitants, and being overcome by fatigue and hunger, they both fainted on getting out of the car. On recovering, they walked through the snow, with great exertion, and the first living creatures they saw were three wolves, who, however, did not molest them. After a painful walk of several hours, they found a shed where they sheltered for the night, and the next morning, continuing their march, they came upon another hovel with traces of fire, which showed them the country was inhabited. Soon after two woodmen came in, but neither party could understand the other, and it was only by one of the peasants pulling out a box of matches marked Christiania," that the Frenchmen could guess where they were. They had fallen in Norway. They were well received, and though the balloon had escaped when they fainted, it was ultimately recovered, with all the contents of the car, and the despatches reached their destination. The Archimède,' which started an



hour after the Ville d'Orléans,' landed in Holland, after a voyage of seven hours.


The 30th November was a memorable day for the balloons. The Jacquard' ascended at 11 P.M., managed by a sailor named Prince, who cried out with enthusiasm as he rose, 'Je veux faire un immense voyage; on parlera de mon ascension.' He was driven by a south-easterly wind, over the English Channel. He was seen by English vessels, and passing near the Lizard he dropped his despatches, some of which were afterwards picked up on the rocks; but the balloon, thus lightened, soared high over the wide Atlantic and was never heard of more.

The 'Jules Favre' started at half-past eleven the same night with two passengers, and only escaped almost by a miracle the fate of the Jacquard.' The wind blew from the north, and the aeronauts thought they were going to Lyons; they were long enveloped in fog, and on emerging at daybreak they saw under them an island which they supposed to be in a river, but which proved to be Hoedic in the Atlantic! They were driving furiously out to sea; but in front of them lay, as a forlorn hope, the larger island of Belleisle. They saw they should pass one end of it where it was very narrow, and that they must either land on this strip of land or be lost. They tore the valve open with all their might, brought the balloon down some thousand feet in a few minutes, and fortunately succeeded in striking the land. But the shock was terrific; the balloon bounded three times, and at last caught against a wall, throwing both passengers out of the car. They were much hurt, but were hospitably received, singularly enough, in the house of the father of General Trochu.

On the 15th December the 'Ville de Paris' fell at Wertzlar in Prussia; and on the 20th, the General Chanzy' got also into captivity at Rothenberg, in Bavaria.

On the morning of the 28th January, the 'Richard Wallace,' which left Paris the night before, was seen at La Rochelle approaching the sea, and almost touching the ground. The people called to the aeronaut to descend, instead of which he threw out a sack of ballast, rose to a great height, and soon disappeared in the western horizon. No doubt the poor fellow had lost his wits on seeing the danger before him. This was the last ascent but one; that on the next day carried to the provinces the news of the armistice.

The balloons had solved the problem of communication from Paris outwards, but there was another, not less important, namely, how to obtain a return communication inwards from the exterior. This was a much more difficult matter; any wind


would blow a balloon away from the city, but to get one back again required a particular direction of current, with very little margin. M. Tissandier devised some ingenious schemes, and himself made several attempts to get back, but failed, and the return of balloons was given up as impracticable.

Failing these, other modes were thought of, and the Government appealed energetically to men of science and inventors to help them in their difficulty. Numberless projects were offered, and a committee sat en permanence to examine them, but the great majority were wild and visionary.

A few trusty foot messengers succeeded in penetrating the Prussian lines, and many cunning devices were invented for concealing about them short despatches in cypher; hollow coins, keys, and other articles of unsuspicious appearance were skilfully prepared; occasionally a despatch was inserted in an incision. under the skin, and one of the contrivances most successful, till an indiscreet journal let out the secret, was an artificial hollow tooth. One balloon took out some trained dogs, which it was hoped would find their way back again, but they never reappeared. A daring attempt was made, by some electricians, to connect the broken ends of the telegraph wires (which had of course been cut) by almost invisible metallic threads, but they could not succeed. The river, flowing into Paris from the plains of central France, formed the basis of many promising schemes. Divers, submarine boats, and floating contrivances of many kinds were proposed, and some of them tried; the most ingenious being little globes of blown glass, so marvellously resembling the natural froth bubbles on the surface of the water as to escape the most vigilant observation. It was thought at one time that these would come into use, but before the 'service des bulles' could be organised, the frost set in, and spoiled the surface of the river.

The problem which had defied the ingenuity of man, was, however, solved by the instinct of a bird. The return post was effected by means of carrier pigeons, which, having been taken out of Paris in balloons, were let loose in the provinces to find their own way home. There existed in Paris a 'Société Colombophile, and after the departure of the first balloon, the Vice-President waited on General Trochu, and proposed that an attempt should be made to combine the outward balloon post with a return service by pigeons. The second balloon carried three birds, which came safely back six hours afterwards, with news from the aeronauts; and the return of eighteen more despatched in following days confirmed the practicability of the plan. The service was then regularly organized, and was carried

carried on with more or less success during the whole of the siege.

But though the messengers were found, it was necessary to give careful attention to the mode of transmitting the messages. A pigeon's despatch is tied to one of the feathers in his tail, and, of course, in order to avoid impeding his motion, it must be very small and light. For strategic purposes, small dispatches in cypher would have sufficed, but the Government, with laudable spirit, wished to give the public the benefit of the pigeon post, as they had already done with the balloon service, and this gave rise to one of the most remarkable and ingenious postal arrangements of the siege, namely the application of microscopic photography.

(Real size.)

The exquisite delicacy of the collodion film had long been known, and with the aid of a microscopic camera, pictures had been produced on it which, though so small as scarcely to be visible to the naked eye, exhibited, when magnified, all the details of the original. M. Dagron,* who had practised this art, pointed out its applicability to the pigeon post, and was commissioned to organize the arrangements. He left in the 'Niepce' balloon on the 12th November, and, after falling into the hands of the Prussians at Vitry-le-Français, he escaped to Tours, where, and at Bordeaux, he conducted the process with much success. The despatches, public and private, were first printed (to save space and render them more legible) on pages of folio size, sixteen of which were placed side by side, forming a large sheet about 54 inches long and 32 inches wide. This was reduced by photography to of its original area, the impression being taken on a small pellicle of transparent gelatinous collodion, 2 inches long and 14 inch wide, and weighing about three-quarters of a grain. The figure in the margin is a full-sized representation of one of these pellicles now before us. The sixteen pages of letterpress will be seen in their reduced size; each page consists of about 2000 words, and, therefore, the whole impression contains as much matter as sixty-five pages of this review.

[ocr errors]


We have read the despatch with a powerful microscope, and

*La Poste par Pigeons Voyageurs.' Par Dagron. Tours, Bordeaux, 1870-1.


find it contains a great number of messages, chiefly of personal interest, to inhabitants of Paris, from many parts of France. We extract the following as samples:

[ocr errors]


⚫ Dépêches à distribuer aux destinataires.

· Pau, 26 Janvier.—À Focher, Rue Chaussée d'Antin. Madeleine accouchée heureusement hier. Bien beau garçon.

'Biarritz, 1 Février.-A Martin, 68, Rue Petites Écuries. Sommes à Biarritz, bébé complétement remis, embrasse papa, douloureusement impressionnés événements.

A Font. Besoin argent, demande Masquier.

'A Perier. Tous parfaitement bien; trouveras charbon dans cave.

There are also many Dépêches Mandats,' or post-office orders, payable to persons in Paris, from correspondents in the country.

Every pigeon carried twenty of these leaves, which were carefully rolled up and put in a quill; they contained matter enough to fill a good-sized volume, and yet the weight of the whole was only fifteen grains. When the pigeon arrived at his cot in Paris, his precious little burden was taken to the Government-office, where the quill was cut open, and the collodion leaves were carefully extracted. The next process was to magnify and read them by an optical apparatus, on the principle of the magic lantern, or rather of the well-known electric illustrator, which plays such an important part in the scientific lectures at our Royal Institution. The collodion film was fixed between two glass plates, and its image was thrown on a white screen, enlarged to such an extent that the characters might be read by the naked eye. The messages were then copied and sent to their destination.

The despatches were repeated by different pigeons, for although the communication was established many causes interrupted its regularity. The Prussians were powerless against the winged messengers (it is said they attempted to chase them with birds of prey); but there were more real obstacles in fogs, which prevented the pigeons seeing their way, and in the great cold, which was found to interfere with their powers, particularly when the ground was covered with snow. There were sent out of Paris 363 pigeons, but only 57 returned, and some of these were absent a long time.

The charge for private despatches by pigeon was 50 centimes per word; but to facilitate the service, the Parisians were directed to send to their friends in the country, by balloon, questions which could be answered by pigeon with the single words, 'Yes' or 'No.' Forms were prepared, something like Vol. 139.-No. 277.



« AnteriorContinuar »