Tuesday, March 28, 2023

How an artist jumped to his death full of conviction in 1837

How An Artist Jumped To His Death Full Of Conviction In 1837
The Rise and Fatal Fall of Robert Cocking (centre).

public domain

He is the inventor of a new parachute and is testing the device himself 185 years ago today. Because Robert Cocking died in the process, skydiving became permanently infamous.

24. July 1837: In the Den Vauxhall Gardens A balloon rises on the London bank of the Thames, beneath which passersby can make a strange appendage. Some may have come because they saw a flyer announcing the big things for the day.

An “extraordinary innovation and joint action” is promised. To be more precise, there is “climb in Mr. Green’s Royal Nassau balloon” – and “fall into a newly invented parachute by Mr. Cocking”. The new device is conical-shaped, has a circumference of 32 meters and is a “completely new parachute”, it says.

How An Artist Jumped To His Death Full Of Conviction In 1837
poster for grand de fte – Attractions – at the Amusement Park Vauxhall Gardens,

public domain

And who is the hotshot who wants to take that leap? Robert Cocking is known as “a gentleman of great scientific knowledge” who witnessed the leap of André-Jacques Garnerin in 1802. The Englishman is considered the second person after the Frenchman Louis-Sebastian Lenormand to have successfully parachuted.

an artist who dreams of flying

However, Cocking senses the need to improve Garnerin’s aircraft – and works on rebuilding it over the next few years. Cocking, who was born in 1776, has a completely different background: he is actually a painter living between Kennington and Stockwell.

How An Artist Jumped To His Death Full Of Conviction In 1837
“Short, Round and Pleasingly Uncomfortable”: Robert Cocking.


The Cocking is described as “small, round and delightfully spotless”. He also works as a teacher and is apparently very popular among his students. He paints landscapes as advertising subjects, but also photographs of flowers in order to be able to provide for his wife and two relatives who live with them.

However, the passion for cocking is flying. He is obsessed with balloons: his drawings fill the house. 35 years after watching Garnerin jump, he too wants to do something like his compatriot. He asks the famous balloonist Charles Green if he wants to help him with his projects.

What is the probability of going wrong?

Green, Edward Spencer and Cocking took off at 7:37 pm on July 24, 1837. Robert Morley, who knew the painter personally, writes, “I saw the balloon rise into the air on a summer evening with the parachute attached.” “I saw the poor thing say goodbye to the world. I wish it didn’t fly up and down so quickly before it was free.”

How An Artist Jumped To His Death Full Of Conviction In 1837
Ballon Royal Nassau with innovative parachute.


Cocking himself tested his invention on a 1:12 scale model that “worked flawlessly” and is confident that his plan – and the screen – will work. What he doesn’t know is that he forgot to include in his calculations the weight of the parachute, which at 115 kg is much heavier than today’s models.

Cocking does a few more hand shakes before climbing into the basket attached to the parachute under the balloon’s basket. In this way a good height of 2400 meters should be reached, but men only climb 1500 meters. Either the trio was too heavy or it was running out of time to be able to jump in daylight.

“I closed my eyes”

When the parachute is released, it seems that everything is going to work for the first few moments. The balloon jumps up, the cocking slides slowly down. But then disaster takes its course: “I took my eyes off the sight of this thing that fell to Earth like a heavy, drunk meteor,” Morley described the scene.

How An Artist Jumped To His Death Full Of Conviction In 1837
Presentation of case.

public domain

Nine miles from Vauxhall Gardens, the cocking basket, separated from the rest of the parachute, hits the ground. According to a report, the laborers found the 61-year-old alive in a field before he died. Another story says that the local population takes glasses, watches and shoes from the dead person before they are found.

Robert Cocking pays for his passion with his life: he is the first person to die from a parachute. The accident discredited the jump: for decades to come, parachutes were mostly seen only in circus performances.

It was only with the invention of the foldable parachute by the German Cathay Paulus in the late 19th century and the backpack parachute by the Russian Gleb Kotelnik in 1912 that the flying device, which is very popular today, experienced a revival.

Nation World News Desk
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