Wednesday 22 March 2017
AGM. The Rise and Fall of Robert Cocking
In his Address, Anthony Cross, President of Greenwich Historical Society, introduced the audience to Robert Cocking (1776-1837); artist, amateur scientist – and pioneer parachutist – who, in an attempt to demonstrate his device, fell to his death at Lee, near Greenwich, on 24 July 1837.
The talk looked at Cocking’s attempt in the context of the time that it was made: how in September 1802, he had witnessed André Jacques Garnerin descend by parachute in London, and had been moved by the sight of the wild oscillation of his chute. Then, how he had thereafter spent 35 years designing what he considered to be a better, safer model – an upside-down cone not unlike a dandelion seed head. Having finally persuaded Charles Green the balloonist to attach his parachute to the great Nassau balloon, the events of the fatal day at Vauxhall Gardens, were described in some detail.
There was some discussion of what had probably gone wrong; whether the attempt was doomed from the outset, or that poor manufacture was at fault. The talk also gave some thought to the most likely location of the spot where he fell to earth.
Cocking’s last moments, the macabre exhibition of the parachute and corpse, and the subsequent inquest held at the Tiger’s Head, were all covered, as well as his funeral at St Margaret’s (old) Church, Lee.
Anthony concluded by quoting the words of John Edmund Hodgson, the author of the ‘History of Aeronautics in Great Britain’: “[Cocking was] a victim to the very dangers which, with the ardent but unscientiﬁc enthusiasm of the amateur, he had so long sought to overcome. Nevertheless, it may justly be added that in his unobtrusive determination and quiet courage, he exhibited no small measure of that unselﬁsh devotion to an idea – even unto death – characteristic of much greater pioneers”.
Our speaker then went off to the pub where he raised a glass to the memory of Daedalus.