Thursday, May 03, 2007

The American lady Balloonist died unsung at Dhaka in 1892

Jeanette Van Tassel, the balloonist

Balloon at some American town in 1880's

Christian cemetery at Narinda, Dhaka

Park Van Tassel's balloon flying exploits began in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 4, 1882. Over the next ten years his team's traveling show took him throughout the western U.S., Hawaii, Australia, and eventually to Dhaka (now in Bangladesh).

In 1892, Jeanette Van Tassel, a daredevil balloonist was flown in from America by Nawab Ahsanullah. During the 19th century, the social life of Dhaka was centered around the Nawab and his family. Unfortunately, the exhibition ended on a tragic note as the adventurous lady met her end during her descent with the balloon.

The Nawabs were famous for their love for entertainment and pageantry. For the benefit of the city dwellers they often organised special events. It was because of one such initiative of the then Nawab of Dhaka, Khwaja Ahsanullah, that this lady was flown in from America on a contract of Tk.10,000/- for the show.

From the newspaper reports of that period and memoirs of Ghaniur Raja, son of illustrious Zamindar and mystical poet Hason Raja of Sunamganj, Sylhet, who was present on the occasion, we learn that the exhibition generated a good deal of enthusiasm among citizens. The area around Ahsan Manzil and Buriganga riverbank was filled with utmost capacity to witness the rare spectacle. People flocked in from all directions, many got into boats in the middle of the river. The Nawab himself, his family members and local and foreign dignitaries witnessed the event from Ahsan Manzil compound.

They would witness the daredevil act of a young American beauty, Jeanette Van Tassel in her late twenties flying by balloon. Tassel had flown by balloon many times before in different countries of the world. She was asked to fly from south of river to north and land on top of Ahsan Manzil.

On 16 March 1892, at 6.20 PM, she started her ascent from the other side of river. Lot of kerosene and wood burnt to inflate the balloon, and soon it looked like a big tent. The balloon would then cast loose from its moorings. The direction of the wind upset her plan to land on the roof of Ahsan Manzil. The balloon rose in the sky swept by a strong current of air and flew passed over Ahsan Manzil. Smoke was visible and Tassel was seen hung perilously. After floating high, tragedy struck on her way down. To the shock of the onlookers, her balloon got enmeshed in a tree at Ramna 2-3 miles away. The police rushed in to rescue. It was reported, that police insisted her to get down holding on to the bamboo pole they placed. The bamboo broke in the middle and Tassel fell on the ground severely injured. She died a couple of days later in a hospital.

She had been married only days ago and her husband, along with many members of Dhaka elite, was present at the spot when a bamboo that was given to her for descending from the treetop, snapped and she crash-landed with grievous injury. It is alleged that her misfortune was the result of police apathy.

As the first instance of flight by Balloon in the then-East Bengal and the following tragedy, the incident created a great commotion at the time and some contemporary newspapers (e.g. the Bengal Gazetteer) gave coverage to it. But in latter years the event was completely forgotten. Her grave exists uncared at the Christian cemetery at Narinda, Dhaka.
(courtesy: The Van Tassel Family History Homepage)


Shireen said...


Barry said...

can the grave be correctly identified

Robin said...

very interesting .....

Anonymous said...

Wow! Its very interesting, but sad too.


kazi said...

very interesting

iqbal said...

That is a very interesting piece of history. All I can say is WOW!!!

Anonymous said...

"In 1892, Jeanette Van Tassel, a daredevil balloonist was flown in from America by Nawab Ahsanullah ..." The airplane was not invented until 1903 (Wright Brothers' first successful flight).

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