Saturday, November 30, 2013

Did Frederick William Birmingham build a flying machine based on his bizarre 1868 UFO "vision" in Parramatta, NSW, Australia?

In 1980 I presented some detailed research findings into the mystery of "a machine to go through the air" - the "UFO vision" of Frederick William Birmingham in Parramatta, NSW, Australia, way back in 1868.  I published a shorter version of this report in 1984 in the UFORAN magazine.  I also described the affair in my 1996 book "The Oz Files - the Australian UFO Story" and wrote an article for Fortean Times in 2002, available on line at:
http://www.forteantimes.com/features/articles/229/australias_1868_ufo_buzz.html
The story has long fascinated me and I have repeatedly revisited my research to see if anything further could be established.  My original research and the increasing availability of old newspapers on line provided further tidbits about Birmingham (his engineering, mapping & surveyor activities; his 1866 insolvency; his robust "Town Hall" oratory efforts to try to get elected to the local Parramatta council; his activities as twice alderman on that council; his work as an engineer to Parramatta council on the local water supply works; his accuracy as an astronomical observer - Chris Aubeck of the Magonia Exchange list found a Sydney Morning Herald letter to the editor written by Birmingham describing a meteor in 1864) as did further research in various Parramatta and NSW archives.
In September 2013 I was pleasantly surprised when my friend Paul Cropper came across references to Birmingham building a "flying machine" in local papers in 1932 and 1937!
Here are the 2 items, each based on recollections of a former mayor of Parramatta Frederick Cox (mayor in 1884) a few months before he died in April 1932:
From the Sydney Morning Herald, 23 January 1932:


I have been undertaking a lot of further research on this because at the very least it adds a curious wrinkle to early "dreamers" or "designers" of heavier than air flying machines - a new piece of information about the dreams and achievements in the attempts to fly in Australia.
I found the following reference in 1932 to a "prophet of Aviation - Air-mindedness in 1868" referring to E.W. Cole of Cole's Book Arcade fame predicting in 1868 "the advent in Australia of the aeroplane as a mode of travel."  Cole went on to draw up many weird designs and even had some built.  None successfully made it into the aerial void. Cole made a public offer of 1000 pounds in October 1882 for the first person by October 1884 to fly 100 miles and land a flying machine powered "by electrical, chemical, mechanical, or any other means, except by gas" coming to a stop in front of his book arcade. Of course no one did.
But perhaps "visionaries" or wild "dreamers" like Birmingham were thinking about Mr. Cole's 1882-1884 "flying machine" prize, perhaps, in Birmingham's case inspired by very strange "visions" and "aerial sirens."
I have long wonder about the "co-incidence" of the death of Dr. William Bland in Parramatta in the week leading up to Birmingham's "UFO vision" on the night of 25-26 July 1868. Dr. Bland's death was announced in the Sydney Morning Herald of 22nd July 1868, his well attended funeral was reported on 24 July 1868.  The local and political elite attended in large numbers, including members of the local Parramatta council.  Birmingham was twice alderman on the council between 1865 to early in 1868.  Unstated in the newspaper coverage about Dr. Bland's death was that he was the first person in Australia "to gain real significance in Australian aviation ... when, in March 1851, he drew up detailed plans of his "Atmotic Ship" - an airship to be powered by a steam engine.  Unfortunately Bland's Atmotic Ship never made it to construction stage.  If it did it would have been the first "steam-powered airship", a feat achieved in September 1852, but not in Australia (Greg Copley "Australians in the Air").
I was left wondering if the coincidence of Bland's death just prior to the July 1868 "vision" of "a machine to go through the air" inspired Birmingham in some way. His "flying ark" was nothing like Bland's "airship."  Nor was Birmingham's 1872 daylight sighting.  There has been speculation that Bland's plans, unrealised in Australia, may have inspired Count Zepplin.  William Dean flying the unpowered, lighter-than-air vehicle "The Australasian" in February 1858 became Australia's first aerial adventurer.
So there were some aerial efforts about in the era that Birmingham had his strange vision.
When Chris Aubeck, co-ordinator of the pre-1947 UFO & Fortean research list "Magonia Exchange and co-author with Jacques Vallee of "Wonders in the Sky - Unexplained Aerial Objects from antiquity to modern times" (2009), contacted me recently about clarifying the date of death of Frederick William Birmingham I shared the gist of the newly learnt information - that Frederick Birmingham had apparently built (or more likely drew up a design or made a model) of a "flying machine" that may have been based on his "vision" of 1868 and his daylight sighting of 9 March 1873.
Chris cryptically mentioned he had gone down a similar path "and reached The Rover."  He clarified that this was "what Birmingham called his machine."
Well, I certainly look forward to learning the details of what Chris has found.
So I guess you could still say that after all these years I'm still lost in the thrall of Birmingham's "vision" of "a machine to go through the air."

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