Ballooning Tragedy Viewed From All Over Christchurch – 2nd November 1899

It was sheer luck and determination of this young stranger that made the aeronaut agree to the completely unthinkable.  After a quick tutorial, the young stranger, the following day, lifted off in a gas filled balloon for the first time – like an expert – and his life was never the same again!

This young courageous lad was Auckland born David Mahoney.  He was born on 19th April 1874 and grew up in Parnell.  After finishing his schooling, David found work in a music factory and perhaps it was here that he developed a love for the performing arts.  After moving to Australia, he became involved in Comic Opera performances and by 1892 he moved to England.

It was while he was in England that he witnessed a failed ascent of a gas filled balloon.  Totally intrigued, he approached the aeronaut offering to attempt a takeoff himself despite having no experience of his own.  After a sleepless, dread-filled night, Mahoney ignored his superstitious nature, even after he had listened to a Death Watch beetle all night (they were believed to predict the upcoming death of those who can heard them) and took flight to the amazement of all the witnesses.  He was hooked!

He immediately began to save money so he could buy a balloon of his own.  By the time he returned to New Zealand in 1898, he had made quite a name for himself;  He was now known as Captain Charles Lorraine.  Regarded more as a performing parachutist than an aeronaut, Captain Lorraine (Mahoney) would drop from his trapeze balloon, sometimes at a height of 15,000 feet, performing gymnastics.

On 2nd November 1899, at Christchurch’s Lancaster Park around 4pm, with his Christchurch born wife close by, the Captain prepared to put on a performance.  With a ‘Now, then, gentlemen, let her go,’ he got off the ground with his usual splendour and grace – but things soon went wrong.  His parachute – which was fastened to the side of the balloon – came loose and it unfurled beneath the daredevil and became useless to him.  As horrified witnesses watched below, they saw Lorraine grab hold of the parachute in a vain attempt to save his only way back to earth.  This was soon lost from his grasp and he and his trapeze balloon ascended quickly into the sky – he then faced certain death. Lorraine tried to pop the balloon as he was carried off over Christchurch, over the Port Hills and out to sea.

He was last spotted by a witness who was on the Godley Heads and who later confirmed that Lorraine had gone into the sea – the fall alone was capable of killing him.  His body, likely dragged down by the damaged balloon, was never recovered despite months of searching.

He was only 25 years old.

*image courtesy of the Christchurch Public Libraries – – File Reference CCL Photo CD 7, IMG0084*


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