The Templer Family from Somerset, Devon and Dorset

Col. James Lethbridge Brooke Templer


James Lethbridge Brooke Templer was an early pioneer of balloons and is often considered the Godfather of the RAF

 This is an account of an early incident

This adventure proved fatal and occurred on  the 10th December 1881, when Captain Templer, Mr. W. Powell M.P., and Mr. Agg-Gardner ascended from Bath. We prefer to give the account as it appears in a leading article in the Times for December 13th of that year.

After sailing over Glastonbury, "Crewkerne was presently sighted, then Beaminster.  The roar of the sea gave the next indication of the locality to which the balloon had drifted and the first hint of the possible perils of the voyage.  A descent was now effected to within a few hundred feet of earth, and an endeavour was made to ascertain the exact position they had reached.  The course taken by the balloon between Beaminster and the sea is not stated in Captain Templer's letter. The wind, as far as we can gather, must have shifted, or different currents of air must have been found at the different altitudes. What Captain Templer says is that they coasted along to Symonsbury, passing, it would seem, in an easterly direction and keeping still very near to the earth.  Soon after they had left Symonsbury, Captain Templer shouted to a man below to tell them how far they were from Bridport, and he received for answer that Bridport was about a mile off.  The pace at which the balloon was moving had now increased to thirty-five miles an hour.  The sea was dangerously close, and a few minutes in a southerly current of air would have been enough to carry them over it. They seem, however, to have been confident in their own powers of management. They threw out ballast, and rose to a height of 1,500 feet, and thence came down again only just in time, touching the ground at a distance of about 150 yards from the cliff.  The balloon here dragged for a few feet, and Captain Templer, who had been letting off the gas, rolled out of the car, still holding the valve line in his hand.  This was the last chance of a safe escape for anybody.  The balloon, with its weight lightened, went up about eight feet.  Mr. Agg-Gardner dropped out and broke his leg.

Mr. Powell now remained as the sole occupant of the car. Captain Templer, who had still hold of the rope, shouted to Mr. Powell to come down the line.  This he attempted to do, but in a few seconds, and before he could commence his perilous descent, the line was torn out of Captain Templer's hands.  All communication with the earth was cut off, and the balloon rose rapidly, taking Mr. Powell with it in a south-easterly direction out to sea." Mr Powell and the balloon were never seen again.

Military Ballooning

Colonel Templer was responsible for the introduction of many new inventions in military ballooning.

The first official experiments with balloons were conducted in 1878 by the Balloon Equipment Store at the Woolwich Arsenal. Captain James L.B. Templer an officer in the Middlesex Militia and a keen amateur balloonist designed its first balloon, 'Pioneer', with its capacity of 10,000 cubic feet of hydrogen was constructed for just 71, and is considered to represent the birth of the British air arm.


In the early 1900's, Great Britain sent Colonel J.L.B. Templer, the commanding officer in charge of the Army Balloon Factory, to France to meet with the famed dirgible builder, Alberto Santos-Dumont. After consulting with Dumont , and studying his many airships, Templer returned to England and began construction on  England's 'first lighter-than-air dirigibles'. The airships were unique, in that they were made of a rugged material called goldbeater's skin. After some minor adjustments were made in the thickness of this unusual material, the first airship was successfully completed and was christened, Nulli Secundus ... or "second to none." However, this dirigible proved to be very unstable and difficult to navigate. In fact, on one of its few flights, the airship was forced to make a crash landing and was badly damaged. All of the pieces of the airship were gathered up, and later were rebuilt into a larger and grander airship known as the Nulli Secundus II. This airship consisted of a larger 85,000 cubic foot envelope made of several ultra-thin layers of goldbeater's skin. A large steel understructure was attached to the bottom of the envelope by several wide silk bands. The most remarkable feature of this airship was its navigational system, which consisted of a separate balloon attached to the ships' keel. This made the Nulli Secundus II a truly unique dirigible.


Further reading

Founding father of the RAF

War Balloons