The tragic story of the girl who died in a ballooning accident off the Welsh coast – WalesOnline
Cathays cemetery contains the headstones and graves of generations of people from Cardiff.
The sprawling 110-acre site is the third largest Victorian cemetery in Britain.
But among the headstones is one that has a tragic, yet not widely known, story behind it.
The death of 14-year-old Louisa Maud Evans, otherwise known as Mademoiselle Albertina, is described as a “freak accident” in newspapers.
Louisa was born in Bristol in 1881. She was a young domestic servant with Hancock’s circus who fell to her death during a ballooning accident during the Cardiff Exhibition of 1896.
On July 21 of that year, thousands of people gathered at a must-see event in the city.
The daily highlight of the Cardiff Industrial and Maritime Exhibition in Cathays Park was the evening ascent by a balloon followed by a 5,000ft parachute descent. She was supposed to have landed on the outskirts of the city and been returned to the crowds via horse and carriage.
It is said up to 100,000 people gathered to watch Louisa ascend.
But they never saw her land. Her body washed up three days later near the village of Nash, a few miles east of Cardiff.
Accounts vary as to the exact position Louisa struck the water but all agree she had drowned, perhaps pulled under by the weight of her heavy parachute.
Louisa was recognised by the clothes she was wearing. The body had no marks of violence and there was no trace of the parachute to be seen, but the hooks for attaching the parachutist to the parachute were still fastened to the dress at the shoulders.
The body was pulled from the mud and later laid to rest in the cemetery.
Talking to the South Wales Echo at the time, David James, who was employed at the Dowlais Works in the steel-making department, said: “There were thousands of people on what is known as the tidal field of the East Moor to watch the descent of the parachutist.
“I and a companion stood on the embankment. We had a fine view of the balloon and of the woman as she came down with the parachute.
“She worked her feet about as as if she was trying to avoid the water, but she could not resist the wind, and was carried away from land. At length her feet touched the surface of the water.
“The parachute remained up about five minutes, and then the wind seemed to get under it and turn it over on to the water.
“It appeared to fill with water and sink. All this time the girl was moving her body and arms, and seemed to be trying to extricate herself.”
One of the fishermen said to have seen the parachutist drop into the sea close to the shrimping grounds said that he saw the lady fall near the estuary of the Rhymney river.
He said that she fell on her back and disappeared almost immediately, there being no trace of her when his son, who was in a boat about 300 yards off, pulled to the spot.
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He was himself in another boat at a distance of about three-quarters of a mile from where she made her descent.
An inquest jury reached a unanimous verdict: “The deceased was accidentally drowned in the Bristol Channel whilst attempting to descend by parachute from a balloon.”
A member of the jury turned to face the coroner and continued: “We wish to censor Mr Gaudron, showman and balloon aeronaut, in that he showed great carelessness and disregard for the safety of such a young girl by allowing her to attempt her descent during such high winds.”
Moved by her death, the people of Cardiff gave Louisa a decent burial and a headstone in Cathays Cemetery which is embossed with the words: “Brave woman, yet in years a child, dark death closed here thy heavenward flight, God grant thee pure and undefiled, to reach at last the light of light.”