Overall summary of the flight
The basis for this summary is a small booklet, 50 Years Of Australian Air Mails, by H. N. Eustis. Published in Australia July 16, 1964. No publisher is specified; Mr Eustis was an authority on stamps. All material taken directly from this book is in Times New Roman typeface. Other material is in this typeface and its sources are acknowledged in endnotes..
MAURICE GUILLAUX was born January 24, 1883, at Montoire-sur-Loir, France and died May 21,. 1917, at Villacoublay, France
Two special stamps were issued on 1st July to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the first air mail flown in Australia by Frenchman Maurice Guillaux. At 9.12 a.m. on Thursday, 16th July, 1964, exactly fifty years later a light aircraft left Melbourne carrying an air mail of souvenir covers that will be in worldwide demand by stamp collectors.
Guillaux’ arrival in Australia
Maurice Guillaux arrived in Sydney on 8th April, 1914, travelling in the S.S. ‘Orontes’ with his Bleriot monoplane crated in the hold. The ship's passenger manifest reveals that he was accompanied by Messrs.Rupeausseu, Maistre, Cominos, and du Coque, who were mechanics and managers prepared for a commercial aviation onslaught on the Australian public.
After arrival in Sydney, the next two weeks were spent in assembling and testing the Bleriot. Extreme care was taken by Guillaux and his mechanics because the anticipated fame and fortune in this foreign country hinged on the frail French aircraft. Whilst the mechanics were busy doing their job, Guillaux and his managers were planning their ascents and descents on the capital cities and larger country towns of Australia.
On 24th April, Guillaux was officially welcomed to the City of Sydney by the Lord Mayor. Next day he made a flight to Newcastle, and on the following Saturday the first public demonstration was given in Sydney.
First plans for Melbourne-Sydney airmail: Wizard Stone
During this early experimental and barnstorming period in Australian aviation our postal authorities were not unmindful of the possibility of mails being carried by air. While Guillaux was going on his way with successful displays, our P.M.G. contracted with an American pilot who was in Australia, ‘Wizard’ Stone, to fly an official first air mail from Melbourne to Sydney.
Special souvenir post cards were printed and sold to the public at 1/- each. Plans were going along very well and only a crash would prevent the history-making flight. And, of course, this is what happened on Monday, 1st June. The machine was wrecked beyond repair. The promoters did not have a replacement aircraft because in those days planes were rarities.
Selection of Guillaux as replacement
To the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wynne) the task of despatching Australia's first air mail seemed beset with difficulties. Maurice Guillaux, up until this time, was in no way concerned with the postal authorities. Stone's crash, however, gave him the opportunity of being the Frenchman to make aviation history in Australia. Our Postmaster General's Department contracted with Guillaux to carry a bag of about 2,000 specially printed post cards, valued (in 1964) at £15 each.
Guillaux had every confidence in himself as an airman and in the Bleriot that was his charge. He had no pre-flight jitters and for a number of days before the mail departure date could be seen engaged in aerobatics over the city of Melbourne. Crowds were seen ‘sky watching’ at most street corners and photographs taken ‘under the clock at Flinders Street’ as well as other vantage points appeared in Melbourne papers.
There was no difficulty in selling the souvenir air mail post cards, the weight limit was the restriction. Probably our earliest ‘black marketing’ or ‘ticket scalping’ occurred immediately before the flight when some holders of surplus cards were selling them at double the original price!
On 15 July he was reported as flying over Beechworth. See this story.
Departure from Melbourne: preparations
On the morning of Thursday, 16th July, Guillaux was astir early. The Melbourne ‘ARGUS’ reports that he ‘sat down to his morning cutlet at the Cafe Denat punctually at 6 o'clock’. Café Denat was at 80 Bourke Street, Melbourne, and this is now the site of Florentino Restaurant[i]. .He left soon for the Royal Agricultural showgrounds at Flemington and after a check of the Bleriot, was ready as planned, standing beside the cockpit at 9 a.m. waiting for the arrival of the most important item—the air mail. Five minutes later, the acting deputy postmaster-general, Mr. W. B. Crosbie, appeared with the mail bag and at exactly 9.12 a.m., Guillaux took off for Sydney.
· Souvenir air mail
· A letter of greeting from the Governor of Victoria (Sir Arthur Stanley) to the Governor of New South Wales (Sir Gerald Strickland)
· a letter from the French Vice-Consul in Melbourne (M. Homery) to the French Consul-General at Sydney (Mr. Chayet).
· Due to the non arrival of the envelope containing good wishes from the Lord Mayor of Melbourne to his counterpart in Sydney, Guillaux promised to verbally deliver the message
· a quantity of Lipton Tea
· some O.T. cordial consigned to the C.T.A. Club of Sydney.
Fuel was provided by Shell, and this was noted on the postcards.
In the 1964 re-enactment these three firms were again represented on the commemoration flight.
Melbourne to Seymour
9:12 am to 9:54 am, 61 miles in 42 minutes
Waving to his mechanics and the hundreds of spectators at Flemington, Guillaux left in high spirits on his 580 mile flight; first stop Seymour, 61 miles.
.At Wardong, 34 miles from Melbourne, he was cheered as he passed overhead at 9.25 a.m.
Arrival at Seymour 9:54 am
Precisely 42 minutes later the Bleriot touched down at Jordan's paddock, the scheduled landing field. It appeared that everyone in Seymour turned out to see their first aeroplane and the local paper commented that ‘the Trawool road presented the appearance of Flemington road on Cup day. There were motors, waggons, carts, horsemen, paters and maters carrying children, footmen, etc., the whole forming a picturesque group.’
Guillaux was welcomed by the President of the Shire, Councillor George Howe, accompanied by Monsieur J. P. Begin who was Guillaux's representative. Like most of his exploits in Australia, the Melbourne to Sydney flight was well planned. Guillaux had a representative at each of his stopping places en route with the exception of Albury. Even this border town had not been entirely overlooked, as Frenchman Alderman G. P. Frere had been responsible for Guillaux's decision to land there, so that he was looking after all arrangements.
The Bleriot did not remain long at Seymour, the local hotelkeeper unearthed a bottle of ‘gold-top’, the drinkers voting good health to the aviator. After taking aboard oil and eleven gallons of petrol, Guillaux left at 10.25 a.m. and headed for the next stop, Wangaratta, which was 84 miles away.
Seymour to Wangaratta
10:25 am to 11:40 am, 84 miles in 75 minutes
He passed over Benalla at 11.20 a.m. where his speed was estimated to be 70 m.p.h.
At Wangaratta, Mr. J. Sisely's paddock on Racecourse Road was the selected aerodrome. The crowd was larger than Seymour, but would have been much bigger had Guillaux not been running three-quarters of an hour early. The local press reported that the Bleriot landed at 11.40 a.m. and ‘that the descent to earth was extremely graceful . . . the airman and his representative talked in French’.
After refuelling, during which Guillaux repeated his only English words used on the MelbourneSydney flight—’keep back, no smoking here’, the Bleriot took off at 12.15 p.m. bound for Albury, a distance of 45 miles.
In these early days of the aeroplane in Australia, it was the practice to light a bonfire to guide the pilot. At Wangaratta, Guillaux had landed about twenty yards from the signal fire and commented later that on leaving Melbourne he had risen to an altitude of 10,000 feet in order to cross the mountains and dodge the ‘fog’. At this height ‘there was no calm and I feared that I would not find my first stop.’
Wangaratta to Albury
12:15 pm to 12:50 pm: 45 miles in 35 minutes
After leaving Wangaratta, the airman went on to say that ‘I rose high and the cold was intense. Just as I was approaching Albury the machine rocked and fell into innumerable air pockets.’
Chiltern, between Wangaratta and Albury was sighted at 12.30 p.m. where the usual crowd turned out in the streets to see the Bleriot.
The racecourse at Albury was buzzing shortly before Guillaux landed at 12.50 p.m. The Mayor, Alderman Waugh, was present with representatives of the local press. Senior Sergeant Blackburn was there with a detachment of mounted constables to form a guard of honour.
Guillaux made his usual excellent landing, coming to rest along side the judges' box where the spectators were assembled. Mayor Waugh called for three hearty cheers, after which the airman's French friend, Alderman Frere assumed responsibility.
Obviously anxious to keep ahead of schedule, Guillaux hurriedly lunched with his friends and was ready in the aircraft for take-off at 1.35 p.m. Wagga, 79 miles away was the next stop.
Albury to Wagga
1:35 pm to 2:45 pm, 79 miles in 70 minutes
When he reached Wagga, Guillaux made his first landing mistake on the trip. It was arranged that he land at the M.T.C. racecourse near the centre of the town. In the *absence of a bonfire the airman was used to watching for a large assembly of people to pinpoint his landing field. Perhaps Guillaux did not remember that he had already exhibited his Bleriot in Wagga some weeks earlier. On that occasion he had arrived with the aircraft on a train.
It seems that the Wagga people chose to go to a race meeting in preference to lining up for the arrival of Guil-leaux. There was some consternation when the Bleriot landed near the judges' box right at the end of the race! He had selected the wrong racecourse, where the town's regular meeting was in full swing.
Undaunted however was the intrepid Guillaux, for after receiving congratulations he took off, landing at the correct course a few minutes later. The Mayor, Alderman McDonough and other members of the council were there to greet him. The Wagga Wagga Express reported that ‘very soon the airman's advance representatives drove up briskly in a cab with the required fresh supply of petrol. Sitting in his airship, wearing a comfortable fur-lined leather coat, hooded with a red, white and blue scarf, Monsieur Guillaux wore an expression of excited pleasure and intense satisfaction of his so far successful flight’.
Wagga to Harden
3:30 pm to 4:06 pm, 84 miles in 96 minutes
Although there was scarcely a cloud to be seen in the sky at Wagga, Guillaux was anxious to beat the weather and was ready to leave at 3.30 p.m. Before leaving he was handed several letters to drop at towns en route, plus copies of the local newspaper.
Hoax at Culcarin
The town of Culcairn is 32 miles out from Albury on the way to Wagga. The residents expected that Guillaux would fly over at about noon but communications in those days were not the best and the townsfolk were not to know that the airman was still way back at Wangaratta.
At 1 p.m. a hoaxer phoned the shire office and pretended to be a representative of Guillaux. He asked the Shire Clerk where the Bleriot could land in Culcairn as a change of plans made it necessary for the plane to refuel. Permission to land on Railway Parade was given and the Shire Clerk himself offered to order the petrol required.
It appears that the hoaxer also phoned the local Culcairn paper with the same message and a further supply of petrol was made ready. The newspaper proprietor must have been very civic minded because with a pitchfork and a yard of red flannel on the end of it, he stood guard on Railway Parade keeping all traffic clear in readiness for the landing of the Bleriot.
At 2.15 p.m. the aircraft was seen approaching Culcairn. Not even when it passed overhead did the sentinel believe the town had been hoaxed. Thinking that Guillaux had not sighted the newly appointed Railway Parade airfeld or else had forgotten to land, he leaped into the air wildly waving the red flag to attract the attention of the aviator.
At Henty it was reported that the same hoaxer had been at work. A large crowd had gathered at Spence's Hotel expecting a landing, a special mail had been prepared, and petrol was ready.
Leaving Wagga at 3.30 p.m. bound for Harden, 84 miles distant, Guillaux was favoured with a tail wind that enabled him to average 120 m.p.h. The Bleriot passed over Junee at 3.45 p.m. and reached Harden at 4.05 p.m.
Guillaux was due to give an exhibition at Harden, but with the weather still favourable and a good tail wind he decided to go on to Goulburn, 94 miles away, expecting to land before darkness.
Three miles out of Harden, Guillaux says that ‘I encountered a strong head wind, and fearing that I would not reach Goulburn before dark I returned to Harden for the night’.
A report in the Wagga Wagga Express gave the reason of the aviator's return to Harden from the three-mile point as being due to the fear that he would run short of petrol, and would not be able to land in the mountains. Whatever the reasons for returning, there seems no doubt that this turnabout prevented Guillaux from flying into Sydney early on Friday morning.
He spent the night at the Carrington Hotel. Local identity, Mr. R. J. Simpson tells that the plane appeared ‘to be a mass of wires’, that townspeople flocked to the racecourse and a police guard was placed on the Bleriot overnight.
Friday dawned cold and wet in Harden, but despite the weather Guillaux flew the plane giving the locals sheltered under umbrellas a thrilling display of aerobatics. He apologised for not looping the loop because he did not have ‘the braces that held him in the machine’. Three Harden residents were taken at intervals for joyrides.
Harden: abortive departure for Goulburn, July 17
Guillaux's representative at Goulburn phoned continuously during the morning reporting extremely bad weather. The Frenchman was most anxious to go on his way. Although his agent begged him not to take off, the airman left Harden at 2 p.m. This stage to Goulburn was 94 miles, but Guillaux battling against a headwind did not get very far.
Over Galong, 20 miles away, exposure to the cold wind and the rain caused the airman to be overcome with air sickness. At this stage the Bleriot was averaging only 40 m.p.h. so Guillaux once again turned back to Harden—a very unhappy Frenchman, to spend another night in the New South Wales country town.
Guillaux, recalling later this night at Harden said, ‘I had a lonely feeling and was worrying about getting away next day’.
Harden to Goulburn on July 18
7:15 am to 9:15 am, 94 miles in 120 minutes
As it turned out he had every reason to worry for after leaving Harden on Saturday morning, 18th July, at 7.15 a.m., the 94 miles took the Bleriot exactly two hours. Strong head winds were encountered all the way and Guillaux related that ‘I shall never forget the awful experience I had to undergo. As soon as I rose I had to battle my way and had to negotiate a passage through the icy atmosphere above those cruel mountains.’
These two hours called for really skilled flying and Guillaux stood the test. The debonair Frenchman, as he has been called, may be excused for his seemingly melodramatic description of the flight as he went on to say that ‘never have I seen such an inhospitable region as this. The deep yawning chasms, seemed to be calling me down into the merciless depths never to rise again’.
‘There is no place to land in this awful mountain country. If I had any motor troubles it would have been `good-bye' because there were only eucalyptus trees to land upon.’ Guillaux went on to say that although the railway lines were impossible to follow, it was the smoke from the engine that helped guide him to Goulburn.
At 9.15 a.m. an almost frozen Guillaux clambered out of the cockpit of the Bleriot and hurried to the signal fire. Never had the sight of the bonfire been so doubly welcome to a lonely airman, as was this one burning fiercely on the Goulburn racecourse on that Saturday morning.
Goulburn to Liverpool
11:05 am to 12:35 pm, 113 miles in 90 minutes
After a short exhibition flight Guillaux left at 11.05the next landing stop planned for Moss Vale, just under 50 miles away. At times he was forced to fly at 18,000 feet and when searching for Moss Vale he had come down to 10,000 feet but still could not find a landing field nor sight the bonfire. (heights are as stated in the booklet)
So, on to Sydney—but for some reason Guillaux's maps stopped 50 miles short of Sydney Town! Furthermore, he had been specially instructed not to arrive at his destination much before three o'clock.
With the aid of his compass, the plan therefore was to find some cleared area to make the first ‘forced landing’ on the Melbourne to Sydney air route.
After flying 113 miles from Goulburn, Guillaux sighted a clearing near Liverpool. He made a good landing at 12.35 p.m. and was warmly welcomed by a Mr. and Mrs. Clarke who invited him to lunch.
Liverpool to Sydney
2:05 to 2:50 pm, 22 miles in 45 minutes
With only 22 miles remaining, the end of the record making flight was almost in sight. When Guillaux took to the air at 2.05 luck was with him and a tail wind found him killing time over Parramatta and Manly. After casually flying over several football grounds and waving to the crowds, Guillaux decided he had best come in to a landing at Moore Park. In his own words ‘with a certain amount of trepidation, I made my final descent in a blinding storm. I was very cold but I was very happy. I had delivered the mail.’
Landing at Moore Park
And so at 2.50 p.m. as soon as he touched down, the gallant French airman was besieged by admirers. The lifting of the mailbag was the signal for renewed cheering. The Governor-General, Sir Roland Munro-Ferguson, shook Guillaux by the hand. Then the airman was carried shoulder high into the nearby sportsground and as the band played the ‘Marseillaise’ he handed to the Governor, Sir Gerald Strickland, a letter from the Governor of Victoria.
Guillaux had delivered the first official air mail in Australia, he had flown the first air freight, and he had made further history because the 580 miles covered were a world record for the carriage of an aerial mail.
After the flight
Guillaux did not rest on his laurels as on 24th July, 1914, he established an Australian duration record by staying aloft for two hours with a passenger.
On 1st August Guillaux crashed at the Ascot racecourse, injuring himself and almost wrecked the Bleriot.
He spent a considerable time in hospital. War had broken out in Europe and Guillaux was anxious to return to France for service with the French Flying Corps. Maybe his staff had already left Australia, but the date Guillaux left us is not known.
Maurice Guillaux served France well, his record mentions that he was an excellent mechanic. He crashed while serving as a test pilot at Villacoublay on 21st May, 1917, and was buried at Neuilly-sur-Seine. Like many other early airmen Guillaux did not live to see the growth of the industry he had helped pioneer.
A note on times
The times given are actual take-off and landing times. Guillaux arrived ahead of these times in many instances and gave displays before landing. The correct time on the Wagga-Harden sector was 35 minutes, and the Liverpool-Sydney sector, 15 minutes.
The actual ‘overhead’ time between stops reduced the total elapsed to 8 hours 2 minutes.