On 21st September 1870 a tram called the 'Viceroy of India' derailed at Dilly's Corner. Three were killed and the tram itself was later bought by the mysterious Lord Thompson Tennis who converted it into an airship. Lord Tennis himself disappeared with the airship in 1881 as it flew to India.
Newly discovered documents, however, reveal an untold story.
When the tram crashed the company that owned it went bust four years later. Bad publicity and reduced passenger numbers saw the railway become uneconomical. The wreck of the 'Viceroy' was recovered from the crash site and earmarked for scrap.
When Lord Tennis bought the wreck his close aide, the Earl of Garmouth, bought the railway's only other tram; the 'Dominion of Port Royal'. The two friends embarked on an ambitious project. They planned to convert both trams into airships, operating the first airline between England and India.
The Viceroy was Lord Tennis' ship and became the 'Imperial Empress'.
The Dominion was the Earl's and was renamed 'Sapphire Regent'
The ships differed in many ways. The Sapphire Regent was a lot longer than the Imperial Empress and thus two balloons were used instead of one.
The Earl also distrusted the propeller system used by Lord Tennis and suggested an alternative dual propeller motor.
He did suggest that the Lord drop the single blade design but the Imperial Empress remained unchanged.
As the ships neared completion in July 1881, the plan was for the Sapphire Regent to leave England when Lord Tennis arrived in India. Shortly after the Imperial Empress left the Earl made several trips along the south coast of England testing his airship. It became a frequent site amongst the towns and villages. He noted several flaws in the design of the balloons and made appropriate adjustments.
It was in December 1881 that the Earl received a single transmission from his friend. It contained just one horrifying message; the Imperial Empress was about to crash.
Without hesitation the Earl loaded the Sapphire Regent with supplies and prepped his airship.