An Aviation Story - Cathedralian Leslie Falconer MacDonald
Friday, August 12
Most Bristolians will, at one time or another, have admired the Bristol Boxkite stunningly suspended above the entry gallery at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. Whilst, it is actually a replica (made for the film 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines', the Boxkite was central to this story. Notably, the aircraft was also the first to be offered for sale commercially and 70 were produced overall.
In 1910, Cathedralian Leslie MacDonald was selected along with New Zealander JJ Hammond by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company to take 2 Boxkites to Australia in an attempt to sell them to the Australian Military. Quite a challenge for a 19 year old who already held Royal Aero License No 28 (yes the 28th qualified pilot in Great Britain!). He went as the Pilot/Engineer, whilst Hammond (License No 32) led the mission as pilot.
Aviator's Certificate (Bristol Archive)
They made a series of record flights demonstrating the Boxkite in Australia before Hammond went off to see his family in NZ in May 1911. The sales tour was complete and, now, they awaited a decision from the Australian military.
During this lull, a dentist, William Hart, saw the opportunity to buy a Bristol Biplane. The tour complete, the aircraft would merely have been shipped back home, so MacDonald arranged the sale, and then oversaw the reassembly. Leslie then stayed on for a while in Australia teaching Hart to fly, gain his flying licence and become Australia's first aviator; he also imparted state of the art knowledge on setting up both a flying machine and the facilities required for any nascent airfield; thus, a Cathedralian, can reasonably be said to have brought flying to Australia.
Sadly, Leslie MacDonald's career came to an abrupt end only 2 years later, when he was testing a Vickers Biplane and crashed into the River Thames and drowned on 13 Feb 1913. His funeral took place at Canford Cemetery where amongst dozens of wreaths was one from the Old Cathedralians which read 'In loving memory of Leslie Falconer MacDonald, a martyr to science'.
The Society is indebted to Greg Edwards for bringing this story to our attention. Greg was a co-author (along with the late Australian aviation historian, Keith White) 'William Ewart Hart - A Forgotten First'. Should you wish to read more, the book is available as a free eBook at : https://archive.org/details/keith-whites-a-forgotten-first_2022/mode/2up