My six times great-grandfather was quite a character I think. His name was James Tytler (17 December 1745-11 January 1804) . He started off in life as a Scottish Presbyterian minister’s son and he received a good education. He became a preacher in the Church of Scotland and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, after which he was apprenticed to a ship’s surgeon for one year. After this he set up his own pharmacy business which wasn’t a great financial success. By this time he was married with five children too so he had a lot of commitments.
Now in trouble with his creditors he took various measures to avoid them by leaving town at times and seeking sanctuary in the abbey grounds at others. To earn a living he turned to writing and he was a very prolific writer. He wasn’t afraid of writing about any subject and in fact he took on the much of the writing and editing of the Second and Third Editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The second edition was 10 volumes long, so it was quite a task and he worked on the various editions for several years at a time. The encyclopedia continues to this day although nowadays it’s online only (rather than that handsome collection of books that you used to see in libraries). It’s lovely that something my six times great-grandfather worked on is still in existence today.
James Tytler’s other claim to fame is that he was the first person in the UK to fly a hot air balloon. It’s an amazing story of dedication and enthusiasm. He was inspired by the exploits of the French pioneers of hot air ballooning, the Montgolfier brothers, and decided to make his own (and fly it). The trouble was that he didn’t have any funds to do this, so he set off to raise money by public subscription (the crowdfunding of its day I guess). He designed the Grand Edinburgh Fire Balloon and after several attempts succeeded in flying it on 25 August 1784, in Edinburgh. His balloon rose a few feet from the ground. Two days later he managed to reach a height of some 350 feet, travelling for half a mile between Green House on the northern edge of what is now Holyrood Park to the nearby village of Restalrig. That was pretty much the height of his success and it didn’t go well after that. In October his balloon only took off after Tytler left the ballon’s basket, to the anger of the crowd. Having previously been ‘the toast of Edinburgh’, he was made fun of and called a coward. His last flight was on 26 July 1785.
In later life he continued to have money problems and got himself into some political hot water with the authorities. He went to Ireland and later the United States to get away from all of that. He made his home in Salem, Massachusetts, and whilst walking home from a drinking session, Tytler fell into the sea and drowned in 1804.
James Tytler certainly led an eventful life and I do wonder whether my love of writing has come down the generations from him.
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