- Hubert Latham
Forgotten Aviator Hubert Latham:
A high-flying gentleman.

by Barbara Walsh
Published by The History Press, 2007. ISBN 978 0 7524 4318 8
Hubert Latham

  Pioneer aviator Latham's English grandfather, Charles Latham, who had settled in Le Havre in 1829, was proud of retaining close links to his wealthy and important London-based family of shipping merchants and bankers. But two generations later, his most famous grandson, Hubert, always considered himself an entirely French aviator.

Born in Paris, Hubert was raised within the small but elite circle of Protestant high society; he spoke perfect English and German and attended Balliol College, Oxford prior to his coming of age. In 1905, he made his first newsworthy mark in aviation with a record-breaking balloon-trip across the Channel with his cousin Jacques Faure. Keen on motor sports, his next achievement was to win prizes as helmsman of a motor-launch in the Monaco Regatta while demonstrating Levavasseur's Antoinette engine for another enterprising cousin, Jules Gastambide. 1906-8 saw Latham leading an exploratory expedition from the Sudan into Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to collect specimens of flora and fauna for the Natural Museum of Paris and to conduct reports of an ethnological and commercial nature for the French Colonial Ministry. On his return to Paris in 1908, he was invited by Gastambide and Levasseur to learn to fly their newly designed monoplane, named after Levavasseur's successful light engine, the Antoinette. Already a skilled and adaptable sportsman, Latham was soon leading the way in breaking the existing flying records for height and endurance.

The prize for the first motorised flight across the English Channel was a media driven event intended to generate publicity for a political agenda based on the fear of a foreign invasion of England from the skies. The prize was put up by the Daily Mail, but the French newspaper Le Monde afterwards claimed to have 'been working behind the scenes' to produce a satisfactory outcome. Latham was the first pilot to make an attempt and was favoured to win the prize until it was discovered that he was distantly related to the German Chancellor. This news soon put paid to him being championed by the Daily Mail as a perfect example of the Entente Cordiale. A reluctant Blériot then came forward to challenge the attempt and several contemporary accounts later cast dubious opinions in regard to what may have been the true cause of Latham's two failed flights, both of which saw him come down in the sea before reaching Dover. However, his popularity never diminished and he remained a firm favourite with the crowds that flocked to attend air shows in Europe, England and the United States in 1909, 1910 and 1911. Latham's skill in piloting the Antoinette monoplane won him many prizes and he broke records for height and speed on a regular basis.

When the militarised version of the Antoinette failed to gain army contracts in 1911, Latham distanced himself from further aviation adventures and, in January 1912, he travelled to the French Congo, ostensibly on a hunting trip but more probably charged with conducting some convert business for the French Colonial Office in their military outpost in Tchad. He and his native team trekked hundreds of miles through this equatorial region to reach the uneasy and volatile Oubangui-Chari district which was being administered by the French following several victorious but vicious campaigns against local tribesmen. Although an experienced and careful hunter, Latham's death was accounted for by the military authorities as the result of a fatal and accidental encounter with a charging buffalo. More recent research has uncovered evidence to raise serious questions on the accuracy of this report which leave the circumstances of his death open to debate. Hubert Latham was 29 years old when killed. His passing was a great and tragic loss to aviation.

From Barbara Walsh, 5-6-08
Dear Ralph Cooper,
     I have just come across your web pages containing biographies of various pioneer aviators and while the information supplied by Stephen H King about Hubert Latham is useful (I have a photocopy of the press article he refers to dated 1912) I think you may be better served by the following information I have put together for you which is drawn from my biography of Hubert Latham, published in late 2007 and based on six years research on his life. I spent several weeks visiting Latham's nephew, grand-niece, cousins and friends during the course of sourcing my primary material. Details and recent reviews of my book may be found on Barbara Walsh.com
     Latham's (short!) life encompassed far more than just his aviation career, of course, but I realise you are really only interested in his aviation exploits.
     In the light of my analysis of events surrounding the Channel Flight story you may also want to revise what you are saying about Blériot in this regard. Did you know that Blériot had a short-lived business connection with the Antoinette Company? If you want all the small details and theorising you would need to read the book. Anyway, here are few paragraphs of authenticated facts which you may use for your web page:
Editor's Note: I am very grateful to Barbara for this very useful summary of his career and for alerting us to the availability of his book.

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