So.. continuing from our last post on Music in the Sydney Garden wherein we discovered that Jane Austen did everything in her power to avoid listening to it…for whatever reason…(which she did not share with us )…we now turn to the fireworks…..which we know she did enjoy :

We did not go till nine and then were in very good time for the Fire-Works which were really beautiful and surpassing my expectations- the illuminations too were very pretty.

(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 19th June, 1799)

The advertisement for the evening states that:

There will be a most

CAPTIAL DISPLAY OF FIREWORKS

By Signor INVETTO

Who will exert the utmost of his ingenious skill to produce new and astonishing effects;to enumerate the particulars would be too long for an advertisement

Signor Invetto was one of a few itinerant firework masters who traveled around England  creating firework displays at the pleasure gardens in different towns during the 18th and 19th centuries.

I thought you might be interested to see this advertismentle from the Norfolk Chronicle of 1782, which gives us a little more background to the firework master from Milan who seems to have made a good living in England by supplying fireworks to various pleasure gardens .

At BUNN’s Pantheon, On Tuesday, June 18, 1782, (being Guild-Day, will be performed a Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music.

First Violin, Mr Abraham STANNARD, jun.

The Vocal Part, by Mr LEVI, (After the Manner of Mr LEONI, of the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden.) Act.1. “Auld Robin Gray” Act 2. The Soldier’s Tir’d, etc ” The Evening to conclude with a Brilliant Display of Fire-Works, by Sig. Baptista PEDRALIO; Consisting of many new Designs, Emblematical and Picturesque, beautifully ornamented with all the various coloured Fires, representing Suns, Cascades, Rockets, illuminated Balloons, Horizontal, Vertical, Pigeon, and Balloon Wheels, etc etc.

The Concert to begin at Eight o’Clock.

Admittance One Shilling; Sixpence to be returned in Liquor, etc QUANTRELL’s Gardens Will be illuminated on Tuesday, June 18, (being Guild-Day) when there will be a Concert of Martial Music; the Evening to conclude with a capital Display of Fire Works, by Sig. Antonio INVETTO, from Milan, who has had the Honour of exhibiting in the Presence of the principal Part of the Nobility and Gentry in these Kingdoms, and likewise at QUANTRELL’s Gardens on the 4th Instant, and gave more Satisfaction than any Person that has exhibited there for nine Years past. In the Course of the Fire-works will be exhibited the Battle and Capture of Count DE GRASSE by the gallant Admiral RODNEY, executed in a Stile (sic) far superior to any thing ever seen in this City.

Admittance at the Gate One Shilling; Sixpence to be returned in Liquor, etc.

Note. The Artist makes and sells all Sorts of Fire-works for Rooms, Wholesale and Retale (sic), in a neater and genteeler Manner than any Person in this City, and on the most reasonable Terms.– Enquire at the Gardens.

Certainly from 1780 at the pleasure gardens in England the firework displays were a prominent feature. For most of these the “ingenious Signor Invetto, the celebrated Italian Artist from Milan,” was responsible, and invariably each successive exhibition was ” the most superb display ever exhibited in this City.”

The advertisment for the postponed gala sadly does not give details of the fireworks Signor Invetto produced. However this advert, again from the Bath Chronicle of 1799, for another Sydney Gardens gala ( this time to be held to coincide the Bath Races on July 16th ) gives details of the type of fireworks which Signor Invetto, the Italian who supplied fireworks to the Sydney Gardens might have used when Jane Austen was there:

(Please do enlarge it by clicking on it in order to see the detail)

And if we cross reference these with both 18th century illustrations and descriptions in a contemporary book on fireworks  - Artificial Fireworks Improved to the Modern Practice from the Minutest to the Highest Branches (1776) by Captain Jones -we should be able to get a fairy good idea of the type of fireworks Jane Austen would have seen at the Sydney Gardens that evening.

The picture above is of  the firework display held by the Duke of Richmond at Richmond House near the Thames in Whitehall, London and shows both the whole effect of all the fireworks and also, very interestingly, gives individual details of the individual fireworks which made up the whole display.

The “frame” of the picture shows details of the  individual fireworks.

The ones that  tally with Signor Invetto’s display at the Sydney gardens are as follows:

1. Marrons and Battery of Marrons


These were named from the French word for chestnuts, because of their size and shape before they burst open. They burst into fire with a loud report. The firework was a small box of flash powder covered with a base of flame powder. As a result they flared brilliantly before they burst and exploded.

The illustration above shows a battery( i.e. more than one) of Marrons.

Captain Jones advises these are useful in musical displays:

If well managed will keep time to a march or a slow piece of music. Marron batteries are made of several strands with a number of cross rails for the marrons, which are regulated by leaders, by cutting them of different lengths and nailing them tight or loose according to the time of the music. In marron batteries you must use the large and small marrons and the nails of the pipes must have flat heads.

3. Fixed Sun (a brilliant sun fix’d)


This was a circular firework, which was fix’d to a pole and blaz’d like the sun.

This was spectacular but very dangerous: Captain Jones warns:

To make a sun of the best sort  there should be  2 rows of cases which will shew a double glory and make th rays strong and full The frame must be very strong…In the centre of the block of the sun drive a spindle on which put a small hexagonal wheel whose cases must be  filled with the same charge as the cases of the sun…a sun thus made is called a Brilliant Sun because the wood work is intierly covered with fire from the wheel to the middle so there appears nothing but sparks of a brilliant fire…

3. Pots de Bruin


These were rolls of paste board filled with basic gunpowder which shot vertically into the air many showers of stars, snakes, rains and crackers.

Captain Jones advises:

A number of these are placed on a plank thus: having fixed on a plank 2 rows o wooden pegs in the bottom of the plank cut  a groove the whole length under each row of pegs;  though the centre of each peg, bore a hole down to the grove and on every peg fix and glue a pot whose mouth must sit tight on the  peg…

2 or 300 of these pots fired together make a very pretty show by affording a great variety of fires…

4. Sky Rockets


Self explanatory!



but the illustration above also shows Water rockets: which look terribly difficult to manage…

5. Pigeon

These were small rockets propelled along an horizontal rope, and sometimes they were used to ignite other parts of the display.

6. Chinese Fire

This was gunpowder which was mixed with fine cast-iron filings .The effect produced was a very brilliant and intense flame.

The recipe is as follows( but please do not try this at home…)

Saltpetre 12 oz, meal powder 2 lb, brimstone 1 lb 2 oz and beat iron( cast iron fillings-jfw) 12 oz

7. Serpents

These were small rockets without rods, so that they rose obliquely and descended in a zig-zag manner. They could also be added to the charge inside a large rocket, so that they would explode at the summit of the rocket’s climb, thus heightening the effect.

So there you are, and I hope this has enabled you to enjoy as Jane Austen did some extraordinary early 19th century fireworks.