The paintings of the first woman in the world to build and fly a plane, which she had designed and built herself in Northern Ireland, are to go on sale.
Lilian Bland was born in Kent, England, in 1878 but spent her young adult years in Carnmoney, Co Antrim with her father and aunt, and made history with her bi-plane the ‘Mayfly’ - so named by the young woman because “it may fly, it may not”.
Inspired by the achievements of French aviator Louis Bleriot and her own study of birds, Mrs Bland tested the plane’s abilities on Carnmoney Hill and in 1909 it flew successfully for the first time.
Mrs Bland meticulously tested the plane’s weight capacity and designed the wings with the help of the local constabulary and other men, and by 1910, the Mayfly was capable of flying to a height of 30ft and travelling a quarter of a mile.
She scandalised her neighbours by smoking, wearing trousers, hunting and practising jiu-jitsu and was also the first woman to be granted a jockey’s licence in Ireland. She applied repeatedly to ride in the Grand National, but was refused on account of her sex, before becoming a sports journalist and photographer for London newspapers.
Mrs Bland married but her later life was marked by tragedy, after which she took solace in gardening, gambling and painting - the fruits of which are being sold at auction in Penzance.
Mimi Connell-Lay, from David Lay Auctions, said she expects Mrs Bland’s dramatic backstory to command interest. “She’s wonderful - I had never heard of her, so when the vendor brought her pieces in, we were all completely enchanted and wondered how she wasn’t a household name,” she said.
“They’re classic amateur paintings that are very charming and on their own, they aren’t particularly remarkable, they probably would have been sold more generally. But the woman who painted them is so remarkable, it makes them so much more desirable. I would love to own one just because of who she was and what she did,” she added.
The four paintings, which are for auction and expected to go for £50 to £100 each, are being sold by someone whose father was a friend of Mrs Bland’s. Ms Connell-Lay said: “The person who is selling them said Lilian was quite formidable lady and totally awe-inspiring. She just wants her name to be known again and putting them in the public arena gives the opportunity to tell Lilian’s story.”
Before she married, Mrs Bland’s father persuaded her to give up flying for a motor car, a Model T Ford bought in Dublin, leading Mrs Bland to set up Belfast’s first Ford dealership.
She married her cousin, Charles Loftus Bland, in 1911 and emigrated to Canada, where they had two children, Patricia and Jackie. Patricia died of tetanus infection at the age of 16, while Jackie drowned in a boating accident off Vancouver Island in 1962.
Mrs Bland returned to Kent in 1935 to live with her brother, Captain Robert Bland, until she retired to Cornwall in the 1950s. She died at the age of 92 in May 1971 and is buried in the churchyard in Sennen, near Land’s End.
The fine art sale is scheduled to take place on July 22/23. For more information, contact David Lay Auctions on 01736 361414.