THE balloon went up! ''Mr Baldwin came down as gently as a bird on an unwary worm.'' This is how the Hong Kong Telegraph described the colony's first balloon ascent, and parachute descent, which took place at Happy Valley on January 3, 1891. The Baldwin Brothers were showmen as much as balloonists. They used a hot air balloon. While the balloon was being inflated, to amuse the crowd, the younger Baldwin flung himself off an 80-foot bamboo tower into a net. Before his spectacular parachute jump, Baldwin performed gymnastics on a trapeze 50 feet below the balloon. Baldwin, incidentally, claimed to have invented the parachute. The show was such a success that a Senor Hernandez tried to emulate the Baldwins' feat the next year: ''Up he went, and so did the balloon, in flames, and the next the spectators knew was that a scorched and indignant senor was among them, weeping, as the whole thing burnt out.'' Twenty years later the Baldwins were back in town. In 1910, Mr Ivy Baldwin put on another display. It was not quite so successful. Although hundreds of people crammed into an enclosure near Holt's Wharf for the take-off, most preferred to watch the eventfree from the harbour's edge. There were no gymnastics this time. As the balloon rose over the harbour, Baldwin let off a primitive form of smoke bomb to thrill the crowd. Then he jumped. ''In a few ticks of the watch, the parachute spread like an umbrella.'' With a gigantic splash, Ivy Baldwin fell like Icarus into the harbour. Unlike the Greek birdman - Ivy lived to fly another day - but then Icarus wasn't wearing a Mae West.