Finding Alexander Fleming

March 16, 2009

Alexander Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming, the nobel-prize winning scientist who discovered the antibacterial effects of penicillin, travelled extensively during his lifetime and crossed the Atlantic several times, with the journeys logged on the Passenger Lists.

Fleming was born in East Ayrshire, Scotland in 1881. This event, along with many other Scottish records can be found on our sister-site, ScotlandsPeople.

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Fleming spent the first four years of his career working in a shipping office, but after being left an inheritance by an uncle, he decided to follow the career path of his elder brother, Tom, a physician.

He studied at St Mary’s Medical School, London University from 1901. Fleming can be found on the 1901 census, living in Marylebone, London, as a medical student (click image to enlarge):

Fleming on the 1901 census

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After qualifying with distinction in 1906, Fleming joined the research department at St Mary’s as an assistant bacteriologist.  He served throughout the First World War as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps, working in battlefield hospitals on the Western Front.

Fleming was ‘mentioned in dispatches’ (a report that was issued in the London Gazette, which recorded noteworthy actions) for his conduct in the war. Many soldiers who served or died in the First World War can be found among the military records.

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During the war Fleming had repeatedly witnessed the deaths of soldiers from septicaemia that resulted from infected wounds, and he became convinced that antiseptics on deep wounds served to hinder a patient’s chances of recovery. When he resumed his post at St Mary’s he resolved to find a better alternative.

In spite of Fleming’s undoubted brilliance as a researcher he was also a somewhat careless and chaotic lab technician. It was his carelessness in leaving some cultures unattended whilst on holiday in 1928 that led to the discovery of the world’s first antibiotic, and revolutionised medicine.

Fleming gave many lectures on his work overseas, and can be found aboard the Aquitania in 1939, on a trip to the USA:

Fleming aboard the Aquitania in 1939

In recognition of his contribution to medicine, Fleming was knighted in 1944. The following year, alongside fellow pioneers Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of the bactericidal effect of penicillin. Here is Fleming on the Passenger Lists four years later, bound for America aboard the Queen Elizabeth:

Fleming aboard the Queen Elizabeth in 1949

Alexander Fleming died 53 years ago this month, on 11 March 1955, and his ashes were interred at St Paul’s Cathedral. His death is recorded in the death indexes.

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Here is Fleming’s final Passenger List voyage, aboard the Queen Mary, again bound for the USA, in 1950:

Fleming aboard the Queen Mary in 1950

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The 1908 London Olympics

September 8, 2008

With Beijing 2008 finished and the countdown to London 2012 underway, we look back at the first time London hosted an Olympic Games, in 1908.

The White City Stadium (originally The Great Stadium) was built for the event. It housed a running track, a swimming and diving pool, plus platforms for wrestling and gymnastics.

In this, the fifth modern Olympic Games, there were just 24 sporting disciplines pertaining to 22 sports, and only 22 countries competing. Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales were entered as one team, the United Kingdom, but following protests from a number of Irish competitors and with fears of an Irish boycott, the team was renamed ‘Great Britain/Ireland’.

Rule, Britannia!

Showing its best ever Olympic form, the British team dominated the Games, finishing the overall winner with 56 gold, 51 silver, and 39 bronze medals – dwarfing the second place United States’ tally of 23 gold, 12 silver, and 12 bronze.   

Olympians on the Passenger Lists

Many 1908 Olympians can be found on the Passenger Lists leaving Britain after the Games.

Here is American George Mehnert, who won a gold in freestyle wrestling in the bantamweight class, aboard a ship aptly named the New York:

George Mehnert on the Passenger Lists

George Mehnert on the Passenger Lists

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Also aboard the New York is Mehnert’s teammate Sam Bellah. He competed in the pole vault, long jump, and triple jump, but failed to win a medal:

Sam Bellah on the Passenger Lists

Sam Bellah on the Passenger Lists

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Charles Edward Swain, an Australian 1500 metre runner, was part of the Australasia team, which comprised athletes from Australia and New Zealand. Here he is aboard the Orient, returning to Australia:

Charles Swain on the Passenger Lists

Charles Swain on the Passenger Lists

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New decade added to the Passenger Lists 1940 to 1949

January 31, 2008 has added another decade of records to the UK Outbound Passenger Lists currently available. Records now include 20 million names within 137,000 passenger lists spanning 1890 to 1949.

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1940s – Horrors, Hitler and the aftermath

The first half of the 1940s was one of the darkest periods in history, with global war causing millions of casualties and the horrors of the Holocaust. Buoyed by the USA’s entry following the attack at Pearl Harbor, the Allies eventually secured victory in Europe. Victory in Japan came only after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Following Armistice the world looked once again to rebuild: the ‘Iron Curtain’ descended in the East leading to the beginnings of the Cold War. Thousands of women left their families and homes to start a new life in Canada, America and Australia with the soldiers they had met and married. ‘Home Children’ were sent away to Canada for a better life, with mixed results. Commercial travel increased, as did the possibility of travelling for business, to compete in sports and other events.

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Notable passengers on board in the 1940s

One man whose influence on the decade cannot be overestimated appears in the passenger lists, travelling to America in 1946. Winston Churchill M P, following defeat in the 1945 election as the nation looked toward the social reforms of Attlee’s Labour Party, can be seen with his wife, valet and maid on board the Queen Elizabeth:

Passenger Lists - Churchill

The American film star Spencer Tracy may be seen on the Queen Mary:

Passenger Lists - Spencer Tracy

Whilst the famous sculptor Henry Moore can be found travelling to New York:

Passenger Lists - Henry Moore

Other notable names include Walt Disney, Elia Kazan, Benjamin Britten and Joan Fontaine.

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Find your ancestors in the Passenger Lists

Search by person or by ship name alone. You can now also narrow your search with the name of a travelling companion. A comprehensive guide to searching the passenger lists can be viewed here.

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Our premium Explorer Subscription offers you unlimited access to over 500 million records on findmypast, including the passenger lists, and costs £89.95 for 12 months – the equivalent of just £7.50 a month. The Voyager Subscription gives you 30 days’ unlimited searching of all the Passenger Lists for only £14.95.
You can also view the Passenger Lists on a pay-per-view basis. It costs 10 units to view a transcription and 30 units to view, print and save the full-colour digital images.

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Roger Casement – Reports and Republicanism

October 12, 2007

Sir Roger Casement was a British diplomat, lauded for his influential reports on human rights violations in Congo and Peru. So groundbreaking and revelatory was his work in exposing the ill-treatment of natives in these countries, he was knighted in 1911.

The Casement Report of 1904 led to the removal of King Leopold II of Belgium from his position of corrupt primacy in Congo.

Casement can be seen in the Passenger Lists travelling to Africa:

 Passenger List - Roger Casement

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His name has become synonymous not with his diplomatic work, however, but with the events of 1916.

Dublin-born Casement, partly as a result of a growing abhorrence of imperialism caused by his experiences in Congo and Peru, developed fervent republican sympathies. In 1916 he visited Germany in order to acquire arms and men to fight against British influence in Ireland.

Casement can be seen travelling to America in 1911, his ‘Sir’ appendage now in place:

 Passenger List - Sir Roger Casement

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The trip to Germany was not a great success, he was promised far fewer arms than he had hoped, and gained little in the way of reinforcements for the nationalist cause. The arms were intercepted en route to Ireland.

On his return to Ireland, Casement was arrested, three days before the Easter Rising occurred. He was stripped of his knighthood and tried for treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown.

Casement was ‘hanged by a comma’, British treason law was seemingly powerless to convict him on the basis that he had been on foreign soil when he negotiated with the Germans. Nonetheless a suitable application of the law was found and, coupled with the outcry surrounding his infamous ‘Black Diaries’ he was sentenced to death.

Roger Casement was executed at Pentonville Prison in London on 3 August 1916.

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 His death record can be viewed on

 Death record - Roger Casement

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Passenger lists to Argentina

September 28, 2007

Contrary to the impression sometimes given, Britain’s relationship with Argentina is as complex and multi-faceted as that with any other country. Military conflicts in 1806/07 and, more importantly for the modern memory, in 1982, and a football match in 1986, colour the picture but, when the bigger view is taken, it is clear that mutual enmity has not been the predominant emotion.

Britain was quick to recognise the newly independent Argentina in 1825. It did so because it recognised its own interests, both the opportunities for trade and the strategic need to pre-empt the United States in South America. British capital and goods flooded in and British communities developed, for instance in Buenos Aires (which was already 3,000-strong in the 1820s). Throughout the nineteenth century, Britain’s so-called informal empire – the regions where the country held economic sway – was at least as important as its actual empire.

British directors and investors effectively ran, and engineers and other technicians built, most of the large enterprises in Argentina, such as the railway, in the mid-19th Century. At the same time, Argentinean beef, mutton and grain were exported to Britain. The result was that by 1880 the Argentine Republic was “more important to the British economy than Egypt or China, or even Canada” (Ronald Hyam, Britain’s Imperial Century, 1815-1914).

Passenger Lists - British Officers to Argentina

This began to tail off in the Edwardian era but even as late as the eve of the First World War in 1914 British investment in Argentina (£319 million) was the same as that in South Africa, not far short of that in Australia (£350 million) and very significantly more than in New Zealand (£62 million) (Nigel Dalziel, Historical Atlas of the British Empire).

When World War One came in 1914, significant numbers of British in Argentina volunteered. The attached page of the passenger list of the Royal Steam Packet Co’s Meteor’s voyage to Argentina in July 1919 shows British officers and families repatriated at British government expense.

The BT27 passenger lists show a wide range of people travelling to and from Argentina. Many of the occupations given are related to the exploitation of the pampas – sheep farmer, ranch owner, wool buyer, estanciero – or to technical expertise – Cable & Wireless, railway official, civil engineer, accountant.

Some of the forenames of people travelling out to Argentina indicate earlier connections with the country – for instance, Carlos, Eduardo, Florencia, Orlando, Santiago. This is particularly true of the Welsh – see the Welsh in Patagonia blog for more information on the Welsh community. But don’t be surprised if, when looking at passenger lists for ships bound for Argentina, your search picks up a Francisco Smith, a Carlos Evans, a Juan MacDonald or a Catalina Murphy.

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Are you a child of the Empire?

August 6, 2007

Empire’s Children contributor’s workshop.

On Wednesday 8 August, Channel 4 is running a one-day workshop for people with stories to tell about the British Empire.  The workshop is intended to complement the television series, Empire’s Children, currently airing on Monday nights at 9pm. Attendees are encouraged to bring photographs, transcripts and recordings if they have them.

Visit the website of Empire’s Children.

For further information email

Empire’s Children on the Passenger Lists

One of the celebrities featured in Empire’s Children is Dame Diana Rigg. Diana lived in India between the ages of two and eight because her father worked on the railways in Bikaner.

Her father, Louis Rigg, was born in Doncaster and served an apprenticeship with the Great Northern Railway. At the end of his apprenticeship he decided to reply to an advert for unmarried men to come to Rajasthan and work on the railways, as work of a similar kind in England had grown scarce.

Aged 22, Louis left for India in 1925. His entry on the passenger lists on ancestorsonboard can be seen below:

Louis progressed during his time in India, eventually achieving the rank of Chief Mechanical Engineer on the Jodphur Railway. An equivalent post in Britain would have earned him a Knighthood.

After the Empire

Following Indian Independence, Louis and his family returned to Britain, like so many other families who had lived in comfort in India. The process of readjusting to life in the austerity of post-war Britain was a notoriously difficult one, particularly for someone who had grown used to mixing with the leading lights of the British administration.

There was a degree of antipathy towards those who returned to England  from India after World War Two,  a lingering sense that they had been absent during the hardships of that time.

Ancestors on Board currently includes outbound passenger lists from the UK from 1890 to 1929, but will eventually cover lists up to 1960.  

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Moreton Bay Photo 12

August 1, 2007

To mark National Family History Week in Australia (4-12 August 2007) is launching the Moreton Bay Family History Challenge.

The Moreton Bay was the first of the Australian Commonwealth Government Line Ships designed to facilitate a state sponsored emigration of British subjects to Australia.

View a free two-minute movie entitled “Passenger Lists: People on the move” on the homepage of our sister site, The movie contains original footage of passengers boarding the Moreton Bay for its maiden voyage from Tilbury, East London to Brisbane in 1921.

The accompanying full-colour 20-page passenger list will be made available free to view on the site from early August until the end of September.

Once you’ve seen the movie and viewed the images we want your help!

If you can identify anyone on the film or the list please email us at with the details of your research.

View an alphabetical list of the passengers’ surnames included on the list

To help you pick out individuals we’ve provided some stills from the movie. This entry is for photo 12 – if you recognise anyone in the photo please leave a comment here.

We’re giving away a free Voyager subscription to the first 50 people who can identify an ancestor within the 762 people who travelled on the Moreton Bay. If you think that someone on board is one of your ancestors, show us them in your family tree.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply upload your GEDCOM using the family tree builder on or start a tree from scratch using this new, free software. Once this is done email us at to let us know the details of your intrepid ancestor.

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Please tell any of your family and friends that you think might be able to trace their ancestors emigrating to Australia aboard the Moreton Bay and present them with this exclusive way of researching their family trees.

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If you recognise anyone in this photo add your comments here.

Take the Moreton Bay Challenge today!

Good luck.