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 findmypast.com 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 findmypast.com 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 Whitechapel Windmill

December 23, 2008

Judah Bergman, otherwise known as ‘Jack Kid Berg’, to this day is considered one of the finest boxers Great Britain has produced.

Berg was born to a poor Jewish family in Whitechapel, East London, on 28 June 1909. For a young man such as Berg, in the 1920s, professional boxing was one of the few viable routes to a better life.

‘The Whitechapel Windmill’ (as he became known), after entering his first professional fight aged 14, notched up a long string of victories. Despite initially having no formal training, his strength and raw aggression, combined with a natural aptitude for the sport, carried him through.

Setting sail for America

After beating the cream of Britain’s featherweights and lightweights, in March 1928 he set forth on a voyage to America. Here is Berg aboard the Mauretania, on his first USA trip:

Berg on the Passenger Lists in 1928

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The Englishman proved a big hit with American audiences, winning six out of seven of his first US fights. After briefly returning to England later that year, he set sail once again for the States, in March 1929. Here he is aboard the Berengaria:

Berg on the Passenger Lists in 1929

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World Champion at last

This time Berg stayed a while longer.  After an extended unbeaten run, defeating some of the best fighters of the day, he finally got his shot at the world light-welterweight title, held by the American, ‘Mushy’ Callaghan. Berg’s boyhood dream was realised on 18 February 1930, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, when he captured the title from Callaghan via a tenth round stoppage.

The victory made Berg a national hero. He successfully defended the title five times, before losing it to Tony Canzoneri, another American, 14 months later.

He never won it back, but continued to fight on both sides of the Atlantic with considerable success up until 1945. During a 20 year ring career he amassed a phenomenal record of 157 wins in 192 fights.

The last voyage

He appears a remarkable eight times on our Passenger Lists – on each occasion bound for America. Here he is on his last BT27 trip, aboard the Queen Elizabeth in September 1956:


Cary Grant

July 31, 2008

The Hollywood star familiar to millions as Cary Grant was born Archibald Alec Leach, in Bristol in 1904.

He appears three times in our exclusive Passenger Lists, bound in each instance for New York. We first find Grant in 1920, aged 16, aboard the Olympic. In his company are eight other actors; collectively they comprised the ‘Bob Pender stage troupe’ and were heading to the United States to perform their variety act – Grant himself was a stilt walker.

When the rest of the troupe returned to England, Grant elected to remain in the States to pursue a stage career. It proved to be a wise move.

Here is Grant (then Leach) with the rest of the ‘Bob Pender stage troupe’ – you might say, charting a course with destiny:

Grant on the Passenger Lists in 1920
Grant on the Passenger Lists in 1920

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By 1931 he’d swapped the stage for celluloid, having broken into Hollywood. Initially, he chose the stage name of Lockwood, after the surname of his character in Nikki, a recent play. But this bore similarities to another actor’s name and, on the insistence of his new employer, Paramount Pictures, he used Cary Grant instead. Two years previous to his big break, he appears in the Passenger Lists:

Grant on the Passenger Lists in 1929
Grant on the Passenger Lists in 1929

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Grant ascended the Hollywood ladder with remarkable rapidity. In 1932 he played the leading man opposite Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus, and the following year appeared opposite Mae West in She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel, two of her most successful films.

In 1936 he signed to Columbia Pictures; that year he appears twice in the findmypast.com Passenger Lists. Grant was due to sail on the Majestic, on 31 January, but the line through his entry indicates he did not board:

Grant on the Majestic

Grant on the Majestic

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We find him five days later, however, aboard the Bremen, the clerk including his stage name, but mis-spelling ‘Cary’ as ‘Gary’:

Grant on the Bremen
Grant on the Bremen

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Grant next appeared in a string of hit comedies and, in the ensuing years, established himself as one of Hollywood’s leading lights – a position he sustained for several decades.

In later years he was the favoured star of the notoriously difficult auteur, Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock described Grant as: ‘the only actor I ever loved in my whole life.’ Suspicion, Notorious, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest were all Hitchcock classics starring Grant.

Hitchcock appears numerous times in the Passenger Lists. Here he is in 1955:

Hitchcock on the Passenger Lists in 1955
Hitchcock on the Passenger Lists in 1955

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Grant died in 1986 with his wife – who, incidentally, was 47 years his junior – at his side. In 1999, the American Film Institute named him the second greatest male American cinema star of all time, just behind Humphrey Bogart.


Raymond Chandler

June 25, 2008

Among the most influential of crime fiction writers is Raymond Chandler. In just seven novels he established his protagonist Philip Marlowe as American fiction’s quintessential private detective. He was also behind some of the finest screenwriting Hollywood has seen. Screen adaptations like Double Indemnity bear testament to his innate ability to write for cinema.

Since the 1940s, so many crime and screenwriters have tried to mimic Chandler’s style that, outside his original stories, his characters have become rather clichéd. Within them, however, they have lost almost nothing.

Chandler’s prose is punctuated by a brilliantly clipped style, his ability to convey a time and place – namely 30s and 40s Los Angeles – and of course his sparkling witticisms:

‘Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.’ – Farewell, My Lovely, 1940.

Although an American citizen by birth, Chandler was classically educated at Dulwich College in London, a grounding that shaped him profoundly and made him a confirmed Anglophile for the rest of his days.

Here is Chandler, in 1957, aboard the Queen Elizabeth, on his way back to America following a stay in London:

Raymond Chandler on a passenger list

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He had suffered the death of his wife of 30 years – a blow from which he never fully recovered – 10 months previously, and was battling alcoholism. In a letter to Roger Machell, the Director of his English publishers, he wrote of the journey:

‘The voyage was hell. Still practicing to be a non-drinker (and it’s going to take a damn sight more practice than I have time for). I sat alone in the corner and refused to talk or to have anything to do with other passengers, which did not seem to cause them any grief.’

Upon his death in 1959, but only after a fierce legal battle with a former secretary of Chandler’s, his erstwhile fiancée, Helga Greene, inherited his entire estate.

Here she is aboard the Statendam in 1957:

Helga Greene on a passenger list from 1957

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Greene also appears within the Passenger Lists for 1938, as a 21-year-old student, bound for New York:

Helga Greene on a passenger list - 1938

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Oswald Mosley

May 7, 2008

Oswald Mosley must rank among the most controversial figures in 20th century British politics. His radical views forced him out of the Labour party in 1930 and soon after he formed his own political party, the New Party, whose policies mirrored his own extremist beliefs.

Heavily influenced by Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in Italy, in 1932, the New Party was subsumed by the British Union of Fascists (BUF). BUF members wore black uniforms earning them the nickname ‘The Blackshirts’. The BUF’s policies were ostensibly isolationist. Although the party was not officially anti-Semitic, many of its members were openly anti-Semitic.

In October 1936 Mosley and the BUF planned to march through the East End of London, then noted for its large Jewish population. Hearing of the march, anti-fascist groups erected barriers in an attempt to prevent it taking place. This resulted in a series of running battles between anti-fascists and police.

The Battle of Cable Street, as the event was later called, resulted in the passing of the 1936 Public Order Act, to control extremist political movements. The event is commemorated by a red plaque in nearby Dock Street.

During World War Two, like most active fascists in Britain, Mosley was interned. After the war he formed the Union Movement, whose policies, compared to the BUF, were more democratic, encompassing European unity, rather than total isolationism. Mosley died in 1980.

The man who ardently opposed mass immigration can be found within the findmypast.com passenger lists.

Here is Mosley, alongside his first wife Lady Cynthia Curzon, on board the Majestic, bound for New York in 1926:

Passenger Lists - Oswald and Cynthia Mosley

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Their marriage in 1920, attended by many branches of European Royalty, was, for many, the high society event of the year. During the marriage it is rumoured Mosley embarked on an affair with his wife’s younger sister Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, and also the sisters’ stepmother, Grace Curzon.

Here is Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, onboard the Olympic, also heading for New York, in December 1928:

Passenger Lists - Alexandra Metcalfe

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In 1936, three years after Lady Curzon’s death, Mosley married Diana Guinness, née Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters.

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Ten Pound Poms

March 31, 2008

The phrase ‘Ten Pound Poms’ derived from the Britons who emigrated to Australia following World War Two on the Australian government’s assisted passage scheme.

The purpose of this scheme was to enlarge Australia’s population whilst supplying workers for the country’s growing economy and industry.

Britons were offered a way out of the rationing and deprivation of post-war life, shown visions of glorious sunshine and boundless possibility by a government desperate for an influx of labour.

They were offered the dramatically reduced fee for their passage only on the condition that they stay in Australia for a minimum of two years, or pay the full £120 fare back. This fee was prohibitively expensive for most.

The scale of the migration was such that some former troop ships were converted and dedicated to carrying Britons to their new home, such as the S S New Australia, formerly the Monarch of Bermuda.

As well as searching by name, it is possible to search the Passenger Lists by ship

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One of the most high-profile participants in the scheme was Albert Grassby, who emigrated in 1960 and went on to serve as Australian Minister for Immigration.

Grassby can be found in the new decade of the now completed Passenger Lists;

Passenger Lists - Albert Grassby

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One family that took advantage of the scheme was the Gibb family, from Didsbury, Manchester. The brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin would go on to find fame as The Bee Gees.

Passenger Lists - Gibb family

Another notable emigrant to Australia in the new decade was Carol Jones, formerly of Glamorgan in Wales. She married Ron Minogue and in 1968 gave birth to a daughter, Kylie, who would go on to become one of modern Australia’s most successful entertainers.

Passenger Lists - Jones family

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Carol Jones and her family can be found in the last decade of the Passenger Lists on ancestorsonboard.

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Explorers and Deception (Island)

March 27, 2008

Whilst looking at the last decade of the Passenger Lists we came across an expedition to an exotic sounding location: Deception Island.

Located in the South Shetland Islands the Island was historically used by seal hunters and whaling companies. In more recent times it was the focus of scientific research and, in 1955/56, was the subject of an aerial photography expedition.

The party of intrepid explorers can be found setting out to Deception Island in the Passenger Lists on ancestorsonboard.com:

Passenger Lists - Deception Island

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This list is a good example of the level of detail included in many 1950s passenger lists, which often include both exact date of birth and full address.

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Among other famous explorers in the Passenger Lists on ancestorsonboard.com, we found Ernest Shackleton, famed for his expeditions to the Antarctic, including the Endurance Expedition in which he set out, unsuccessfully, to cross the Antarctic on foot.

Shackleton can be found in 1921, the year before his death, travelling in somewhat greater comfort aboard the Aquitania to New York.

Passenger Lists - Ernest Shackleton

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Captain Lawrence Edward Grace Oates died on Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed Terra Nova Expedition to reach the South Pole, famously issuing the last words “I am just going outside and may be some time”. Oates can be found in 1899, travelling to Barbados in the Passenger Lists:

Passenger Lists - Captain Oates

Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition was beaten to the South Pole by a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen. Amundsen himself can be found within the Passenger Lists on ancestorsonboard, travelling to New York in 1927 aboard the Leviathan.

Passenger Lists - Roald Amundsen

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The RRS Discovery, the ship that Scott and Shackleton used for their first Antarctic Expedition, returned to the City of Dundee, where it had been constructed, in 1986. Now the centre-piece of Discovery Point, the ship is a popular tourist attraction and gives an insight into the age of exploration.

RRS Discovery

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RRS Discovery - Cabin

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RRS Discovery - Desk

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