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

Search the Passenger Lists now

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

Search the Passenger Lists now

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:


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

Search the Passenger Lists now

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

Search the Passenger Lists now

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

Search the Passenger Lists now

London Olympics 1948

February 6, 2008

London Olympic Poster

Image copyright IOC / Olympic Museum Collections

The events of World War Two meant that the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled. London was awarded the 1948 Games but the timing couldn’t have been worse. Financially, Britain had been crippled by the conflict and rationing was still enforced, with bread rationing ending only on the day before the Games started.

No Olympic Village was constructed to accommodate the athletes, instead they were housed in schools and army barracks. Transport issues were also prevalent, not least due to petrol rationing. Even with these limitations the event began on 29 July 1948.

Athletes from 59 countries took part in the Games, many of whom travelled by freighter. Numerous athletes can be found travelling home after the events were over, on 14 August, in the new decade of our exclusive Passenger Lists.

Harold Sakata, a member of the American team, would go on to play ‘Oddjob’ in Goldfinger. He can be seen travelling with other members of the U.S. squad:

Passenger Lists Henry Sakata

Search the passenger lists now

Shirley Strickland, who won more Olympic medals than any other Australian runner, can be found with other members of the Australian team:

Passenger Lists Shirley Strickland

1948 was the last time the New Zealand team was to travel to an Olympics by ship. Members can be seen returning in the Passenger Lists:

Passenger Lists New Zealand Team

Ceylon competed for the first time at the 1948 Games, and Duncan White brought back a silver medal for the 400m hurdles. He can be seen below:

Passenger Lists Duncan White

Search the passenger lists now


Prince Aly Khan – divorce and diplomacy

October 5, 2007

Prince Ali Solomone Khan, known popularly as Prince Aly Khan, was the son of Aga Khan III and is perhaps best known for his association with the sport of horse-racing and his playboy lifestyle.

Khan’s first wife was Joan Guinness, nee Yarde-Buller, whom he married in May 1936, just days after her divorce from Loel Guinness. 

Khan and Guinness’ relationship had begun during her first marriage, with the pair reportedly having ‘occupied a hotel room together from 17 May until 20 May 1935’. Khan was named in the proceedings of the divorce.

A list of divorce and matrimonial causes for 1858-1903 can be searched on 

The pair can be found travelling together aboard the Colombia in the new decade of the Passenger Lists on, prior to Guinness’ divorce. Click on the image to enlarge.

Aly Khan Joan Guiness

Search the Passenger Lists now

Khan and Guinness divorced in 1949, with Khan going on to marry the Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth in the same year.

The early hedonism of Aly Khan’s life meant that his appointment, in 1957, as the permanent spokesman for Pakistan to the United Nations came as a great surprise to many. Equally surprising was the aptitude for the role that he displayed.

Khan was elected to the post of vice president of the United Nations General Assembly in 1958. Tragically, only two years later, he died following a car accident.

The Contenders – The Gorgeous Gael, The Tonypandy Terror and The Whitechapel Windmill

September 19, 2007

The new decade of the BT27 Passenger Lists on contains a great number of notable figures from the world of art, politics and literature.

An increasing presence in the Passenger Lists from the 1920s and ’30s on are figures drawn from the world of sport, as travelling to compete further afield became a more regular and feasible occurrence.

Many British and Irish boxers were drawn to America, by both the prize money and the prestige, to varying degrees of success.

Jack Doyle, born in Cork, Ireland, was nicknamed ‘The Gorgeous Gael’ and aside from showing great early promise in the sport was also a tenor, trained by the same man as the famous Count John McCormack.

His early fight career was impressive but he was unable to fulfil his potential, drinking heavily before fights and suffering defeats as a consequence.

He can be seen travelling to the States in 1937:

Jack Doyle

The trappings of his new-found fame were manifold –  Doyle married a Hollywood starlet, Movita Castaneda, who would later marry Marlon Brando. Together they toured music halls and in the late 1930s Doyle even appeared in a couple of Hollywood films, before sliding into poverty through serious gambling and alcoholism.

He descended into bankruptcy, prison (for assaulting a Garda Detective in Dublin) and ultimately died penniless in 1978.

Tommy Farr, ‘The Tonypandy Terror’, was a Welshman who, in August 1937, fought Joe Louis for the Heavyweight Championship of the World, at Yankee Stadium, New York. Although defeated, Farr gained widespread acclaim in lasting 15 rounds against Louis.

He can be seen en route to the fight in the Passenger Lists:

Tommy Farr

Judah Bergman, ‘Jack Kid Berg’, was a lightweight from Cable Street, London. He appears five times on the Passenger Lists in the 1930s. In the first he is only 21 and appears to be travelling with his whole family, as well as his manager.

Kid Berg

Bergman moved to America in 1931, winning 64 of his 76 fights whilst there. A Blue Plaque has been erected at Bergman’s first home, Cable Street, East London, in honour of ‘The Whitechapel Windmill’.


Thanks to Alex Daley for additional research.