I received a couple of inquiries about Charles Chislett’s Maiden Voyage film which I am showing in my recent post
Queen Mary – 75th Anniversary of her Maiden Voyage.
Chislett’s film contains footage of both the Maiden Voyage and the Eastbound voyage home. On his homebound trip he caught a short glimpse of the Berengaria, very much at the end of the film.
The film and information is available on Yorkshire Film Archive Online. I am repeating the description and the context here, as I have learned the hard way that information on the web may not necessarily stay there forever.
This is an amateur film, part of the Charles Chislett Collection, marking the first voyage of the cruise ship the Queen Mary, showing the cargo being loaded and passengers embarking before it sets off. The film shows, the interior of the ship, the journey across and the arrival, with views of New York as it sails up the River Hudson.
Title – Impressions of the ‘Maiden Voyage’ of the ‘Queen Mary’ to New York and back.
Southampton Docks May 27 1936, 8 a.m.
The film opens with a brief shot of ships in the dock, followed by a small railway siding and buildings.
Intertitle – We approach the ‘Queen Mary’
The funnels of the Queen Mary can be seen surrounded by cranes above a warehouse. The film gradually gets closer to the Queen Mary, which is being loaded with cargo by a crane, and shows it with its lifeboats prominent. Smoke is bellowing from one of the funnels. There are dockside views of the cruise liner from various angles. Also docked there is the ship, Winchester Castle, of London.
Intertitle – The BBC awaits the ‘zero hour’, 4.30 pm.
Underneath a huge dockside canopy there are men in a broadcasting van and hut. Inside a warehouse porters are sorting through trunks. Besides them is a camera on a tripod, with no one filming, and a van in the background with a sign saying, ‘Travel Cheaply with Southern Railway’. A cabin crew member stands by the gangway for passengers. Three men stand holding bunches of flowers. The cameraman winds up the afore-mentioned camera and porters collect luggage from the racks to go on board. A group of men carry a huge cake in the shape of the Queen Mary across the gangway. A car is lifted by crane onto the ship.
Intertitle – With the first boat train due, the band of Royal Marines adds to the general feeling of excitement in the air.
A brass band plays next to the gangway, and also on board the ship. Alongside the ship cars are moving about and a goods train is being shunted. A plane flies overhead towing banners. Some of the rigging on the Queen Mary is filmed, and two of the chimneys are smoking. A paddle boat packed with people pass by below, and more planes fly overhead. The cabin crew, chefs and waiters look over the side of the ship onto other boats nearby.
Intertitle – Only one gangway left . . . All visitors ashore
The two gangways are shown with passengers leaning over the side waving.
Intertitle – The tugs prepare to take charge
The tugs manoeuvre into place and another aeroplane passes overhead. The tugs finally begin to pull the Queen Mary away from the dock, accompanied by a large flotilla of other boats.
Intertitle – We’re Off
The ship moves out of the harbour, with some men up the rigging.
Intertitle – To the sound of every siren in Southampton water our escort forms up
As the ship moves out there is a procession of other accompanying ships and boats of all sizes that the passengers wave at, and more planes fly over. One of the planes lands on the water besides the ship and then takes off again. The decks are relatively empty.
Intertitle – Boat Drill
Now the decks are full of passengers with their lifejackets on, and we see a sunset over the ocean.
Intertitle – We arrive at Cherbourg at dusk
The ship arrives at Cherbourg in semi-darkness with smoke bellowing out of its chimneys. A lighthouse on the harbour guides another boat in.
Intertitle – First day at sea
The Queen Mary is crossing the sea. Passengers are looking back onto the wash the ship is making in its wake. Passengers play a game of shuffleboard on one of the decks. Fish are shown swimming about through one of the windows. Other games are being played on the decks, including handball and some game being played using sticks and a wooden board. One passenger is asleep on a chair.
Intertitle – ‘Weather’ Ahead
The sun is shown breaking through dark clouds and making a spectacular patch of light on the sea. More passengers, men in dinner jackets, are playing shuffleboard.
Intertitle – No camera can do justice to the magnificence within
Inside there is a large room filled with stylised chairs grouped informally on a marble floor and columns up to the ceilings where circular lights glow. There are window cases around the area. In another room there is seating facing a stage. Some of the art deco interior is shown. Around the walls of a gym there are a series of cartoons of sporting characters: from cricket, golf and boxing. Two boys are sat on rocking horse like machines that are shaking them at a fast rate, watched over by an instructor. Two men play squash. A brief view of a sign for ‘Atlantic telephone’ is followed by a view of the dining room with a large mural of the Atlantic Ocean. Up on deck two men on deck talk to camera, and three ladies are chatting and smiling to camera. On the top deck there is a young man alongside the fog horn and funnels.
Intertitle – An American news reel, ‘plane is the first to greet us’, 50 miles out.
A plane circles above the ship where the union jack flag flies. More flags are got ready to go up. Another plane passes over. A woman in a flashy hat goes up to the top deck.
Intertitle – Once past the ambrose light our escort grows
More planes appear, as do some boats. Passengers wave from the side of the decks, and the Captain calls to the crew and the flags are hoisted up. The nearer the ship approaches the shore the more planes and boats there are. A woman plays with a couple of puppies on deck.
Intertitle – While we are at anchor scores of craft gather round us
The shore can be clearly seen and many boats now follow the ship, and a helicopter flies overhead. Another steamer draws up alongside crowded with passengers, on several decks, all waving at the Queen Mary.
Intertitle – As we move off towards Manhattan the river is alive with boats and a pandemonium of hooters breaks out.
The sea is now full of sailing craft, and two cameras are shown filming the scene from on one of the decks of the Queen Mary. New York can be seen in the distance. They pass by the Statue of Liberty and the skyscrapers get closer with the Brooklyn Bridge over to the right. One boat has lots of water fountains emanating from it. A plane makes patterns in sky. The Queen Mary continues up the Hudson River passing what was the Bank of Manhattan Trust building (now 40 Wall Street), showing the skyline of Manhattan. A flotilla of boats follow it in, one of them, E. F. Moran Jnr., coming very close. There is large sign with ‘American Line’ on it. A group of passengers are laughing amongst themselves on deck.
Intertitle – Moran’s tugs takes charge, and we are soon alongside the new dock
The Queen Mary draws up besides the dock.
Intertitle – Having survived the customs, a taxi collision and the hotel lift, I lean somewhat diffidently out of my bedroom window
From high up, a street is shown with tall buildings on either side.
Intertitle – An evening skyline from the 36th Floor
The skyline is shown, including the Chrysler Building and the top of the Paramount Theatre and the ‘Times’ building.
Intertitle – Times Square
Times Square is seen at night lit up with neon signs, including ones for ‘Kool Cigarettes’, ‘National Beauty Parlors’, ‘Joe Leblang’, ‘Greyhound’, the ‘Hotel Astor’, a flashing light for ‘Vaudeville’, Edward G Robinson in ‘Bullets or Ballots’ at the Strand and ‘The great Ziegfried’; and there are many other neon signs.
Intertitle – Next Morning Skyscraper impressions
There are more views of the skyscrapers and the overhead railway track. At street level pedestrians and cars pass by. Among the buildings shown are the Metropolitan Life building, the Empire State building and the Chrysler building.
Intertitle – Via Harlem . . .
A very short snatch of a black woman with her daughter on a street.
Intertitle – . . . To Riverside Drive and Grant’s Tomb
The Rotunda on top of Grant’s Tomb is shown followed by the surrounding area.
Intertitle – Battery Pier and the Skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan
People line the water’s edge looking out at the passing boats, with another view of Manhattan from Central Park. Inside the Aquarium fish are shown. Shoppers are milling around the market stalls on a busy street in Harlem. One of the stalls is selling bottles of drink. Another major street, with the Holland Hotel, is seen with cars and trams.
Intertitle – Baseball at the Yankee Stadium
From behind the hitter, and the fencing, a baseball game is filmed being played to a half empty stadium.
Intertitle – The Empire State Building (1250ft) from the bottom. (Note the window cleaner)
A view up the side of the building from the ground.
Intertitle – Looking from 102nd floor
A view over the Manhattan skyline is seen from the top of the Empire State building, starting from the Chrysler building and moving around in a panorama.
Intertitle – The visibility is poor and the ‘ranges’ of lower Manhattan loom dimly through the mist
More of the skyline is shown going further out where it is very misty.
Intertitle – Later from the depths, one sees a New York ‘after-glow’
More buildings are shown, again including the Chrysler building. A car pulls up outside one of them, opposite which is a policeman on horseback.
Intertitle – Next morning after the usual preliminaries . . .
A man is getting his shoes polished, after which the polisher, a black man, smiles to the camera.
Intertitle – I set off to explore Lower Broadway and Wall St.
A train on the overhead railway arrives at a station.
Intertitle – The traffic off Battery Pier 15 (sic = ‘is’) brisk and varied.
A steam boat is docked at the harbour while other boats are out on Hudson Bay. A tug boat pulls a crane.
Intertitle – The entrance to Broadway
The buildings of Broadway are shown from Central Park, including those for Cunard and the Holland-American line. More of the buildings are shown from the Downtown Skyport, as is the George Washington Statue on Wall Street, which is busy with pedestrians. At the Trinity Church cemetery, with the Churchland cross, the Woolworth building is shown.
Intertitle – From the top of the Woolworth building
From the top of the Woolworth building bridges can be seen over the river and more views of the skyline.
Intertitle – Central Park
Rowing boats are out on the lake in Central Park. At Central Park Zoo there are seals and elephants.
Intertitle – In Fifth Avenue
A traffic policeman stands in the middle of the road directing traffic at a busy cross junction.
Intertitle – 240 Miles further south, some very hurried photography recorded a little of the stately buildings and the open spaces of Washington.
A white ne-classical building is shown, followed by the Capitol
Building seen from various vantage points. Inside a building there is a parrot and fish. A zeppelin flies over the Abraham Lincoln monument. The film then switches to an airport.
Intertitle – Back in New York and just catch the Queen Mary on her Maiden trip eastbound
Luggage is passing on a conveyor belt onto the ship, with the American flag flying. Down below from the dockside people are waving the ship off as the crew untie the holding ropes. It is tugged out into the open before making its way out to sea back past the Statue of Liberty. On board a game of shuffleboard is being played. Another ship goes past.
Intertitle – After approaching Cherbourg in thick fog, the pilot’s boat and gulls greet us
Tugs come alongside the ship.
Intertitle – Off Spithead we meet the Berengaria outward bound
The Berengaria, another Cunard ocean liner, passes in the opposite direction.
Intertitle – The R.A.F. welcome us
Several sets of R.A.F. planes fly over in formation.
Passengers are on the deck watching as the ship approaches harbour. A plane lands on the sea where the ship is now being tugged in. It passes a boat with ‘Calshot Spit’ painted on the side.
Intertitle – The home Dock once again, robbed of the record by fog, but with the honour of the British Shipping higher than ever before
As is comes into dock the union jack is flying.
This is one of the earliest films made by Charles Chislett, the Bank Manager of Williams Deacons in Rotherham (later the Royal Bank of Scotland). Chislett was a prolific and highly skilled filmmaker making some 100 films, from the early 1930s up until 1967. Most of these directly relate to Yorkshire, but there are also many holiday films from around the world, and of course this film. The collection also includes documentaries, fiction films and family portraits. Chislett was also an active member of the CPAS and made many films for them. Although Chislett was not a professional filmmaker, he brought to his films a lot of thought, great passion and considerable expertise that he built up over the years. Many of his films can now be seen on YFA Online – see also the Context for Rachel Discovers the Sea
Chislett was also a photographer, and he later travelled across Europe as photographer with the Radio Padre, taking some of the first dreadful pictures in Belsen’s concentration camp and Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Bertagarden. The YFA also has his large photographic collection, including some lovely photographs of the ship and of Manhattan taken on this voyage. The Queen Mary turns up in other YFA films too, such as the Cooper Family Memories (1950), on which the Queen Elizabeth can also be seen.
Chislett often gave film shows accompanied by a prepared talk, usually to raise money for charity. The writer of his obituary notes how arduous these talks could be: “Many times his audiences were the so called handicapped or deprived who he would drive to after a full day’s work on a dark freezing cold night (lecture tours are mainly in the winter months) through snowdrifts or fog, driving alone in an unheated car to a Church or Village Hall perhaps 100 miles from home – where he had to manhandle the heavy screen, projector and films, find the idiosyncrasies of the venues electrical system . . . before driving home to snatch a few hours’ sleep.”
One of these shows was of this film, for which we have a transcript of his talk in which he records the event. As the ship was about to set sail he recalls that; “There was a buzz of conversation, names of important passengers on every lip; Henry Hall, Francis Day, Cora Goffin, half the blue blood of England.” He recounts also all the boats that were assembling to escort the liner: “pleasure boats, tugs, stately yachts while in amongst their larger brethren sped motor boats leaving behind them seething trails of foam.” Unfortunately, because it is silent, the film is unable to recapture what Chislett saw as the, “greatest moment of all . . When the siren of the Queen Mary answered the multitudes of screams and whistles and howls around her.”
Chislett had as room-mates the father of one of the American Curtis Cup Team and a jolly Roman Catholic priest. The enthusiasm of the passengers meant that £1,200 worth of stamps were bought in the first three days, with one old lady writing over 100 postcards before departing from Southampton. Chislett records the splendid interior, with three cinemas, but notes that grit fell onto the deck from the smoke coming out of the funnels, and also that, “no ship that weighed 70,000 tons [in fact over 81,000] with engines capable of driving at a speed of 32 knots can be vibrationless.” (the vibration problem was largely solved by an overhaul in December 1936). He notes too the early safety drill, not surprising given the 1,503 lives lost on the Titanic in 1912, partly due to insufficient lifeboats. Of the planes flying overhead Chislett states that these were newsreel planes, and that with one of them he could see the film operator, “plainly visible, winding away for dear life.” He saw the film that same evening.
There is in fact at least one, though rather slight, Yorkshire connection with the beginnings of the idea of cruise ships for pleasure. It was a woman from Scarborough, Mary Ann Hill, who became the wife of the pioneer of cruise ships, Arthur Anderson, and who introduced him to his future business partner, the Lime shipbroker Brodie McGhie Wilcox. Together they founded the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company in 1934, later to become the giant P&O. At first simply using ordinary cargo or passenger ships, the first dedicated cruise ship was created in 1881. This was partly in response to an article in the British Medical Journal the previous year, extolling the virtues of the sea air. Britain was very much in the forefront of the cruise ship business, although the first purpose-built, ocean going cruise ship was German owned, Prinzessin Victoria Luise– built in 1901 but becoming shipwrecked in 1906. It was the Germans too, rather like with their cars, who were the first to build cruiser ships for a mass market: the British ones being very much for the well-off. The cost of a trip to New York was, for cabin class, £53.15s (equivalent to £2,710 in today’s money, r.p.i.) – according to Merseyside Maritime Museum, this was enough to “keep a family with three children in food for over a year.” The cost for third class was £18.10 (equivalent to £942 in today’s money, r.p.i.). This latter doesn’t seem especially expensive by today’s standards, but taking into account how average earnings have risen since 1936 makes it equivalent to £3,530. A considerable sum for a 31 year old bank employee (and this may well have been the cost for just for a one-way ticket!). By comparison, today a journey from Southampton to New York on the Queen Mary 2 starts from £899, including a one-way flight, with the Queen Elizabeth offering voyages from £499 per person. Still a lot, but allowing for some 1.5 million Britons today taking a cruise each year.
The Queen Mary was built at a time when English shipbuilding was in a bit of a decline after the 1929 crash. It was was named after Mary of Teck, the consort of George V of the United Kingdom. The ship was racing for the coveted Blue Riband for crossing the Atlantic (crossing the Ambrose light), which had been recently held by the German built Bremen in 1929 and Europa in 1933. The French Line built Normandie won it on her maiden voyage in June 1935, averaging 30.31 knots. This ship was to be the major competitor with the Queen Mary over the next few years, both for the Blue Riband and for size, with the Normandie later having adjustments made just so that it could tip the Queen Mary in tonnage. There was prestige at stake with the liners, with Britain having a reputation achieved largely due to the Mauretania, which had held the speed record for twenty-two years, from 1907-1929. Hence the government subsidised the building of the Queen Mary when work on it was halted in December 1930. One condition of the loan was that Cunard would merge with the White Star Line.
After its launch in September 1934, the liner was scarcely out of the papers. Between May 21st and 23rd, 15,000 people each paid five shillings to be shown around the ship; with the proceeds donated to seamen’s charities. Designed to cruise at 28.5 knots, with her four 20 foot propellers, she was able to get a top speed of 34 knots on early sea trials. There had been 20,000 applicants for the eventual 2,805 passenger places (with a crew of 1,101). The passengers were split into three: 776 first (cabin) class, 784 tourist class, 579 third class. It took on board 20,000 bottles, 6,000 gallons of keg beer, 500 packets of cigars, 25,000 packets of cigarettes and 100,000 tonnes of vegetables were consumed.
Although it failed by 2hrs. 32 mins. to break the Blue Riband record on this run – with fog on the last day it took 4 days and 5 hours at an average speed of 29.13 knots – it did achieve a record mileage run west-bound in one day, of 762 miles. Three months later, in August 1936, it finally captured the Blue Riband with an average speed of 30.14 knots.
As can be seen in the film, the First Class facilities were sumptuous, with nurseries and playrooms for children, two chapels, a hospital, and a synagogue. Unfortunately the picture quality doesn’t really allow for a full appreciation of the murals painted by Doris Zinkeisen in the Veranda Room. After docking in New york, some 30,000 people went on board before it set off for the return journey on 5thJune. The impressive statistics, and immaculate interior, however, were hardly unique. They were typical for these giant playgrounds for the rich – see the photos in Robert Fox (References). And there were many of them by the early 1930s. As well as Cunard with the Lusitania and Mauretania, there was White Star with the Olympic, the Titanic and Britannic; the Hamburg-America Line with the Imperator, Vaterland and Bismarck; and quite a few others.
Chislett recalls how in 1609 Henry Hudson landed here, on Manhattan Island, with his Dutch crew and traded furs and tobacco with the natives. As impressed as he was with the Queen Mary, Chislett was equally impressed by what had become of New York by that time. As well as the amazing buildings, clearly on view in the film, he notes that there were sixty nine theatres within six blocks of Times Square.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, the Queen Mary, along with the Queen Elizabeth, were stranded in New York, but later left for Sydney, where she, along with several other liners, was converted into a troopship to carry Australian and New Zealand soldiers to the United Kingdom. Much of the furnishings were stripped and stored for the duration of the war. On 2 October 1942, the Queen Mary accidentally sliced through one of her escort ships, the light cruiser HMS Curacoa, off the Irish coast with a loss of 239 lives. Two months later it was carrying 16,082 American troops from New York to Great Britain, a standing record for the most passengers ever transported on one vessel. During the voyage it was nearly capsized by a giant wave, inspiring the story behind the novel and film The Poseidon Adventure.
Both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth proved to be highly profitable after the war, right up to the advent of jet flight across the Atlantic in 1958. With this competition they began to make a loss and so both were retired from service and sold off, in 1967 and 1968 respectively. The Queen Mary, after well over a thousand crossings, was bought by Long Beach, in California, departing from Southampton on its final voyage on October 31, 1967, where she was converted into a tourist attraction, hotel, with restaurants, a museum and a place for hosting events.
A far cry from sailing the seas, though better than becoming scrap metal. But at the time of its maiden voyage, Charles Chislett summed up the significance of the ship: “The Queen Mary flying the Red Ensign epitomised a surge of self-worth in achievement. A pride without conceit, a self respect without arrogance.”
Roger Cartwright and Clive Harvey, Cruise Britannia : the story of the British cruise ship, The History Press, 2008.
Charles Chislett, Impressions of the Maiden Voyage of Queen Mary, ammended by his daughter Rachel Williams (1995), document held with the YFA.
David Ellery, Maiden Voyage: RMS Queen Mary, document held with the YFA.
Robert Fox (with Clive Harvey), Liners: The Golden Age, Konemann: Getty Images, 1999.
Nick Robins, The Cruise Ship: a very British Institution, The History Press, 2008.
CAW, Obituary of Charles Joseph Chislett (28/6/1904 -5/8/1990).
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