Previous News - Speed legend Donald Campbell archive in Canterbury sale


Letter and photographs will be sold on October 8-9

A letter annotated and signed by Donald Campbell complaining about the money wasted because the Australian weather forced him to abandon his 1963 record attempt on Lake Eyre is among a small archive of ephemera relating to the legendary world land and water speed record-holder to be sold in the Two Day sale at The Canterbury Auction Galleries on October 8-9.

The Campbell archive is contained in a “Bluebird blue” album addressed to Campbell’s friend Desmond Hirshfield. It contains numerous original photographs; a copy of the menu for the dinner at the Café Royal attended by the Duke of Edinburgh in honour of Campbell and the personal letter from Campbell to his friend Desmond Hirshfield, a London chartered accountant.

Dated June 4, 1963, the letter, typewritten by a secretary, is on Campbell’s headed paper giving his addresses in both Adelaide and Horley, Surrey.

It opens with Campbell thanking Hirshfield for his letter a month earlier, indicating that Campbell was in Australia at the time, and expressing sadness at hearing that Hirshfield’s father had been ill. “I know only too well what grief this brings; I do send you my most profound sympathy”.

The letter goes on: “Here, life is thoroughly depressing, as we continue to search for an alternative to Lake Eyre. Rain continues to fall, and Adelaide. In fact, had the wettest May for a great number of years. The Lake Eyre endeavour cost approximately £42,000, and we will undoubtedly experience the same difficulty encountered at the end of last year.”

Campbell closes by expressing “the profoud hope that your father will make good progress by the time this letter comes to hand”.

The typewritted “Yours sincerely DONALD CAMPBELL” is crossed out and Campbell signed it in blue ink “Yours ever Donald”.

Donald Malcolm Campbell CBE (1921-1967) broke eight absolute world speed records on water and on land in the 1950s and 1960s and remains the only person to set both world land and water speed records in the same year, a year after the letter was written.

The letter was written in Australia. His car Bluebird-Proteus CN7 had been shipped to Lake Eyre in South Australia at the end of 1962 and low-speed runs had just started when it began raining, compromising the surface of the salt pan course.

By May 1963, the lake, the lowest point in Australia which rarely filled with water, was flooded to a depth of 3 inches, forcing Campbell to abandon the attempt.

Heavily criticised in the press for alleged time wasting and mismanagement of the project, Campbell was put further behind when Craig Breedlove became the fastest man on earth with a speed of 407.45mph in his jet car Spirit of America.

Campbell died in January 1967 when Bluebird crashed during a water speed record attempt on Lake Coniston in the Lake District. Desmond Lord Hirshfield (1913-1993) was the confidant of a number of leading Labour politicians and acted as auditor to several leading trade unions and the Labour Party in the Sixties and Seventies. He was a keen artist and did much work for Jewish orphanages and the United Nations children’s fund.

The archive will be on public display during viewing for the auction at The Canterbury Auction Galleries together with 1,400 other lots in the Two Day Sale on Saturday October 5 from 10am-4pm; Sunday October 6, 12 noon-4pm; Monday October 7 10am-7pm and on the mornings of the sales from 8.30.

For further information, please contact the auctioneer on 01227 763337

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