The Ruskin Museum, Coniston, Cumbria

The Ruskin Museum

Telling the Story of Coniston Since 1901

Tel: 01539 441164

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Donald Campbell - The Hero

Donald Campbell, 1921 - 1967, came to Coniston in the wake of his father, the great speed ace of the 1920s and 1930s, Sir Malcolm Campbell, holder of both land and water speed records.

From August 1939, when Sir Malcolm broke his own water speed record with a new one of 141.74mph, a variety of Bluebirds sped across Coniston Water in ever faster pursuit - and capture - of the World Water Speed Record, until, on 4 January 1967, tragedy struck.

Donald Campbell perished whilst breaking the 300mph barrier,[so dear to him as Sir Malcolm had been the first to do so on Land in 1935], and thus joined that select band of folk heroes which includes Scott of the Antarctic, Edmund Hillary, and Neil Armstrong, who set out to achieve the seemingly impossible knowing they may die in the attempt.

The Campbell family requested that the crash site be treated as a grave; the people of Coniston respected this, and protected the site for over 34 years, skilfully misdirecting searchers, but, in 2001, with the permission of  Donald Campbell’s daughter, Gina, and after research, and using modern technology, Bill Smith and his team found and recovered the remains of both the pilot and his hydroplane.

Donald Campbell’s funeral was held at St Andrew’s Church, Coniston, on 12 September 2001; he is buried in Coniston Cemetery. Coniston is considered the spiritual home of both Bluebird’s Skipper and the hydroplane itself. To mark the 40th anniversary of the crash, the Campbell family gave Bluebird K7 to The Ruskin Museum.

Bill Smith, who is an engineer by profession, is leading forward the conservation and rebuild to full operational order of Bluebird K7. The hydroplane’s main-frame comprises over 98% original material; the main hull, when work is finished, will comprise over 90% original material. The reason? Bluebird’s Orpheus engine acted as a sacrificial anode.

To discover more about the search and recovery, and the progress of the subsequent conservation rebuild, which is being undertaken by a team of volunteers, visit www.bluebirdproject.com

The Ruskin Museum has constructed a new extension, The Bluebird Wing, to house and display the conserved and rebuilt hydroplane, and tell her story. The Bluebird Wing is open to the public, albeit, as yet, without the star exhibit.