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Friday 27 July 2012

Famous, Much-Travelled Typewriter Turns Up in Australia!

This is the Baby Empire portable typewriter that Victor Ricketts took
on his record-breaking round-the-world flights in 1938.
It now belongs to his daughter, Carole Tozer, and is in Queensland, Australia.
Victor Ricketts typing on the Baby Empire in the cockpit of the de Havilland Comet before take-off from Gravesend, England, on March 15, 1938.

It was extremely gratifying this morning to wake up after a few hours’ sleep, see the pageview meter had clicked over the 200,000 mark, and to read such warm congratulatory messages from Miguel, Frank, Michael Höhne, Peter, Ton, Georg, Vikram, Ken, Uriel and Bill.

Interest in this blog continues to astonish and delight me.
The feedback has proved to be invaluable, in many cases adding considerably to our collective knowledge of typewriters.
As Richard Polt has often said, there is quite probably a fascinating story behind almost every surviving typewriter, and it’s a powerful motivation to find out how often that is indeed the case.
A classic example is an early post, from April 17 last year, about a tiny Baby Empire portable that was taken on a round-the-world flight by a British aviator and air correspondent, Victor Anthony Ricketts.
This was, I thought at the time, a relatively run-of-the-mill post, but to my considerable surprise it has had 1278 pageviews and was for a very long time in the Top 10 of my posts, based on pageviews.
I have seldom been as delighted to receive a comment on a post than I was when, out of the blue, Carole Tozer contacted me on May 30 this year, more than 13 months after the Ricketts post had first appeared, to tell me she had stumbled upon it.
Carole proudly announced, “Victor Anthony Ricketts was my father. I still have this particular typewriter.”
Naturally, I quickly responded, seeking more details. Carole got in touch with me via email, and gave me some more information about her father and the typewriter.
Better still, she photographed the Baby Empire especially for me.
And the good news is, this much-travelled little machine now resides in Australia!  Carole lives in Queensland.
The original post in question is here.
The Baby’s serial number is 5186. Appropriately enough, as Carole shows us, the typewriter's large leather case describes the machine as an “Baby Empire Traveller's Model De-Luxe”. But oddly enough, the year of the patent, 331951, is given as 1929! Here we were thinking this typewriter (the Hermes Featherweight/Baby) wasn't designed until 1935!? Or maybe it's the patent for the case design?
“The outside of the case has some shipping labels on it, but these stem from when it travelled with my maternal grandfather," said Carole.
Briefly, my post about the typewriter in April last year said that Ricketts was a London Daily Express air correspondent who took the Baby Empire on board a de Havilland DH88 Comet in which he and New Zealand-born pilot, Flying Officer (later Air Commodore) Arthur Edmond Clouston smashed 11 world records on round-the-world flights in March 1938.
Ricketts, who wrote for the Express under the byline of “Cygnus”, had approached Clouston with a deal: If Ricketts could raise the money for the world record attempts, would Clouston fly the plane and take Ricketts along with him as a typewriter-wielding second pilot? Clouston, who had been a test pilot for the Comet, agreed.
Ricketts and Clouston flew from Gravesend, Kent, in England, to Mascot aerodrome, Sydney, Australia, and on to Blenheim, New Zealand, and returned to Croydon, London, a total distance of 26,450 miles (42,567km) in 10 days, 221 hours, 22 minutes. The outward journey of 13,179 miles took 104 hours, 20 minutes, and the return journey 140 hours, 12 minutes. To mark Australia’s 150th anniversary of European settlement, their Comet was rechristened “Australian Anniversary” for the record-breaking occasion.
Clouston, left, and Ricketts arrive in Sydney on March 21, 1938
The Wikipedia entry on Clouston tells us that:
"In December 1937, Daily Express air correspondent Victor Ricketts proposed to Clouston that they should attempt to break the England to Australia flight record. Ricketts arranged for sponsorship from the Australian Consolidated Press, and once again the DH.88 Comet G-ACSS was hired. It was overhauled and equipped with a small typewriter to compile press reports in flight for dispatch at refuelling stops. It was named 'Australian Anniversary', representing the 150th anniversary of Australia.
"On 6 February 1938, Clouston and Ricketts took off from Gravesend Aerodrome. The first scheduled stop was to be Aleppo [now very much in the ongoing Syrian news! RM], but bad storms forced Clouston to land at a flooded airfield at Adana in Turkey. His permits were dismissed by Turkish officials, but next day he refuelled with unofficial help, and took off from a roadway, although damaging the undercarriage. He flew to an unmarked airfield on Cyprus, having abandoned the record attempt. "Engineer Jack Cross, plus the financier and some equipment, was flown to Cyprus by Alex Henshaw in his Vega Gull. After repairs to the Comet, Clouston flew it back to Gravesend, accompanied by Cross.
Clouston and Ricketts, right
"On 15 March 1938, Clouston once again departed from Gravesend with Victor Ricketts in DH.88 Comet G-ACSS. He flew via Cairo, Basra, Allahabad, Penang and Singapore to Darwin, but without beating the 1934 record set by C. W. A. Scott and Tom Campbell Black in the same aircraft. He flew on to Sydney via Charleville, without being aware of the London to Sydney record, until massive crowds welcomed him there as a record-breaker. The next day, 20 March 1938, he flew across the Tasman Sea to Blenheim Municipal Aerodrome (Omaka) in New Zealand, setting more records. He then flew back to Australia, and continued on a return flight to Croydon, arriving in fog on 26 March 1938. He had established 11 records at the end of a round trip of about 26,000 miles."
The scarlet Australian Anniversary G-ACSS was originally called “Grosvenor House” (it has since been restored and has reverted to that name). It was bought by a A.O.("Tony") Edwards and named after the ritzy Park Lane, Mayfair, London hotel he owned. It first set a record in October 1934 when Charles Scott and Tom Campbell Black won the MacRobertson Trophy by flying from England to Melbourne (11,000 miles) in 70 hours, 55 minutes. Grosvenor House was fourth in the 1937 Marseilles-Damascus-Paris race, and in November that same year Clouston and a Mrs Betty Kirby-Green flew from London to the Cape of Hope Good, South Africa (7091 miles), in 45 hours, 6 minutes, returning in 57 hours, 23 minutes, the combined time a new record.
Envelope addressed with the Baby Empire and sent care of the flight sponsors
On their record March 1938 flights, Clouston and Ricketts had reached Sydney in three days, nine hours. Their Tasman Sea crossing was in a record seven hours, 27 minutes. Omaka Airfield, Blenheim, was where Clouston had learnt to fly. The  return flight the following day took eight hours 31 minutes.
Clouston was born at Motueka, on New Zealand’s Golden Bay, in 1908, and joined the Royal Air Force in 1930. He was also a test pilot for the RAF’s famous Spitfire fighter plane, which eventually turned the Battle of Britain. Indeed, Clouston and Ricketts both flew in the Battle of Britain, with Ricketts being killed in action in July 1942, aged 29.
Ricketts was born in Penzance on January 27, 1913. In March 1942 he was detailed to photograph the Renault works near Paris, which had been attacked the previous night. Despite bad weather, low cloud and poor visibility, he succeeded in obtaining valuable pictures. For this operation he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Ricketts failed to return from a photographic sortie to Strasbourg and Ingolstadt on July 12, 1942. He is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery near Calais.
Clouston died on January 1, 1984.
Grosvenor House has been restored to flying condition as it was in the MacRobertson race, and is housed at the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden in England.


notagain said...

Love this one! I've long been envious of the early days of aircraft. It's all so mundane anymore.

Miguel Chávez said...

What a great article! I'm amazed and gladly surprised that not only the plane was preserved, but also that you found the original typewriter that went on all those trips on board that beautiful red plane! It would be great to see them together again, at least for a picture.

Fantastic how the Internet can get people together!

Richard P said...

How wonderful!

This certainly is a typewriter with a story behind it. I just love the case, with its extra compartments and stickers. What character and history.

Scott K said...

Excellent post as always Robert. Great to see you had more to add to your story!

PS. Robert, in the next week I'm going to put up a post about another famous flying Australian typewriter I discovered recently on my travels. I think you might be very interested.

I found two special typewriters - one of which you have posted about before.

shordzi said...

Wonderful, simply wonderful!
I checked the British Patent 331951 for the case, it was indeed applied for in 1929 and accepted in 1930, to Ernest and Lionel Smith, so that the case was invented before the Hermes Baby. On the photo the Empire Baby seems to fit perfectly in the case, which could be coincidence, or adapted for the occasion.
Now the serial number 5186 points to a production in early 1938 (source: Schramm 1961), which could mean that it came fresh from the factory especially for the flight.

L Casey said...

Great post and a beautiful little typer. At first, I thought you were going to say that Carole gave it to you. Wouldn't that be great? Of course, the family history would be too much for anyone to give up, but even still.

That case is simply amazing. I have never seen anything like it before, and you have just added something new to my 'must have' list.

Thanks so much for sharing!

Monda said...

Such great luck to hear from this woman! The typewriter is such a storied artifact.

And yes, it does look like my little Hermes.

Guy Inchbald said...

Wonderful to find this post, with some rare images of Ricketts and Clouston as a bonus. I am a member of the Comet Racer Project group in the UK. We are independent of the Shuttleworth collection who own and fly G-ACSS, and we are restoring its stablemate G-ACSP "Black Magic" and a non-flying replica of G-ACSS. And many of us are avid collectors of Comet facts and memorabilia. (For example I can tell you that there is a 1:72 scale model of this typewriter in the latest hobby kit from AZ Model, Czech Republic). Come find us on Facebook!