Alan Villiers’ essay about his first great voyaging and film-making expedition, and the death of journalist colleague, shipmate and friend Ronald Walker

The mizzen of the Grace Harwar with crewmen aloft photographed by Alan Villiers from the ship’s main cross trees. The photo, now in the National Maritime Museum in London, is taken from the Wikimedia Commons

Ronald Gregory Walker was a newspaper reporter on the staff of The Mercury, Hobart. As such, part of his duties consisted in writing up what news there was in the port in a column called, exactly why is not clear, “Shipping Intelligence”. He often used to say that he did not know that shipping had any intelligence ; and in any case no intelligence was necessary in chronicling whatever newsthere was about it.

‘But that is by the way.

‘Ronald Walker was deeply interested in the ships and in all concerning them. He loved the newspaper work too, and knew that city life held no more interesting job. All his young life he had been strongly interested in the sea. Ships and travel, sea and aeroplanes, strange lands – these things moved him. He had a little yacht he called the Murmur, and in her many a happy week-end was spent. He wrote about yachting matters for his newspaper and pottered about the ships that came to port, and his days were pleasant.

‘Hobart, small though it was, had a lovely harbour to which strange ships sometimes came – great steamers, with greenheart bows and slipways cut into their sterns, which were bound upon Antarctic whaling voyages ; big steamers in distress from the storms of the roaring forties; game little crayfishing schooners and, now and again, big sailing ships with timber from the Baltic.

‘He did not care about the big Orient and P & O steamers, carrying to England squatters’ daughters whose money might have been better spent in their own Australia. The spectacle of the big cargo steamers he found interesting but not stirring.

‘But the sight of a great Cape Horn sailing ship deeply moved him.

‘They did not come often to Hobart; when one did, it was with difficulty that he could be prevailed upon to go home. He loved to go across the broad Derwent in his yacht and to lie in the sun on the cliff at Bellerive, looking at the loveliness of Hobart at the foot of its mountain, and at the shipping round its wharves, and to dream. He had ideas; he thought deeply. He was not content to find his ideas and to shape his actions from he read in newspapers, heard other people say, or saw upon the screens of motion-picture theatres.

‘He was very restless. He loved Hobart and was profoundly moved by the grandeur of its surrounding scenery. But he wanted to see the great world outside.

‘One day he conceived the idea making a film of the voyage of a Cape Horn sailing ship. He told me about it – for I was a reporter on that newspaper too – and I said it couldn’t be done. How could we make a film ? I asked.

‘We had no money. We were not camera-men. We knew nothing about the production side of the film industry, and had no chance to learn. I agreed that the subject was a stirring one and that film should be made, but I did not see how we could do it.

‘He said we could. He said there was a moving-picture camera on the market that was almost fool-proof. We agreed, then, that we sh0uld get one of these and practise with it the following year – which would have been 1930 – shipping together in a Cape Horn sailing ship to make the picture.

‘Before we had a chance to buy the camera, we read a letter in the London Daily Mail, written by a Mr C Greene, imploring somebody to make a real sailing-ship film while the chance remained. The letter was a serious thing to us. It meant, although probably no one would take notice of its sound sense, the idea was broadcast. We thought that we should have to set out immediately if we were not to be forestalled. We decided immediately to go.’

This are the first words of Alan Villiers’ essay about filming and sailing on board the full-rigged ship Grace Harwar, along with his friend and colleague Ronald Walker in 1929. The ship sailed from Wallaroo in South Australia, to New Zealand, around Cape Horn, to Queenstown in Southern Ireland (now Cobh), and then on to Glasgow. It was dangerous work, and tragically Walker was killed when a yard fell on him while aloft during the voyage.

The footage they shot eventually became part of the first Windjammer film.

Villiers essay can be downloaded here.

The films are available to watch at the British Pathé website.

My thanks to Chris Brady for pointing this one out. He asks whether Walker’s diaries have survived, and whether they have been published?

Advertisements

Geoffrey Robertshaw’s stunning photos from the last days of sailing ships

[ad name=”intheboatshed-post”]

GeoffreyRobertshaw 320

Geoffrey Robertshaw 5 Geoffrey Robertshaw Geoffrey Robertshaw 4

Geoffrey Robertshaw 2 Geoffrey Robertshaw 3

Geoffrey Robertshaw’s photos of ships’ crews in the the final days of cargo-carrying sailing ships. Click on any of the images for much larger photos

Over 70 years ago Geoffrey Robertshaw kept a personal log and took many remarkable photos of life on-board cargo-carrying sailing ships travelling between Australia and Falmouth.

The photographs were taken on a Kodak No. 2 Box Brownie camera but their quality is remarkable; they were issued by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall to promote a lunchtime talk given by Elvin Carter a little earlier this month at the NMMC in connection with the Farewell to Sails exhibition. However, life caught up with me a little and I apologise for failing to post them in time to publicise the event. Hopefully we’ll still be able to draw attention to the exhibition itself!

Some of Robertshaw’s diary entries are as striking as the photos. One reads:

‘Day 127, Friday June 29th 1934. At 4am this morning we are dead opposite the Lizard Point. I can plainly pick out the villages of Cadgwith, and Coverack and the dangerous Manacle rocks.

‘It may have been hell at times, we have been short of food, fresh water and cigarettes, we have had fights, we have been wet through and hungry and thoroughly worn out with continuous work. But it has been worth it.

‘I love the sea and what is more I love the old sailing ships and without doubt Cape Horn will call me back again, and I shall not refuse.’

Don’t miss something good. Subscribe to intheboatshed.net’s free weekly email newsletter now!