Baird’s trip to Trinidad in 1919

John Logie Baird
Typography
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

A research note by Malcolm Baird.

Baird-passport-wFOR many years, my father’s biographers (including me!) had assumed that his visit to the USA in 1931 was the only one he ever made. New research has shown that he also visited the USA briefly in December 1919.

The colourful story of JLB’s jam factory in Trinidad in 1919-1920 has been told in his own memoirs and in later biographies. Before leaving Scotland he obtained a British passport dated 18 September 1919 — see his picture and signature on right.

After nearly 100 years, with the help of the internet and various newspaper archives, I have been re-examining JLB’s outwards trip and have come up with new information.

First, here is an extract taken from JLB’s memoirs “Television and Me”, p.33.

“I was full of optimism and I set out blithely for the West Indies, taking a cheap passage in a cargo boat so as to keep as much as possible of my capital intact ...  I arrived in Port of Spain after three very unpleasant weeks in a heaving cargo boat.”

US immigration records (Ellis Island) state that JLB travelled from Glasgow to New York on a passenger ship, the Columbia (Anchor Line):

Name:                                     John Logie Baird

Gender:

Male

Birth:

Circa 1888

Arrival:

 

Dec 4 1919

New York, New York, United States

Departure:

Glasgow

Ship:

Columbia

Age:

31

Last permanent residence:

Helensburgh, Scotland

Nationality:

Great Britain

Marital status:

Single

Relative in country of origin:

John Baird (Father)

Relative joined in the U.S.:

Norman M'Callum (Friend)

 SS-Columbia-w

The Columbia had sailed from Glasgow on 22 November 1919. It had been built for passenger service in 1902, and had twin screws, a cruising speed of 16 knots and a capacity of about 1,300 passengers in three classes.

The voyage to New York took 12 days which probably included a stop at Moville on the extreme north west tip of Ireland, to pick up more passengers.

It is not yet known which class JLB travelled in, or exactly what his ticket cost. The fare was probably in the region of £15 ($75) which he could readily have afforded from his savings.

The “heaving cargo boat” description may have applied to the second leg of his journey, from New York to Port of Spain.

According to the US immigration record, J.L.Baird was met at New York by a Norman M’Callum. This  name does not appear in either JLB’s memoirs or any of his biographies, or in the records of the University of Strathclyde or the University of Glasgow.

It is also likely that JLB met his old Helensburgh friend Godfrey Harris who was working in New York at the time and who had started his interest in jam-making in Trinidad.

In early December there had been serious riots in Trinidad and Tobago, arising from trouble with the stevedores at Port of Spain. At the Governor’s request a troop of marines was landed from a British ship to quell  the unrest and there had been two fatalities.

This was reported in The Timesof 15 December 1919 but, surprisingly, not in JLB’s memoirs. It seems that he was obsessed with the business at hand, namely jam-making.

Four years later another obsession, television, was to take over his life.