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Biography of Donald Campbell

Photo of Donald Campbell

Donald Campbell was a twentieth century land and water speed record ace.

When and Where was he Born?

23rd March 1921, Povey Cross, Horley, Surrey, England.

Family Background:

Donald Campbell was the son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, a land speed record holder.


School at Horsham, then St. Peter’s School, Seaford then to Uppingham Public School, Rutland. (The same as his father).

Timeline of Donald Campbell:

1924: Birth of his sister Jean.

1930’s: Campbell’s first job was as a junior office boy with Alexander Howden and Company, insurance brokers in London.

1939-45: During the period of the Second World War he was turned down as a fighter pilot because of contracting rheumatic fever when he was younger. Not wanting to join the R.A.F. in a non-flying capacity, he worked for two civilian firms. One making defence equipment for airfields and another making aircraft spares.

1945: He marries Daphne Harvey, Caxton Hall Registry Office, London under special Licence as Daphne’s parents had forbidden Donald to marry her.

1951: He suffers a 170 m.p.h. crash in the boat K4.

1952: He marries Dorothy McKegg.

1955: On 23rd July at Ullswater in Cumbria, England Donald Campbell was the first to complete an officially timed run in a jet-propelled hydroplane (K7) of 202.32 m.p.h.

1958: He marries Tonia Bern on 24th December at Caxton Hall, Registry Office, London.

1960: He crashes in Utah, USA after attempting the land speed record from which he had to spend a long convalescent period.

1964: Campbell achieves 403.1 m.p.h. on 17th July in a jet propelled car at Lake Eyre Salt Flats in Australia. December 31st: He sets a water speed record of 276.33 at Durnbleyung Lake in Australia. Thus becoming the only man to achieve land and water speed records in the same year.

Donald Campbell Memorial, Coniston
Donald Campbell Memorial, Coniston, Cumbria (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1967: Donald Campbell achieves a run of 297 m.p.h. on his first leg at Coniston Water, Cumbria  on 4th January and was traveling at over 300 m.p.h. on the return leg when his boat Bluebird flips over backwards and he crashes to his death. Many theories were advanced as to why he had started too quickly on his return leg but it is clear that the waves on the lake unsettled the boat. Ideas that he had committed suicide were quickly discounted by his family.

(2001): A Diving team from Northumberland finally retrieved Bluebird and later the remains of Donald Campbell so he could be given a proper burial.

When and Where did he Die?

4th January 1967, he was killed in accident during a speed record attempt in Bluebird on Coniston Water, Cumbria, England whilst exceeding 300 m.p.h.

Age at Death:



1. 1945 to Daphne Harvey, Caxton Hall Registry Office, London under special Licence as Daphne’s parents had forbidden Donald to marry her.
2. To Dorothy McKegg.
3. 24th December 1958 to Tonia Bern, Caxton Hall, Registry Office, London.

Site of Grave:

Bluebird K7 boat and body found and retrieved in May 2001. Remains finally buried in Coniston Cemetery, Cumbria on 12th September 2001.

Donald Campbell's Grave
The grave where Donald Campbell was finally interred 34 years after his death, 
Coniston Cemetery (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Speed Records:


July 1964: Lake Eyre, Australia. (403.1 m.p.h.)


July 1955: Ullswater, Cumbria. (202.32 m.p.h.)

November 1955: Lake Mead, U.S.A. (216.2 m.p.h.)

September 1956: Coniston Water, Cumbria. (225.63 m.p.h.)

November 1957: Coniston Water, Cumbria. (239.07 m.p.h.)

November 1958: Coniston Water, Cumbria. (248.62 m.p.h.)

May 1959: Coniston Water, Cumbria. (260.33 m.p.h.)

December 1964: Lake Dumbleyung, Australia (276.33 m.p.h.)

Places of Interest:


Coniston Water.
Ruskin Museum, Coniston.
Memorial in Coniston near St Andrew’s Church.


National Motor Museum, Bealieu.