WORDS: DAVID LILLYWHITE | PHOTOGRAPHY: CAMPBELL FAMILY
After a decade of wrangling, the dispute over where Donald Campbell CBE’s tragic Bluebird K7 jet hydroplane should live seems to have been resolved, with the announcement that K7 will return to Coniston in the next few weeks.
Campbell was killed in January 1967 on Coniston Water in the Lake District, UK, when he lost control of K7 at over 300mph. More than 30 years later, in 2001, diver Bill Smith located and recovered the wreck of K7, along with Campbell’s body.
The wreckage was gifted to the Ruskin Museum in Coniston by the Campbell Family Trust. Bill Smith offered to restore the boat at no cost and then pass it back to the Ruskin Museum on completion, later (in 2012) forming The Bluebird Project Ltd. Both parties then raised money to support the restoration: the Ruskin to build a permanent home for the boat, and The Bluebird Project to fund the restoration.
However, in 2013 The Bluebird Project claimed that, because of the work it put in, and the monies raised, it owned the parts fabricated and added to the boat, and as a result had a share in the ownership of the completed K7. The Ruskin Museum contended that monies raised and the work undertaken was done in the knowledge that the completed boat would be handed over to the Ruskin Museum with no claim on ownership.
In 2018 The Bluebird Project successfully ran the restored K7 on Loch Fad in Scotland, but the ownership dispute continued at great cost – until this week, when it was announced that K7 would be returned to Coniston to be displayed in the Ruskin Museum alongside its original engine.
A spokesperson for the museum said: “Bluebird K7 will return to Coniston in the coming weeks, to be conserved and displayed in her forever home in the Bluebird Wing of the Ruskin Museum. We will issue further details of this exciting development when we have established a timetable for moving the boat to Coniston and installing her for display.”
Gina Campbell, daughter of Donald Campbell CBE, said: “We are delighted that Bluebird K7 is coming home. It is taken many years of hard work by The Ruskin Museum to achieve our original gift of K7 so that it can be put on display there. We must not forget the many volunteers who gave their time, money and support to rebuild K7 to her former glory. It has led to this momentous moment, and we are very grateful to them all.
“Not only do we remember Donald Campbell CBE at this time, but also his late widow Tonia and the brilliant designer Ken Norris, who sadly have both passed away before seeing the rebuilt Bluebird return to her spiritual home.”
Gina continued: “Bluebird K7 belongs to the nation, and she is a very important part of Coniston’s heritage – and Britain’s. It gives the family peace to know that Bluebird is coming home, and that future generations will be able to learn about Donald Campbell CBE and his unrivalled achievements. It seems only fitting, given that 2024 marks 60 years since my father achieved the unique feat of setting World Land and Water Speed Records in the same year.”
In 1964, Donald set a new Land Speed Record at Lake Eyre, Australia, at 403mph. Later the same year, he broke his own Water Speed Record at Lake Dumbleyung, Western Australia, at 276mph. His highest speed on water was estimated as being 320mph during his last, fatal run in Bluebird K7 on Coniston Water in early 1967.
An in-depth profile of Donald Campbell CBE was included in issue 11 of Magneto, available here.