Tangible Ireland Presentation: The Southern Cross in Harbour Grace

The following was prepared by Matthew for the 90th Anniversary of the Southern Cross‘s flight from Portmarnock, Ireland, to Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, for a virtual celebration hosted by Oakland’s Tangible Ireland branch on Sunday, May 31, 2020. The visual slideshow for this presentation can be viewed here.

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Figure 1: Southern Cross at Harbour Grace, June 25, 1930.

After leaving Portmarnock, Ireland, on June 24, 1930, at 12:57 NT, Capt. Charles Kingsford Smith (pilot), Capt. Everett Van Dyke (co-pilot), Capt. J.D. Saul (navigator), and J.W. Stannish (radio operator) hoped for agreeable weather and smooth flying to Roosevelt Field, New York, their anticipated destination for their east-west transatlantic flight in the Southern Cross. Heading for Cape Race, Newfoundland, on the Avalon peninsula’s southern extremity, the quartet anticipated turning southwest, flying down the coast of Maine, and landing at New York sometime around 11 a.m. NT on Wednesday, June 25.

The team sent hourly radio messages, updating operators and the public of their journey. At 2:45 a.m. NT, the first message reported them leaving the Irish coast. At 5:00 p.m. NT, Kingsford Smith noted their travelling speed—80 mph—and complained about the weather: “Everything going fine. Wish we could get out of this beastly fog. We feel closed in so much.”

However, the fog didn’t abate, and a change of direction was in store for the Southern Cross: a stop in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, whose airfield, constructed in 1927 for the landing of the Waco Oil’s Pride of Detroit, would soon launch this rural centre into aviation lore. The Harbour Grace airport was operated by the Harbour Grace Airport Trust Co., an incorporated body of local citizens, and hosted 20 transatlantic flights in a nine-year period.

With their compass out of order and gas supplied dwindled, Kingsford Smith and crew notified Harbour Grace they’d be landing at the strip in the early hours of Wednesday, June 25. At 8:25 a.m. NT, the Southern Cross touched down safely on the coastal dirt strip—a perfect landing after 32 hours in the air.

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Figure 2: Southern Cross at Harbour Grace, June 25, 1930. Crow Hill in background.

News spread quickly of their safe arrival—another successful transatlantic flight for the history books. The crew reported excellent weather until nearing Cape Race—that blasted fog!—and were in light, easy spirits, despite being deafened by the plane’s roaring engines. The crew thanked their lucky stars for sound radio advice from the stations at Cape Race and Belle Isle and the coastal steamers which kept them notified of their position. The crew spent the night at Harbour Grace, lodging at the Cochrane House—the site of many overnighters and warm meals for transatlantic aviators—to enjoy their triumph and rest from their tribulations.

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Figure 3: Cochrane House (also known as the ‘Cochrane Hotel’ and ‘Archibald’s Hotel’), pictured right, ca. 1930. This old hotel hosted numerous transatlantic aviators from 1927-36 and burned on August 17, 1944, during the third ‘Great Fire’ in the community. 

At daybreak on Thursday, June 26, Kingsford Smith and crew ate breakfast at the Cochrane House and headed to the strip with four vacuum bottles of coffee, boiled eggs, and sandwiches for the trip. Their next destination? Where they first intended to land: Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York. After taxiing 150 yards up the strip, the crew left Harbour Grace, heading in a northwesterly direction. After a safe landing in New York, the crew received the traditional hero’s welcome—a joyous crowd, greets from City Hall, and guests of honour in President Hoover’s White House.

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Figure 4: Southern Cross at Harbour Grace, June 25, 1930.

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Figure 5: Southern Cross at Harbour Grace, June 25, 1930.

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Southern Cross taxiing at Harbour Grace, June 1930.

View the logbook entries (pages 35 & 36) in high quality here

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