Marion Barbara "Joe" Carstairs
|Marion Barbara "Joe" Carstairs|
Carstairs holding Lord Tod Wadley
|Born||Marion Barbara Carstairs
|Occupation||Heiress, power boat racer|
|Spouse(s)||Count de Pret (1918–1921, annulment)|
Marion Barbara 'Joe' Carstairs (1900–1993) was a wealthy British power boat racer known for her speed and her eccentric lifestyle.
She was born in 1900 in Mayfair, London, England, the daughter of Frances (Fannie) Evelyn Bostwick, an American heiress who was the second child of Jabez Bostwick and his wife Helen. Joe Carstairs' legal father was Captain Albert Carstairs, a Scottish officer first of the Royal Irish Rifles and later the Princess of Wales's Own (Yorkshire Regiment). Captain Carstairs re-enlisted with the Army the week before Joe was born; he and Evelyn divorced soon afterwards. At least one biographer has suggested that the Captain may not have been Joe's biological father.
Carstairs' mother, an alcoholic and drug addict, later married Captain Francis Francis, with whom she had two more children, Evelyn (Sally) Francis and Francis Francis Jr. (Frank). She divorced Captain Francis to marry French count Roger de Périgny in 1915, but eventually left him because of his infidelity. She married her fourth and last husband, Serge Voronoff, in 1920. Voronoff was a Russian–French surgeon who later become famous in the 1920s and 1930s for his practice of transplanting monkey testicle tissue into male humans for the claimed purpose of rejuvenation. Evelyn had for some years been a believer in Voronoff's theories, and had been both funding his research and acting as a laboratory assistant at the Collège de France in Paris. She died around a year after the marriage, in March 1921.[Note 1]
Joe Carstairs married once to a childhood friend, the French aristocrat Count Jacques de Pret, on 7 January 1918 in Paris. The purpose of the marriage was simply to allow Carstairs access to her trust fund independently of her mother. After her mother's death, the marriage was immediately annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. By means of a Deed poll, she renounced her married name and resumed using the name Carstairs in February 1922.
Carstairs lived a colorful life. She usually dressed as a man, had tattooed arms, and loved machines, adventure and speed. Openly lesbian, she had numerous affairs with women, including Dolly Wilde—Oscar Wilde's niece and a fellow ambulance driver from Dublin with whom she had lived in Paris—and a string of actresses, most notably Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich.
During World War I, Joe Carstairs served in France with the American Red Cross, driving ambulances. After the war, she served with the Royal Army Service Corps in France, re-burying the war-dead, and in Dublin with the Women's Legion Mechanical Transport Section, which acted as transport for British officers during the Irish War of Independence. In 1920, with three former colleagues from the Women's Legion Mechanical Transport Section, she started the 'X Garage,' a car-hire and chauffeuring service that featured a women-only staff of drivers and mechanics. The garage was sited near Cromwell Gardens, Carstairs (and her friends and lovers) lived in a flat above the garage.
Several of the X-Garage staff had served as drivers during the war and spoke French, German or Italian. The cars and drivers could be hired for long-distance trips and the business specialized in taking grieving relatives for visits to war-graves and former battlefields in France and Belgium. They were also hired for journeys within London and the garage had an arrangement with the Savoy Hotel for taking guests to the theater or to shows. During the early 1920s, X-Garage cars were a familiar sight in London's fashionable circles.
In 1925, X-Garage closed and Carstairs inheriting a fortune through her mother and grandmother from Standard Oil. She also purchased her first motor boat and also given a Steiff doll by a girlfriend, Ruth Baldwin, naming it Lord Tod Wadley. She became exceptionally attached to this doll, keeping it with her until her death, although—unlike Donald Campbell's mascot 'Mr Whoppit'—she didn't take it into her speedboats for fear of losing it. Between 1925 and 1930, Carstairs spent considerable time in powerboats and became a very successful racer, although the Harmsworth Trophy she longed for always eluded her. She did take the Duke of York's trophy and establish herself as the fastest woman on water. Intrigued by the hydrofoil designs of Alexander Graham Bell and Casey Baldwin in Nova Scotia, Carstairs ordered a 30 foot hydrofoil boat from the Bell Boatyard in Baddeck, Nova Scotia which was intended to achieve 115 mph and capture the Harmsworth Cup. However circumstances caused her to withdraw and the boat was completed with a more economical engine delivering 57 mph. During this time, the North American press erroneously began referring to her as "Betty," a nickname she loathed; she claimed that journalists used it out of spite.
Carstairs was also known for her generosity to her friends. She was close to several male racing drivers and land speed record competitors, using her considerable wealth to assist them. She paid $10,000 of her money to fund the building of one of the Blue Bird land speed record cars for Sir Malcolm Campbell, who once described her as, "the greatest sportsman I know." She was equally generous to John Cobb, whose Railton Special was powered by the pair of engines from her powerboat Estelle V. And after she invested $40,000 purchasing the island of Whale Cay in the Bahamas, she lavishly hosted such guests as Marlene Dietrich, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. She not only constructed a Great House for herself and her guests, but also a lighthouse, school, church, and cannery. She later expanded these properties by also buying the additional islands of Bird Cay, Cat Cay, Devil's Cay, half of Hoffman's Cay, and a tract of land on Andros.
- For the remainder of her life, Joe Carstairs would claim her mother had been murdered by her husband for her money. There was no evidence for this, but Voronoff's inheritance from Evelyn made him a wealthy man. See Summerscale (1997), p.34
- Irish Times (August 9, 1997) Weekend Books: A fast lady called Joe. (review of The Queen of Whale Cay)
- The London Gazette: . 10 May 1892.
- The London Gazette: . 6 March 1900.
- Summerscale 1997, p. 16.
- Summerscale 1997, p. 15.
- Summerscale 1997, p. 24.
- Summerscale 1997, p. 29.
- Summerscale 1997, p. 34.
- The London Gazette: . 24 February 1922.
- Clarsen (2011), p.42
- Clarsen (2011), p.43
- "Photograph with Lord Tod Wadley".
- Rick McGraw, "Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) the Boat Builder", Classic Boat Spring 2012, Issue 113, p. 24
- Summerscale 1997, p. 105-106.
- Charles Jennings (2005). The Fast Set. Abacus. ISBN 0-349-11596-6.
- Summerscale 1997, p. 217-218.
- Summerscale 1997, p. 233.
- Georgine Clarsen (2011). Eat My Dust: Early Women Motorists. JHU Press. ISBN 1-421-405-148.
- Adrian Rance (1989). Fast Boats and Flying Boats. Southampton: Ensign Publications. ISBN 1-85455-026-8.
- Kate Summerscale (1997). The Queen of Whale Cay. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-670-88018-3.