Elsie Mackay (as Poppy Wyndham) and Taylor Holmes in Nothing But the Truth (1920)
|Died||13 March 1928
Lost in the Atlantic Ocean
|Other names||Poppy Wyndham|
|Occupation||Actress, Interior designer, Aviator|
Elsie Mackay (c. 1893– c. 13 March 1928) was a British actress, interior decorator and pioneering aviator who died attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean with Walter G. R. Hinchliffe in a single engined Stinson Detroiter. Her name as an actress was Poppy Wyndham.
She was born in 1893 in Simla, India, to James Mackay, 1st Earl of Inchcape of Strathnaver, a British colonial administrator in India who became chairman of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and Jean Paterson Shanks. Her father was serving as President of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, as a member of the Legislative Council of the Viceroy of India, and as a member of the Council of the Secretary of State for India.
She was reportedly disinherited by her family after eloping with actor Dennis Wyndham to be married on 23 May 1917. She appeared on the stage and screen as Poppy Wyndham from 1919 through 1921. This marriage was annulled in 1922.
Theatre and film
- A Great Coup (1919) as Kate Hampton
- Snow in the Desert (1919)
- Many a Slip (1919) as The Girl
- Nothing But the Truth (1920) as Gwendolyn Gerald
- A Dead Certainty (1920) as Pat Stone
- The Town of Crooked Ways (1920) as Queenie Clay
- The Tidal Wave (1920) (as Carmen Hale / Columbine)
- A Son of David (1920) as Esther Raphael
After the marriage to Wyndham was annulled she returned to her family and developed a career as an interior decorator, creating lavish interiors, state rooms and public spaces for her father's shipping line, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O). In 1923 she launched the RMS Maloja, and went on to design much of the interiors for the four P&O "R" class ships of 1925: SS Rawalpindi, SS Ranchi, SS Ranpura and SS Rajputana, plus the RMS Viceroy of India in 1927.
In 1923 she took up flying, gaining her pilot's licence at the De Havilland Flying School, probably the second woman since World War I after 'Mrs Atkey', bought a plane, and expressed a determination to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic. She was regarded as a contemporary role model amongst women, with dark looks, graceful manner, and a habitually well-dressed and bejewelled appearance. She was noted for driving her Rolls-Royce at great speed and was a familiar sight in her Avro biplane in the skies over South Ayrshire and Wigtownshire. She even participated in an "outside loop", the most dangerous of all stunts in air, with Capt. E. C. D. Herne as her pilot. During this manoeuvre her safety-strap broke but she clung to bracing wires while her body swung outside the plane like a stone twirled on the end of a piece of string. She was one of the first women in Britain to gain her Royal Aero Club pilot’s licence and was later elected to the advisory committee of pilots to the British Empire Air League.
To achieve her transatlantic ambition Mackay bought a Stinson Detroiter, having been impressed by the aircraft during Ruth Elder's failed 1927 transatlantic attempt (despite an oil leak causing the failure 300 miles (480 km) over the Atlantic). It was shipped from the USA to Britain and delivered to the Brooklands motor racing track, which at the time was also used as an airfield. She named it Endeavour. It was a monoplane with gold tipped wings and a black fuselage, powered by a nine-cylinder, 300 horsepower (220 kW) Wright Whirlwind J-6-9 (R-975) engine, with a cruising speed of 84 miles per hour (135 km/h).
In early March 1928 the Daily Express discovered that Captain Hinchliffe and Mackay were preparing for a transatlantic attempt by carrying out test flights at RAF Cranwell and were staying at the George Hotel in Leadenham near Grantham. The story was silenced by Mackay's threatened legal action as she intended to depart in secret while her father was in Egypt, having promised her family she would not make the attempt.
At 8:35 am on 13 March 1928 'Endeavour' took off from RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire, with minimal fuss as Hinchliffe had told only two friends he was going and Elsie registered under the pseudonym of 'Gordon Sinclair'.' Approximately five hours later, at 1.30 pm the chief lighthouse keeper at Mizen Head on the south west coast of Cork, Ireland saw the monoplane over the village of Crookhaven, on the great circle course for Newfoundland. A French steamer later reported seeing them still on course, but nothing else is known. A crowd of 5,000 is reputed to have waited for them at Mitchel Field, Long Island. In December 1928, eight months later, a single piece of identifiable undercarriage (a wheel with a serial number on it) washed ashore in north west Ireland.
Elsie Mackay is commemorated by a stained glass window in the chancel of Glenapp Church in the parish of Ballantrae, Ayrshire (where her father owned the Glenapp estate) Rhododendrons, now somewhat overgrown, spell out "Elsie" on the opposite side of the glen.( ) A street is named after her in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador. Her financial legacy was the Elsie Mackay Fund, a £500,000 trust bequeathed by her father that was left to the British nation on 12 December 1928, for 50 years and used to help pay off the national debt.
- "Two Women". Time magazine. 26 March 1928. Retrieved 9 August 2008.
- BBC Radio 4 Making History - Elsie Mackay - article and downloadable broadcast
- The Peerage.com
- Poppy Wyndham at 'Find a Grave' (This source erroneously mentions Lionel Atwill
- Many sources confuse and conflate her career with that of the American actress of the same name, but IMDB makes clear the distinction the American Elsie Mackay was still performing in 1935.IMDB - Disambiguation page for Elsie Mackay. The American Elsie Mackay was married to the English actor, Lionel Atwill from 1919 until their divorce in 1928.
- Barnes, Brooks. "Movies: About Tidal Wave". New York Times. Retrieved 9 August 2008.
- The Complete Index To World Film since 1895
- Hollywood upclose - database for Poppy Wyndham
- P & O Line Ships (and technical data) from 1920 to 1930
- History of the De Havilland Flying School
- Ayrshire Post article - So Brave and so Beautiful
- Picture of Elsie in her Avro Biplane at Jamd.com
- Hargrave - Profile of Ruth Elder
- World War I Modeling Page - WGR Hinchliffe forum
- History of The George Hotel at Leadenham
- World War I Modeling Page -Hinchliffe forum
- Old News of Newfoundland
- .Ballantrae Parish Church
- Gander’s Historic Street Names
- National Archives - Elsie Mackay Fund
- Parliamentary reference to the Elsie Mackay Fund in Hansard
- Elsie Mackay at Find a Grave
- BBC Radio 4 Making History - Elsie Mackay overview
- West over the Waves - Elsie Mackay tribute site
- Picture of Poppy Wyndham at 'Find a Grave'
- Pictures of Elsie, her father and mother, and Capt. Walter G. R. Hinchliffe and an erroneous Fokker composite image at Jamd.com
- Images and Info of Stinson Detroiter SM-1 at Airliners.net
- Crossing the Horizon, a novel based on Elsie Mackay's flight