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Note: This is a sub-section of African Queen
‘African Queen’ was an African Motor Boat.
‘African Queen’s’ Victorian appearance does not match the Brimscombe products of Edwardian boat builder, Abdela. Further, photograph collections in Stroud Museum and in Gloucestershire County Record Office show no vessel named either ‘Livingstone’ or ‘Queen of Africa’, which are the suspect and competing, provenances for a Brimscombe-built ‘African Queen’. Neither do these names figure in the records of the Thames and Severn Canal, which logged Brimscombe vessels either on their trials or on their journey, eventually to Sharpness (1). ‘SL Livingstone’ was, in fact, twice the length of ‘African Queen’(2a) and a photograph of her shows she was a decked vessel, nothing like ‘African Queen’ or anything of Abdela’s.(3).
Other assertions that ‘African Queen’ was built at Lytham (by Lytham Shipbuilding and Engineering Co) have been denied by Lytham historian, Jack. M. Dakres(4).
Director of the film, John Huston, had a reputation for risk-taking, but the insurance risk of two film stars having charge of a genuine steam boat would have been a risk too far. Boilers can explode when in the hands of inexperienced people. It is clear that ‘African Queen’ was a motor boat! In the movie, exhaust from an internal combustion engine can be seen flowing from the stern of the vessel, port side, and about 20 cm above the waterline.
Comments by Commander L. G. Dennis are significant. From 1953 he was in the employ of East African Railways and Harbours, being Marine Superintendent (Lakes)from 1965 until his retirement in 1971. He has written in 1996 to the effect that the ’African Queen’ was a railway Marine petrol driven motor boat of 14 hp, built in 1930, 28 feet in length. He wrote that she was fitted with a wooden mock-up steam boiler and funnel made in the (Butiaba Marine) workshops and that oily rags were burnt to produce smoke(5). Reports elsewhere relate that separate mock-ups were made and positioned so that the large colour film cameras, then in use, could effectively shoot close-ups.
There is a mention that the ‘African Queen’ had still retained that name in 1960 (6).
In 1997, following publication of Commander Dennis’ book, James Hendricks Snr was reported as explaining ‘it really is a vintage African boat, built in 1912 for a British railway company that used it on a lake in Uganda’, The report adds that ’She originally had a diesel engine ---‘(7). Although there are discrepancies between the two accounts, they are united on the premise that ‘African Queen’ was an adapted motor boat, and that her origin was in Africa. James Hendricks Snr was a US owner of ‘African Queen’ for 20 years from 1982.
In the film she is stated as being thirty years old, ageing her theoretically to 1884. It is contended that the moviemakers aimed to create from photographs an accurate replica of a beat-up 1880s steam boat. An open motor boat was ideal for the purpose of sporting a mocked-up steam plant, whilst at the same time providing for the two film stars a safe means of propulsion. It is fair to speculate from a photograph that there were two identical motorboats, the second being sectioned athwartships to provide the two mock-up bases for the close-up photography(8)
The African Queen’, of the film itself, is an attraction at Key Largo, Florida. The owners there, past and present, and its operators are to be congratulated on the successful efforts which they have made to render her serviceable, so that tourists can sit in the boat where screen idols, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, once sat. They have the added bonus of genuine progress under steam.