Farewell Topsails 1937

This impression of the farewell voyage of a commercial sailing ship, as it transports kaolin cargo from Cornwall through to London, was only attributed relatively recently to the filmography of Humphrey Jennings whom many consider Britain’s greatest documentary filmmaker.

Initiated as a modest experiment in the use of the colour film stock called Dufaycolor (more often used by amateur filmmakers), it was one of the three Jennings projects using the process at the time (the others being Design for Spring (aka Making Fashion) and two films, English Harvest and The Farm, produced from the same footage).

This short film shows china clay extraction in St Austell and exportation from the port of Charlestown, Cornwall, where tall ships – topsail schooners and ketches – once hailed from, laden with clay destined for the ports of Liverpool or London. It reflects on a dying sail cargo trade, and shows new steam craft taking the place of wind power. Beautiful scenes of industry and passages at sea are illustrated in colour film by Humphrey Jennings - Britain's most celebrated documentary film maker.


West Country Trading Ketch 'Bessie Ellen', who traded from the same ports is featured in the film below.