As I mention above, some letters are getting harder to fill than others, so I am having to cheat on the letter Q by writing about Marion Barbara ‘Joe’ Carstairs, also known as the Queen of Whale Cay.
Carstairs was quite a character – wealthy and openly gay, she was at one time the fastest woman on water, while her closest confidant was a doll and her Queen title comes from one of several islands she bought.
She was born in Mayfair, London, in 1900 the daughter of Fanny Bostwick and grand-daughter of Jabez Bostwick, founder of Standard Oil in America. Ostensibly her father was Albert Carstairs, a captain in the Royal Irish Rifles, although the couple divorced around the time of their daughter’s birth and he may well not have been the biological father.
Carstairs had a fairly unconventional upbringing. Her mother was an alcoholic and drug addict and married four times, the last to Serge Voronoff who became famous (or infamous) for transplanting monkey testicle tissue into men for the claimed purpose of rejuvenation.
Carstairs escaped by marrying her childhood friend, Count Jacques de Pret, in 1918, but this was a purely platonic relationship designed to give her access to her trust fund and the marriage was annulled on the death of her mother on the grounds of non-consummation. She also renounced her married name and changed it back to Carstairs by deed poll in 1922.
Openly lesbian, Carstairs wore men’s clothing, had tattooed arms and had a taste for adventure. She had served as an ambulance driver in France during World War I and later in Dublin with the Women’s Legion Mechanical Transport Section, which acted as transport for British officers during the Irish War of Independence.
In 1922, she set up the X-Garage, a car hire and chauffeuring service in London with former colleagues that employed only female drivers and mechanics. One of their specialities was to take grieving relatives for visits to war-graves and battlefields in France and Belgium.
Carstairs inherited the Standard Oil fortune in 1925 and turned her attention to her growing interest in powerboats. Between 1925 and 1930 she became a successful racer and won the Duke of York’s Trophy making her the fastest woman on water.
She also sponsored many of the land and sea record breakers of the day and used her wealth to fund the building of one of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Blue Bird land speed record cars.
Carstairs had numerous affairs and her lovers included Dolly Wilde, niece of Oscar Wilde, Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead. It was one of her girlfriends who gave her the Steiff doll that she named Lord Tod Wadley who was to become her one constant companion throughout the rest of her life.
She gained her Queen nickname when she bought the Bahamian island of Whale Cay for $40,000 where she hosted many celebrities, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as well as building a lighthouse, school, church, and cannery.
Carstairs eventually sold the island in 1975 and moved to Florida where she died in 1993 and was cremated alongside Lord Tod Wadley.
If you would like to learn more about her life, try The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale.