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ss Great Britain returns in 1970

The 19 July marks two very special anniversaries in the history of Brunel’s ss Great Britain. One date separated by 127 years, which bookend the ship’s life at sea.

The first of these dates was in 1843 when the ss Great Britain launched into Bristol’s floating harbour. There began an incredible journey that spanned more than a million miles at sea. Having been badly damaged in a storm, in 1886, the weary ss Great Britain finally succumbed to her injuries and limped to the Falklands Islands.

Used as a floating warehouse for many years, she was eventually declared too unsafe even for that. Washed up on the remote bay of Sparrow Cove, near Port William, it seemed this once great luxury liner had found her final resting place. And that may have been the end of the story, if it wasn’t for an audacious rescue mission organised by naval architect, Ewan Corlett, in 1969.

Dotted with holes and at risk of breaking in half, the ss Great Britain was raised onto a giant pontoon and carried no less than 8,000 miles to the UK through freezing waters and harsh storms. When she finally arrived in Avonmouth, she was patched up with steel plates so that she could make the last leg of the journey, up the River Avon and back to the Dry Dock where she was originally built, on her own hull.

Cheered on by thousands of people, lining riverbanks and bridges, the ss Great Britain came full circle and crossed the finish line on her own terms and with dignity. A fitting end to an incredible journey.