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What happened on 19 July?

Launch of the SS Great Britain


On 19 July 1843 - the ship’s birthday - the SS Great Britain was launched. She took exactly four years to the day to be built. Remarkably, on the 19 July 1970, she returned to her home – the Great Western Dockyard.

During her working life as a luxury passenger liner, a troop carrier, an emigrant clipper and a cargo windjammer, the SS Great Britain spent 14 birthdays at sea. We’ve delved into the vault to find out what else happened on this momentous date.

·         In 1839, the Great Western Steam Ship Company laid the keel for the SS Great Britain.

·         On this day in 1846, the SS Great Britain was nearing New York on voyage 6. Check out what the Captain recorded in the ship’s log. Can you work out what the weather was like?

·         Did you know the SS Great Britain was used as a troop carrier during the Crimean War? On this day in 1855, she was leaving Constantinople to return to the UK via Malta and Gibraltar. On board she had 10 officers, 148 men and four women. She was also carrying one lady passenger bound for Portsmouth.

·         Samuel Archer, the ship’s surgeon, celebrated the ship’s 15th birthday in 1857 with a Champagne dinner.

·         The SS Great Britain was returning from Melbourne for the eighth time. Clara Aspinall, a 22-year-old, first class passenger wrote about how the ship changed as they made their way back to Liverpool. The Southern Cross star constellation, which was visible all the way from Australia started to sink from their view.

·         Exactly 100 years before the SS Great Britain came to her final resting place in the Great Western Dockyard in 1970, she had just rounded Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. Cape Horn is challenging to navigate with a constant threat of icebergs. Also on this day there was a meeting in Steerage about the poor quality of the food on board; especially the meat. A petition was taken to the Captain.


Author: Imogen Dickens, International Project Officer