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Remembering Ship's Missing Captain

Captain Gray Painting

Brunel’s ss Great Britain has launched a series of events and activities to commemorate the ship’s most famous captain, Captain Gray, who mysteriously disappeared during a voyage on 26th November 1872.

Captain of the ship for 18 years, John Gray was an imposing 17-stone Shetlander who guided the ship and its crew firmly and fairly. He also had a passion for dancing and unusually for someone of his position, climbing the mast three times a week. His popularity with passengers is shown through many letters, diaries and passenger testimonials expressing affection for him. In the diary of passenger Mary Crompton from 1866 she records how Gray told her how he felt about ss Great Britain:
“I love every plank of her. I pat her sometimes and I’ve promised her a rest if she will only get home in less than 70 days.”
However his story has a tragic ending. On the night of 25th November he retired to his cabin complaining of stomach pains. The next morning his cabin was empty, and he was nowhere to be seen. The story concludes with his family awaiting his return on the docks in Liverpool on Christmas Day, after news of his disappearance was unable to reach land before the ship.
Today visitors to the ship and its website are invited to take part in a series of online and onsite activities which include family storytelling, captain’s tours of the ship, captain’s hats to try on and a brand new online game. All are designed to celebrate the life and popularity of the late great captain.
Online game players can test their own variety of skills by solving a dispute with passengers, or racing Captain Gray up the mast with a button-bashing game. If participants prove they have what it takes to climb the ranks to become captain of the ss Great Britain they will be awarded with a captaincy certificate which entitles them to a 10% discount off their tickets and a free captain’s hat.
Sally Cordwell, the ss Great Britain Trust’s Director of Marketing, Communications & Development said;
“Although Gray’s story is tragic and touching, we wanted to create a way of celebrating his life
and love for the ship. We’re really looking forward to providing visitors with a new chance to learn more about the unique history which surrounds the ship.”
All online and offline activity will take place on board and around the ship throughout winter until the end of February.