- This picture shows the SS Great Britain being launched into Bristol’s Floating Harbour on 19 July 1843.
- The event caused great excitement. You can see the large crowd of people who came to the event. The company that built the ship, the Great Western Steam Ship Company, sold tickets to the event and Prince Albert attended as the guest of honour.
- In 1843, the SS Great Britain was the largest ship in the world and was not easy to get moving. If you look closely you will see men at the bow (front) and stern (back) of the ship helping to guide the SS Great Britain out of the Great Western Dockyard and into the Floating Harbour.
- If you visit the SS Great Britain today, you will find her dressed to look just as she did on the day of her launch and sitting in the Dry Dock where she was built.
The launch of the SS Great Britain in 1843 was dramatic. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, had travelled on Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway from London to Bristol to attend the launch. Bristolians welcomed him enthusiastically and tickets for the launch were sold with the advertisement “Prince Albert – To be seen alive!”
The SS Great Britain was ‘christened’ when a bottle of champagne was thrown and smashed on the bow (front) of the ship. There are different reports from the time about who performed this honour and what happened during the event. One version reported that Mrs Miles, the wife of a local Member of Parliament, launched the SS Great Britain. She had also launched Brunel’s previous ship the ps Great Western in 1837. Other reports claim Mrs Miles failed to hit the ship with the bottle. Prince Albert apparently then threw a champagne bottle from his table and successfully smashed it upon the ship, showering the crowd below with glass. With conflicting evidence, we cannot be certain whether it was really Prince Albert or Mrs Miles who actually launched the ship.