Photographs of a rescue mission

31 March 2021


31 March 2021


Discover how the SS Great Britain's salvage mission in 1970 was documented through a report by the BBC and through photography.

In the collection of the SS Great Britain Trust there are thousands of beautiful and interesting photographs which document the salvage operation which saw the SS Great Britain returned to her home in Bristol in 1970. These photographs have come to the museum from a variety of sources.

The salvage operation in 1970 was documented both on film and photography by a team of reporters sent by the BBC to the Falkland Islands. The BBC Chronicle feature gives a brilliant insight into what was required to achieve the enormous task. Tony and Marion Morrison who were in the Falklands filming for the BBC also took stunning photographs. The vibrant colours of these photos give such an immediate insight into the desolate location, the state of the corroded hull of the Great Britain and the fashion of the 1970s.

Several members of the salvage team also took photographs during their time in the Falkland Islands. These photographs not only document the condition the ship was in and the extremely difficult weather conditions the team had to deal with, they also give a wonderful insight into the men who did the hard work to rescue the SS Great Britain. One team member who recorded the salvage operation with photographs was Bernhard Schmidt, the radio operator of the tug Varius II. His black and white photographs, together with his diary, document how the different teams came together to achieve the amazing feat of returning the SS Great Britain to Bristol. The German crew of the tug Varius II, the British team of salvage workers, divers and Royal Marines and the local Falkland Islanders all worked together in the knowledge that they were attempting to rescue a significant piece of maritime history.

Many photographs have also been given to the museum by members of the public. A few of them have seen the ship in the Falkland Islands as a wreck, but most of them saw the ship’s return to Bristol in July 1970. The photographs taken both by Bristolians and by people from further afield show how much interest there was in the SS Great Britain’s return. The photographs show the ship in the dock in Avonmouth being prepared for her final journey up the river Avon. They also document the crowds of people that lined the river and harbour side when the ship returned to Bristol, and when the ship was moored up in the Floating Harbour many went to visit her with their families.

Having such a large collection of wonderful photographs which document the operation that saved the SS Great Britain and returned her to Bristol in 1970 is a brilliant resource. They illustrate and give insight into a crucial part of the ship’s history. These photographs allow us to understand the hard work that went into rescuing the Great Britain and see the salvage team who achieved an astonishing feat and ensured one of the most important ships in maritime history has survived to this day.

Author: Joanna Mathers

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