Royalty On Board

25 May 2022


25 May 2022


Brunel's Great Ocean Liner has impressed our two longest-reigning monarchs. 

As Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Platinum Jubilee this year, we look back at the SS Great Britain’s links to female monarchs, past and present.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II stepped aboard on 26 July 1985, exploring the ship, and opening the museum’s maritime heritage centre. She heard about the conservation work taking place, meeting staff including the charity’s chair, Basil Greenhill, and director, Joe Blake. The Queen’s visit played a huge part in promoting the ship as a visitor attraction.

Her consort HRH Prince Philip took a particular interest having visited on several occasions and having been on deck as Brunel’s great ship returned to Bristol in 1970. He had even flown a seaplane above the SS Great Britain in 1957 during her time in the Falkland Islands prior to the extraordinary salvage and homecoming journey. HRH Prince Philip became the SS Great Britain Trust’s first patron, a position now taken on by HRH The Princess Royal.

However, the SS Great Britain’s links with Royalty began 114 years earlier in 1843 when Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, was invited to attend the launch of the SS Great Britain in Bristol. The Prince took an active interest in technological innovations, later masterminding the Great Exhibition of 1851 which Isambard Kingdom Brunel was also closely involved with. It was during the SS Great Britain’s five-month stay on the Thames for her final fitting out that Queen Victoria, along with her husband and a large retinue of staff, visited the ship on 22 April 1845.

The visit was a major spectacle with the couple travelling from Buckingham Palace in an open carriage and four, escorted by a party of light dragoons. The Royal party boarded HMS Dwarf at Greenwich and travelled upriver, preceded by the state barge and other steamers. The Queen was amazed at the size of the ship, writing in her Journal, ‘…the Gt Britain” which is an enormous ship, 322 ft in length & a 16th of a mile round; she is at least 100 ft longer than any of our largest Men of War.’

Once on board, Victoria and Albert were escorted around the SS Great Britain by the captain, who was referred to by his naval rank of Lieutenant Hosken, along with the chairman and directors of the steamship company. Brunel himself showed the Queen and Prince Albert a model of the engines and screw. Upon leaving the ship, the Queen told Captain Hosken: ‘I am very much gratified with the sight of your magnificent ship and I wish you every possible success on your voyages across the Atlantic.’

The visit definitely left an impression on Queen Victoria, but maybe not for the best, as she wrote in her journal later that day; ‘All the fittings & decorations are very fine, & everything made as comfortable as possible, but I should not much care to go to sea, with such a quantity of passengers, or in such a long, narrow ship.’

The SS Great Britain has seen visits from the two longest-serving monarchs in British history, and the Trust maintains its Royal connections through the present Patron HRH The Princess Royal.

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