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1843

the world’s first great ocean liner

brunel’s iron ship being launched

Amid the shouts of thousands… the Prince broke against the bows a bottle of wine and pronounced as the name by which the ship is after to be known, the words “Great Britain”.

Illustrated London News, 23 Jul 1843

1843

THE WORLD’S FIRST GREAT OCEAN LINER

Brunel’s SS Great Britain is one of the most important historic ships in the world. When she was launched in 1843, she was called ‘the greatest experiment since the creation’.

No one had ever designed so vast a ship, nor had the vision to build it of iron. Brunel fitted her with a 1000 hp steam engine, the most powerful yet used at sea. Perhaps most daring of all, Brunel rejected using conventional paddle wheels to drive his ship. Instead, he gave the SS Great Britain a screw propeller. This was the newest invention in maritime technology. By seeing how to combine these key innovations, Brunel created a ship that changed history.

PAUSE VIDEO

BRUNEL’S IRON SHIP BEING LAUNCHED

Ticket from Liverpool to Melbourne

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.

Captain Gray, 28 May 1866

1852

THE EMIGRANT CLIPPER

IN 1852 GIBBS, BRIGHT & CO. PURCHASED THE SS GREAT BRITAIN TO USE FOR CARRYING EMIGRANTS TO AUSTRALIA.

They adapted the ship by replacing the original engine with a more efficient one. They added a second funnel, and replaced the ship’s rudder and propeller with new ones.

On the Australia run the ship was to rely more on sail power than on her steam engine – this would save money. The engine and propeller would be usedmostly as a back-up, when the wind was light or blowing from the wrong direction. An extra upper deck was built, so that the ship could carry up to 700 passengers.

It is hard to imagine a more important survivor of our heritage, in terms of her significance to the industrial, economic, and social development of Britain.

Dr Basil Greenhill, former Director, National Maritime Museum

1882

THE WINDJAMMER

THE SS GREAT BRITAIN WAS A REMARKABLY ADAPTABLE SHIP. AFTER 30 YEARS AS A PASSENGER SHIP, SHE WAS CONVERTED TO CARRY CARGO

Between 1882 and1886 the SS Great Britain carried a variety of exports such as coal and wheat between England and the west coast of America.

Due to the extraordinary distance, the ship was confronted by the wildest sea conditions in the world. In 1886, storms off Cape Horn badly damaged the SS Great Britain and forced her Capitan, Henry Stap, to seek shelter in the Falkland Islands, the first port of refuge. The ship’s owners decided the cost of repairs was far too high and eventually, their insurers sold the SS Great Britain to the Falkand Islands Company.

It is hard to imagine a more important survivor of our heritage, in terms of her significance to the industrial, economic, and social development of Britain.

Dr Basil Greenhill, former Director, National Maritime Museum

1970

THE GRAND OLD LADY

THE SS GREAT BRITAIN’S EXTRAORDINARILY LONG WORKING LIFE ENDED IN 1933.
A RESCUE ATTEMPT FAILED AND SHE WAS THEN ABANDONED, AND LEFT TO RUST AWAY.

However, Ewan Corlett, a naval architect, had long recognised the importance of the SS Great Britain. Many months of research and planning gave him the confidence to attempt a second rescue operation which would return the ship to the U.K. Despite ferocious gales, an expert salvage team managed to refloat the SS Great Britain on 13th April 1970.

The SS Great Britain crossed the Atlantic sitting on a huge floating pontoon pulled by tugs. This amazing salvage brought her 8,000 miles home to her birth place in Bristol.

1843

THE WORLD’S FIRST GREAT OCEAN LINER

Brunel’s SS Great Britain is one of the most important historic ships in the world. When she was launched in 1843, she was called ‘the greatest experiment since the creation’.

OPTIONAL IMAGE CAPTION / BRUNEL’S IRON SHIP BEING LAUNCHED

No one had ever designed so vast a ship, nor had the vision to build it of iron. Brunel fitted her with a 1000 hp steam engine, the most powerful yet used at sea. Perhaps most daring of all, Brunel rejected using conventional paddle wheels to drive his ship. Instead, he gave the SS Great Britain a screw propeller. This was the newest invention in maritime technology. By seeing how to combine these key innovations, Brunel created a ship that changed history.

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.

CAPTAIN GRAY, 28 MAY 1866

1852

THE EMIGRANT CLIPPER

In 1852 Gibbs, Bright & Co. purchased the SS Great Britain to use for carrying emigrants to australia.

OPTIONAL IMAGE CAPTION / BRUNEL’S IRON SHIP BEING LAUNCHED

No one had ever designed so vast a ship, nor had the vision to build it of iron. Brunel fitted her with a 1000 hp steam engine, the most powerful yet used at sea. Perhaps most daring of all, Brunel rejected using conventional paddle wheels to drive his ship. Instead, he gave the SS Great Britain a screw propeller. This was the newest invention in maritime technology. By seeing how to combine these key innovations, Brunel created a ship that changed history.

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.

CAPTAIN GRAY, 28 MAY 1866

1882

THE WINDJAMMER

The SS Great Britain was a remarkably adaptable ship. After 30 years as a passenger ship, she was converted to carry cargo

OPTIONAL IMAGE CAPTION / BRUNEL’S IRON SHIP BEING LAUNCHED

No one had ever designed so vast a ship, nor had the vision to build it of iron. Brunel fitted her with a 1000 hp steam engine, the most powerful yet used at sea. Perhaps most daring of all, Brunel rejected using conventional paddle wheels to drive his ship. Instead, he gave the SS Great Britain a screw propeller. This was the newest invention in maritime technology. By seeing how to combine these key innovations, Brunel created a ship that changed history.

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.

CAPTAIN GRAY, 28 MAY 1866

GLOBAL STORIES: THE PEOPLE OF THE SS GREAT BRITAIN

Explore our Global Stories project, a huge new database of the passengers and crew members of the SS Great Britain.