I visited the SS Great Britain in Bristol a few weeks ago.
This extraordinary ship was designed 1839 in an era when square rigged shipped sailed the seas, and when Admiral Lord Nelson and Trafalgar (see postings below) where still imprinted on men’s memories.
Prince Albert Launched the SS Great Britain at Bristol in 1843, the same year Charles Dickens published, ‘A Christmas Carol’.
This monster ship was the brainchild of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and its construction was set to change the history of shipping.
Here was an enormous iron hulled ship which not only had a powerful 1000 horsepower engine and propeller (quite different from the paddle steamer type of propulsion used so far), but she was rigged as a schooner with six huge masts and was the first of the great ocean-going passenger liners.
Her first crossing from Liverpool to New York was in 1845 took 14 days.
In 1852 she began carrying emigrants to Australia in a time of 60 days.
The SS Great Britain even carried the first England cricket team down under, in 1861, and between 1856 and 1857 she carried troops and horses to fight in the Crimea.
In 1881, the ship was sold. Her engine was removed along with two of her masts and she was turned into a sailing ship, converted to a Windjammer – three masts carrying square rigged sails and staysails.
She battled the Horn numerous times on her way to San Francisco and circumnavigated the globe 32 times in her career.
But by the outbreak of World War 1, this once magnificent ship was being used as a coal supply ship. Soon after the war she was scuttled and left to rust away in The Falkland Islands. There she stayed for over thirty years.
The plan to salvage her, to bring her back to Bristol and restore to something of her former glory was a bold mission. The man responsible was Ewan Corlett, a naval architect.
After towing the hull home over 8000 miles of treacherous seas, the SS Great Britain returned to the dockyard where she was built exactly 127 years before.
At last, in 2005, after years of painstaking reconstruction work, this remarkable ship was ‘re-launched’.
Stepping aboard the SS Great Britain, dubbed ‘one of the most important historic ships in the world’, is like stepping back in history.
You can walk through the first class saloons, see the bunks of the steerage passengers, wander the promenade deck lit by numerous slatted skylights from the deck above, even see the heads (inside toilets) and the gaol.
Perhaps one of the most amazing sights is the main yard which carried just one of its billowing square sails. This single yard (which sat horizontally across the main mast), is 100 feet long and weighs 7 tons.
With passengers and crew totalling around 500 souls, the ship had to carry enough fresh stores to cater to the passengers needs.
On a voyage in 1864 supplies included the following live animals, 1 cow, 3 bullocks, 150 sheep, 30 pigs, 500 chickens, 400 ducks, 100 geese and 50 turkeys not to mention all the hay and grain to feed the animals to keep them in prime condition for the voyage.
If you scroll down a couple of posts and you will see a picture of the ship’s elegant dining room and find a further comment about the ship.
Photo: M. Muir SS. Great Britain at Bristol