1860 - 1888
1819, the very first Atlantic crossing was made with a ship powered by
steam. Of course, the 320-tonner Savannah with her 110 feet (34
m) wasnít entirely driven by steam. As often as the crew could, they would
use the sails. But these early steamers werenít seen as passenger ships.
Being a passenger on a ship sailing such a vast distance up until then
was neither common, nor pleasant. The ships were designed for cargo so
there were not much space left for passengers. But a few decades later,
the great emigration from Europe to America required better accommodations
for paying passengers. Now it wasnít unusual that the ships earned more
money on the passengers than on the cargo.
|The Great Eastern
crossing with steam as the only power-resource was accomplished in 1837
by the paddle steamer Sirius. This showed that a new era was about to
begin in shipping history.
fascinated the English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He started to
work on a project that would end up in the revolutionary 3,270-tonner Great
Britain. Her hull was all iron and she had a strength of one thousand
horsepowers in her four cylinder engines. Her hull was divided into several
watertight compartments with strong bulkheads to restrain possible pressure
of water. Her tonnage combined with her length of 289 feet (87 m) made
her the largest ship in the world.
being aboard her wasnít actually as being inside a hotel, and that was
the feeling that shipbuilders of the time wanted to create. Brunel wasnít
satisfied either, and started to work on what was going to be the most
misplaced ocean liner in history.
7, 1857 an attempt to launch the 19,000-tonner Great Eastern was
made (still she was called the Leviathan). Being six times larger
than any ship ever built; she had to be launched sideways. But the Great
Eastern only wanted to move some three feet and then she stopped and
refused to go any further. Almost three months went until she was pushed
into the sea, but on January 30, 1858 the colossus was at last afloat.
The long launch had pushed the price high above the expected, and there
was no money to continue the
work on Great Eastern. She laid about a year in the same place without
anyone doing anything to finish her.
|A rare picture of Great
Eastern's interiors, photographed by William Notman.
why the Great Eastern was so extremely large was that she was built
for the run from Europe to Australia. Earlier steamers had to refuel in
almost every harbour they passed. The Great Eastern was designed
to make the entire trip without refuelling until she reached Calcutta.
Also, it wasnít a coincidence that Great Eastern had the length
she had (689 feet, 211 m). A problem that had haunted captains and passengers
throughout the times of seafaring was that a ship 'rolled' because of the
great waves hitting the hull. When the Great Eastern was constructed
it was made sure that she was longer than any wave ever measured. Even
though this precaution was taken the Great Eastern would become
famous for her vomit-causing rolling.
the time the Great Eastern laid undisturbed, her maker, Brunel had
given up the thoughts about her going to Australia in favour of the transatlantic
run. Great Eastern was bought by the Great Ship Company and they
completed her in August 1859. Brunel missed her sea trials, perhaps luckily
for him because on September 9, a terrible explosion caused by a stuffed
ventilator tore the upper deck up, and the foremost funnel was launched
like a rocket. Scalded men came from the shipís inside, one of them throwing
himself over the side and was mangled to death by the blade wheels. Brunel
who had received a stroke when missing Great Easternís sea trials,
received another one when he heard about the news, and died on September
|The Great Eastern
arrives in New York at the end of her maiden voyage.
Easternís maiden voyage was on June 17, 1860, and her goal was New
York, America. When arriving, she received a fourteen cannon salute. She
was the first merchant ship to ever receive such an honour. Unfortunately,
she had sailed almost empty, and to make just some more money she was opened
up for the public, and she had over 150,000 people visiting her in July.
Two two-day cruises were organised for ten dollars per person. The first
one attracted over 2,000 people, and since no one had expected such an interest, only
200 berths had been made ready, food was inadequate for the extra 1,800
persons and the rest of the ship was dirty. As a result from that, the
second cruise only attracted approximately one hundred people. These figures
are extremely small when you know that the Great Eastern had room
for over 4,000 passengers. (That figure didnít even the Queen Mary
from 1936 exceed, with a tonnage of 81,000.)
Eastern continued to be haunted with bad luck, and she never carried
a full complement of passengers. Her third voyage she made in eight and
a quarter of a day, a record for her, but not enough to receive the Blue
Riband, though. On her fourth voyage over the Atlantic, a storm caught
up with her and she broke her rudder and was totally left without any help
in the storm. It lasted for three days and during that time had the ship
been thrown back and forth at 45º angles. After an emergency rudder
had replaced the broken one, the Great Eastern slowly approached
Cork, Ireland, where the repairs took eight months and cost 60,000 pounds.
1862, the Great Eastern sailed with her record of paying passengers;
1,500. But the bad luck wasnít far away. When she crossed an uncharted
area, she tore up a gash in her bottom measuring 75 feet long and 4 feet
wide. She stayed afloat thanks to her double bottom. The Great Eastern
continued to lose money, and she was considered too uneconomical by her
owners, and eventually she was taken out
|The Great Eastern
the second transatlantic cable was to be laid out (the first had broken
only after three weeks, and now a more trustworthy and solid one was required),
and no ship in the world was big enough to carry this enormous cable. No
ship but the Great Eastern. She was chartered by the Atlantic Telegraph
Company. Large areas of her luxurious interior were taken out to accommodate
the big cable. She started her mission from Ireland, but after half the
way, the cable broke and was lost in 6,000 feet of water. But shame on
those who give up. The next year the Great Eastern tried again,
and this time ended up in success. On her way back, the Great Eastern
found and picked up the previous cable, and when she returned she had accomplished
her mission and was still in possession of an excellent cable. After this
she was turned into a passenger vessel again, but that proved a failure.
In 1869 the French government chartered her to lay another transatlantic
cable. This was probably the only thing she was allowed to do, because
as a cable laying ship she was a success. But in 1874 a ship specially
designed to handle cable laying was launched; the Faraday. The Great
Eastern was outdated. For twelve years she lay rusting in Milford Haven,
only to be bought by Edward de Mattos in 1885 for only 26,000 pounds. He
used her as a floating advertising board. In 1888 she was sold to a scrapping
firm for 16,000 pounds. When taking her apart, a skeleton was discovered
inside her double bottom. He was one of the workers that had built the
ship in the 1850s. Was it he that had cursed the Great Eastern
when he realised that no one could hear him or let him out? Was it he that
had brought all misery to the Great Eastern?
'Colossus' ended her days as a floating advertisment board.
|The Great Eastern - Specifications:
||689 feet (211 m)
||117.9 feet (36 m)
||30.1 feet (9.2 m)
||18,915 gross tons
||6,500 square yards of
sail, one propeller and two paddle wheels.