10 Facts About Brunel's SS Great Britain You Need to Know

© Amy-Lee Haynes
Today is 176 years since the launch of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's SS Great Britain. Brunel was an innovator and one of the best engineers of the 19th century. His work includes, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Great Western Railway, the Great Western and Great Eastern. However, today we are going to focus on the SS Great Britain. The ship has been referred to as one of the most important historic ships in the world so here's 10 awesome facts.
© Amy-Lee Haynes

1. She Was the First. The SS Great Britain was the first propeller driven passenger ship to be made out of iron. People were very sceptical about this as ships were traditionally made from wood and many presumed that the ship would sink as iron is a heavy material. Brunel also decided against using conventional paddles and gave the ship a screw propeller instead as it was more efficient.

2. She Couldn't Fit Through the Locks! In 1844, the year after the ship's launch, the SS Great Britain was ready to leave her Bristol home. However, when attempting to leave, the ship got stuck in the Cumberland Basin locks which had to then be widened to allow her to pass through.
“Far into the night by the light of blazing tar barrels, an army of workmen tore up coping stones and removed a road bridge to widen the locks – Brunel was there to urge them on – and she just got through…” - Via Falklands Museum
Liverpool to Melbourne Poster © Brunel's SS Great Britain

3. "We're Going to Oz!" In 1852 Gibbs, Bright & Co. bought the ship in order to carry passengers emigrating to Australia. The ship was refitted with a new engine, an additional funnel and a replacement rudder and propeller. An additional deck was even built to increase the capacity to 700 passengers.

4. It Wasn't Completely Boring. Spending weeks on end on a ship with not much entertainment can sound quite dull but the passengers kept themselves entertained. One lady named Susan Mary Crompton was a keen entertainment organiser who often hosted concerts and organised games of backgammon. She also loved to 'people watch' and she detailed her observations in her diary.
“We are beginning to see the rats, one came into my cabin the other night as I was going to bed, I jumped onto the berth and waited till Joe came down, then he and one of the stewards had a grand rat hunt but the gentleman escaped through a hole. Mrs Fenwick was wakened by one biting her toe nails and Jane Cumming has had a new stocking eaten by another.” 24 June 1866 via SS Great Britain
© Amy-Lee Haynes

5. It Carried Live Animals. Refrigerators were not yet around in the Victorian era so the ship carried live animals such as chickens, pigs and cows to provide a constant fresh supply of meat, eggs and milk for first class passengers.

6. The Toilets Weren't the Nicest. First and Second Class passengers had access to flushing toilets but apparently the passengers often forgot to flush. The toilets were also said to be foul, particularly in the Summer when there were concerns that they might foster disease in the warm weather.

7. Conditions Were Not Great For the Poor. For those travelling in third class, also known as steerage, conditions were not the nicest. The diaries of 17 year old Allan Gilmour have told us a lot about the conditions of such passengers, including about the cramped sleeping arrangements. Steerage passengers also had very basic food whilst those in First Class had 30 course meals, more spacious and decadent living areas.

 8. She Was Involved in the Crimean War. During the Crimean War (1854-56) the SS Great Britain was requisitioned to carry troops to the Crimea under the name of HMS Steam Transport Great Britain. The ship had the capacity to carry 1650 troops and 30 horses. The horses were kept in slings during the voyages and were also given vinegar to help with sea sickness. Horses cannot vomit so often got ill and even died so these measures were taken to help prevent this.
© Amy-Lee Haynes

 9. She Carried Cargo. Between 1882 - 1886 was used as a cargo ship to carry exports between England and the West Coast of America. In 1886, the ship faced severe storms leaving her badly damaged. Her owners deemed the cost of repair to be too expensive and they sold her to the Falkland Islands Co.who used her as a storage facility until the 1930s.

10. She was Brought Home to Bristol! In 1969, a naval architect named Ewan Corlett organised a rescue mission to bring the SS Great Britain back from the Falkland Islands to her home in Bristol. The battered vessel was loaded onto a pontoon and sailed 8000 miles across the globe. She arrived in Avonmouth where she was patched up and tugged back up the River Avon. She finally arrived back to the original dockyard on 19th July 1970, 127 years after her launch. This is also where she sits today and you can visit her in her original site!

Do you know any interesting facts about the SS Great Britain? Share them in the comments below!


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