BY MOUSETOUCH YOU CAN LOAD THE BIG SHIP

"SS GREAT EASTERN "

THE CALAMITOUS TITAN

Drawing by John Scott Russell

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November 3rd, 1857: Several thousand people were killed or injured in Millwall at the River Thames. Huge flood waves swept away the grandstands crowded with visitors, attending the launching procedures of the world greatest ship SS Leviathan.

SS Great Eastern: Birdsview

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Fortunately news of this kind never shocked Great Britain and the world, but a disaster like this was only prevented by the fact, that the ship only moved a few inches, at the first attempt to launch the huge body of iron, crosswise into the water. As it was calculated later, a successful launch would have caused huge flood-waves, sweeping away the grandstands, which were crowded with people attending the procedure of launching , as soon the ship hit the water of the River Thames, near Millwall.

This painting shows SS Great Eastern's first appearance, arround 1861.

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SS Leviathan, the original -and launching name of the ship, was planned and constructed for the British -Australien trade, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a brilliant genius in shipbuilding and engineering, who also constructed the somewhat more famous steamers PS Great Western and SS Great Britain. His intention was, to create a ship capable to sail the whole distance without taking cole on the way. Therefore in 1852, he designed a "GIGANT " of, up to this date, unknown size. Fitted with 5 funnels ( the only one ever), six sailing masts and 2 steam launches ( predecessors of modern tenders), the ship's outside appearance was revolutionary. She also featured a double bottom, double hull (distance: 2.83ft), twelve watertight compartments, and the ultimate luxury of the time: Gas illumination. These all were "first times" in shipbuilding. The meassures in particular were: 18 915 grt, length: 689 feet, width: 84.2 feet: draf:t: 25,9 feet. She was fitted with two oszillating Steam engines (a side lever engine for the paddles and on other for the screw).The engine room had ten boilers, fed by 100 furnaces.The "monstrous" engine for the two side- paddels produced : 3400 hp, and the one for the single screw, 4900 hp. Her passenger capacity was: 596 in cabins and 2400 steerage. The max. speed was 13.5 knots.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel in front of the monstrous chains , which should have pulled the SS Great Eastern into the water at the first attempt to launch the ship. ( Nov. 3rd 1857)

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The size of the SS Great Eastern was 5 times, of the biggest ships of her time, and it took another 50 years, before the ship's size was surpassed, in 1899 by SS Oceanic, in length and in 1901 by SS Celtic in tonnage. In the late 1840 and 50's, ships were still build in rather small dimensions, and not much bigger than approximately 4000grt. Larger ships couldn't be accomplished, because shipbuilders, still worked after the engineering principles of wooden - ship building. Brunel, who used to be an extremly successful engineer of iron bridges and railways in Great Britain, first transfered the principles of iron bridge constructions, into shipbuilding. To put it in other words, he had the vision of his Britannia Railway bridge, and saw no reason, why it should't be possible to construct a ship with an equal strength, stabillity and length, based on the knowledge and expierience he gained in the last 20 years of combinated land- and seaside engineering. He truly was the first engineer who proved the possibility to construct ships of an allmost unlimited size. A special problem, however, proved to be the propulsion system. The output of steamengines in the 1840s and 50s, were sufficient only for ships much smaller in size, than the Great Eastern actually was. Therefore, Brunel decided to stay "on the safe side" and used all three possible propulsion systems, known at his time, because one only was by far not enough, to set a Gigant as the Great Eastern in motion. He used the propeller, or screw system and although this kind of propulsion was developped a view years ago in the mid 1830s, he already had collected some positive expieriences, from the SS Great Britain, the ship he designed before. Of course he used two huge side wheels, the standard system (58ft diameter), and as an auxiliary system, he installed 6 masts, providing space for 18 148 square feet of sails. The only problem was, that sails never could be used during the engines were active, because there was an extremely high risk for the sails to become inflamed by the hot ashes, moving out of the smokestacks.

Left: Starboard paddlewheel ----Right: Detail on the ship's monstrous engines for her paddles.

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Two month after the "near launching disaster", and after incredible exertions to move the gigant hull, inch by inch , in January 31st 1858, the ship, finally could be successfully launched at an exeptionally high tide into the water, but the high building and launching costs ruined the Eastern S. N. Co.and so she was sold to the Great Ship Co., finally renamed SS Great Eastern and fitted out for the transatlantic service from Southampton to New York. No more incidents occured up to her sea- trials in September 1859, as a boiler exploided, due to carelessness. When the news of this disaster, reached Mr. Brunel, he's got an heart attack on which he died a few days after. In June 1860 repairs were completed, and the ship finally made her maiden voyage to New York , with some 38!!!! passengers on board. Amongst them a young writer named Jules Verne, who later wrote the novel , "The floating city" according to his expieriences, of this voyage. Due to several disasters the big ship didn't proved to be very popular, and therefore the SS Great Eastern was sold after the liquidation of the company in 1863.

SS Great Eastern in the late 60s

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This was the eve of the most successful part in her live. In Sheerness she was rebuild and came into her own as a cable ship. After some more incidents, (of course), on one of these, she lost the cable in the Atlantic Ocean, the ship laid, between 1866 and 1874, the first transatlantic telgraph cables from Great Britain to the United States and one between Suez and Bombay. After the construction of more effective cable ships, Great Eastern 's cable laying career came to an end.

Left: SS Great Eastern as a cable ship , 1866- 1874 Right: D. Lewi's, floating exhibition 1886

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After a lay -up until 1886, she was chartered by D. Lewi's, who used her as a gigantic floating exhibition, and therefore moved her throughout the world. In 1887, her live, finally came to an end , when she was sold profitably !!!( first time in her live) to the scrappers in Birkenhead. Her live was exeptional, and so was her death. It took three years, to 1891 to dismantle the ship, and as a "last blow" a somewhat spooky but true incident occured as well: After the SS Great Eastern's double hull was almost dismantled, scrappers discovered two human skelletons, which belonged to workers, locked up by mistake, during the construction works in the 1850s.

Like a huge, stranded whale: SS Great Eastern , waiting for the scrappers in Birkenhead

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In the eyes of her creator, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the SS Great Eastern, which he always called his "big baby", was a floating centerpiece of British brilliance, extravagance and marvel. Whatever one may think, it is certain, that she and her creator were well ahead of their time, and the sheer existence of this "iron miracle " stimulated the immagination of thousands of engineers in the times to come and right up until today. The Super- and Megaliners of now, are the direct product of the never ending will of modern engineers to convert their vision into steel, and therefore;- reality.

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