ss Great Britain

To round off the engineering themed day we went to have a look at Brunel’s ss Great Britain. First launched on July 19th, 1843 the Great Britain spent 90 years working in various roles, with various power configurations. The GB was the largest ship in the world for her first ten years, at almost 100 metres she was over 30 metres longer than any other ship at the time. The Great Britain was the first wrought-iron, ocean-going, ‘screw’ driven ship and she weighed a huge 1930 tons. She was designed to carry 252 first and second class passengers and 130 crew. Later an upper deck was built to allow 700 passengers.

The ss Great Britain led an interesting life which had a very inauspicious start. Following her first two unexceptional voyages to New York the GB was run aground off the coast of Ireland by a captain who had not updated his charts. Brunel was called upon, and managed to rescue the ship eventually, but she stayed on the Irish rocks for around 11 months.

She then spent her years working hard carrying passengers to Australia, cargo to America, troops to the Crimean war and eventually she was used as a floating coal store, with lots of other jobs in between.
She was eventually scuttled off the Falkland Islands in 1937. In 1970 the Great Britain was resurfaced, refloated and recovered back to Bristol to take up her current home on the Avon.

The following photo is a reproduction of the original Brunel propellor with six blades. It wasn’t very effective and after some attempts at modification it was replaced with a more familiar four blade prop soon after it launched. You can also see part of the innovative rudder. This photo was taken under the ‘sea’ at the dry dock in Bristol. The roof is really cool – it is glass and has water pumped over it to make it look like the sea. Under the glass there are massive dehumidifiers that dry the air to stop corrosion – it is pretty hot and dry down there.


The ornate details on the exterior of the ship have been meticulously restored and the ship looks very imposing at the edge of the river. It is interesting to see the start of the change to modern ship building techniques. The metal hull under the glass dock could be mistaken for a modern hull (if you ignored the large rusted areas!), but the ship is guilded with craftmanship that dates it to an age where form did not always follow function.



There is loads more information at the official website.