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Port Cities: The working Thames - The 'Great Eastern' as a cable laying ship
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The 'Great Eastern' as a cable laying ship


Great Eastern as a cable ship.
View full size imageThe Great Eastern cable ship in 1869. © NMM

The Great Eastern was a giant steam ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59). When she was launched at Millwall in 1858 she was the largest ship in the world. Although the design of the Great Eastern was groundbreaking, Brunel's mighty vessel was considered a commercial failure as a passenger liner.

A piece of 19th-century telegraph cable.
View full size imageA piece of 19th-century telegraph cable. © NMM
After being laid up in 1864, the Great Eastern was sold for £25,000 (the equivalent of about £1.3 million today), a fraction of its original cost, to a Greenwich-based cable-laying company.

This next stage of her career was by far the most successful. From 1865 to 1872 she laid four telegraph cables under the Atlantic, and others to link Bombay and Aden.


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