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The 'Great Eastern' as a cable laying ship

Preparing the cable and ship
Laying the Atlantic telegraph cable
Impact of the trans-atlantic telegraph cable
Demise of the 'Great Eastern'
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Demise of the Great Eastern

Cable laying in the Indian Ocean

Crew along with a dog aboard the Great Eastern.
View full size imageCrew members and their dog aboard the Great Eastern. © NMM
At the end of November 1869 the Great Eastern left England to take part in the laying of a submarine telegraph cable between Bombay and Suez, via Aden.

She arrived in Bombay at the beginning of February 1870. Cable laying started on 4 February with the Great Eastern laying almost 3700 km (2300 miles) of cable to complete the leg to Aden.

The Great Eastern then laid a further 600 km (370 miles) from Aden before the Hibernia took over. At the same time the Chiltern started laying the cable from Suez.


Great Eastern at Milford
View full size imageThe Great Eastern at Milford Haven, c. 1884. © NMM
But by 1872 the Great Eastern had been made obsolete by purpose-built cable-laying ships. She spent the next 12 years laid up at Milford Haven on the south-west coast of Wales.

In this image she dwarfs the surrounding ships and buildings in the port.

Floating billboard

The Final Indignity.
View full size imageThe Great Eastern as a giant advertising hoarding in Liverpool, c. 1885. © NMM
Eventually, in 1885, the unwanted hulk was hired by Lewis's department store in Liverpool. The store wanted to use her as a music hall, fun fair and a giant advertising billboard.

The tired old screw engines were coaxed into powering the ship to the River Mersey, where it was opened to the public at a shilling (5 pence) a head.

The end of the 'Big Ship'.
View full size imageThe hulk of the Great Eastern on the River Mersey, c. 1888. © NMM

After exhibition trips to Dublin and the River Clyde, which did not make much money at all, the Great Eastern returned to the River Mersey in 1888.

Breaking up

The long process of breaking her up by hand was begun there. The Great Eastern was built so strongly that it took 200 men two years to take her to pieces, consuming a total of 3.5 million man-hours.

The last of the Great Eastern at New Ferry on the Mersey
View full size imageThe Great Eastern was broken up on Merseyside. © NMM
During her unlucky career the Great Eastern had suffered explosion, collision, storm and fatal accident. She had been a financial disaster as a passenger ship and some people even believed she was haunted!

The Great Eastern was designed by the 19th century's greatest engineering genius, and was far ahead of her time. But her career was, in the final analysis, a failure.  

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