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The Great Eastern as a passenger liner

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and steamships
Design of the 'Great Eastern'
Building the 'Great Eastern'
Launch and sea trials of the 'Great Eastern'
Maiden voyage of the 'Great Eastern'
Voyages across the storm-lashed Atlantic
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Isambard Kingdom Brunel and steamships

The 'Great Eastern'

The Cable Ship.
View full size imageThe Great Eastern in a heavy sea. © NMM
The Great Eastern was a huge steamship designed by the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. At the time of her launch in 1858 she was the largest ship in the world.

Although the design of the Great Eastern was brilliant, in some ways the story of the ship is a sad one. Brunel's mighty vessel was considered a commercial failure as a passenger ship. After a brief period as a cable-laying ship she ended her career as a floating billboard before being scrapped in 1888.

The 'Great Western'

Isambard Kingdom Brunel at Millwall during the Building of the Great Eastern.
View full size imageBrunel at Millwall during the building of the Great Eastern. © NMM
Before Brunel designed the Great Eastern he had built two other steamships that revolutionized shipbuilding with their speed, power, size and construction.

His first attempt was the Great Western (1838), a wooden paddle steamer that was the first steamship to make regular crossings of the Atlantic. The first trip to New York took just 15 days. This was a great success since a one-way trip on a ship with sails would have taken more than a month.

The 'Great Britain'

SS Great Britain leaving Blackwall.
View full size imageBrunel's SS Great Britain leaving Blackwall. © NMM
In 1843 Brunel followed up the Great Western with the world's first large iron steamship, the Great Britain. The initial design was for a paddle-driven ship, but Brunel gave up on that idea when he saw one of the first propeller-driven ships arrive in Britain.

The Great Britain therefeore became the first screw-driven iron ship to cross the Atlantic. Weighing nearly 1930 tons when it was launched, the Great Britain was the largest ship afloat. The Great Eastern was the third of Brunel's huge shipbuilding projects.

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Isambard Kingdom Brunel and steamships
Design of the 'Great Eastern'
Building the 'Great Eastern'
Launch and sea trials of the 'Great Eastern'
Maiden voyage of the 'Great Eastern'
Voyages across the storm-lashed Atlantic
*
Send this story to a friend Send this story to a friend
Printer-friendly version Printer-friendly version
View this story in pictures View this story in pictures

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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory Greenwich New Opportunities Fund  
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