SS Great Britain

From Academic Kids

The SS "Great Britain" in dry dock in Bristol, 2003.
The SS "Great Britain" in dry dock in Bristol, 2003.

The Steam Ship Great Britain (S.S. Great Britain) was the first ocean-going ship to have an iron hull and a screw propeller, and when launched in 1843 was the largest vessel afloat. She originally carried 120 first class passengers (26 of whom were in single cabins) 132 2nd class passengers, and 130 officers and crew but when an extra deck was added on it increased the number of passengers to 730.


The SS Great Britain was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Thomas Guppy, Christopher Claxton and William Patterson for the Great Western Steamship Company and built in a specially adapted dry dock at Bristol.

In November 1846, within a few short years of being launched, the ship went aground on the sands of Dundrum Bay, Ireland, and there was serious doubt as to whether she could be refloated. Brunel himself advised that if anyone could rescue the ship then the man to do it was the naval engineer James Bremner of Wick. Bremner was engaged and the Great Britain was refloated in August 1847.

Originally intended as an Atlantic steamer, she made most of her working voyages from the United Kingdom to Australia. She was also used as a troop ship during the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. In 1882 she was turned into a sailing ship to transport bulk coal, but after a fire on board in 1886 she was found on arrival at the Falkland Islands to be damaged beyond repair. She was sold to the Falkland Islands Company and used there as a storage hulk until the 1930s, when she was scuttled and abandoned.

Missing image
Remains of the mizzen mast, at Port Stanley

In 1970 she was refloated on a pontoon and towed back to Bristol, where she was returned to the (then-disused) dry dock in which she was built, for conservation as a museum ship. The salvage operation was made possible by a large donation from Sir Jack Hayward. The original intent was to restore her to her 1843 state; however, the philosophy of the project has changed in recent years, and conservation of all surviving pre-1970 material is now the aim. Over the years it was found that her hull was continuing to corrode in the humid atmosphere of the dock, so in early 2005 work began to install glass sheeting across the dry dock at the level of her water line, with a dehumidifier keeping the space underneath sufficiently dry to preserve the surviving material of the hull.


  • Length: 322 ft (98.15 m)
  • Beam (width): 50 ft 6 in (15.39 m)
  • Height (main deck to keel): 32 ft 6 in (9.91 m)
  • Weight unladen: 1930 long tons (2161 short tons, 1961 tonnes)
  • Displacement: 3018 long tons (3380 short tons, 3066 tonnes)

External links

nl:SS Great Britain


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