Pay please! Steam giant with 18915 gross register tons – the Great Eastern
The golden age of steam navigation began in 1858 with the British “Great Eastern” by the iron designer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The fastest ship of its time crossed the Atlantic in the record time of 11 days and was the largest ship in the world for 30 years. Its construction, derived from bridge construction, with a double hull and tightly closing bulkheads made it unsinkable.
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It changed communication in the world, because thanks to its enormous loading capacity, the first 5500-kilometer transatlantic cable could be laid. Nevertheless, the ancestor of all ocean giants went down in seafaring history as an unfortunate ship.
Even the start was not particularly happy. 165 years ago today, the giant ship “Great Eastern” was only successfully launched on the third attempt. The day before, the colossus had been dragged to the river with winches and chains in two and a half months of toil, but just missed the high water required for the splashdown.
Luckily the launch failed
The launch failed even more spectacularly on November 3, 1857, when the pegs were removed: the ship moved only 120 centimeters, then the iron chains tore and killed two workers. Several thousand people who wanted to follow the events on the other bank of the Thames from specially erected stands and had paid admission to do so survived. According to today’s calculations, the sideways launch of the 18,915 gross register tons ship would have generated three tidal waves 10 meters high and shattered the grandstands into kindling. According to the legend, the christening of the ship had already gone slightly unsuccessfully. A water bottle was used instead of a champagne bottle.
Great Eastern Launched in 1858. A tricky launch.
After the “Great Western” and “Great Britain”, the “Great Eastern” was the third ship project by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the leading iron designer of his time. He had constructed the Hungerford Chain Bridge and the bridges and tunnels of the Great Western Railroad from Bristol to London. While the “Great Western” was still a paddle steamer with a wooden hull for the shuttle service to America, the hull of the “Great Britain” was made of iron plates. The ship was the first ocean liner to be powered by a propeller. It can still be visited today as a museum ship.
The “Great Eastern” was to surpass all of that. It was designed to be able to transport 4,000 passengers to and from Ceylon (35,000 kilometers, 22,000 nautical miles) in one trip without having to pick up coal on the way. Powered by extremely cheap Welsh coal, the ship would seize all trade with India and Australia, Brunel noted in his ideas notebook.
Steam giant held together by 3 million rivets
Based on this condition, in 1851 he designed a ship that could bunker 12,000 tons of coal. Together with the shipbuilder John Scott Russell, the double hull was assembled from 30,000 hydraulically preformed and numbered iron plates with 3 million rivets. 2000 workers were needed for this. The engine system of the two paddle wheels (diameter 18 meters) delivered 3411 hp, that of the stern propeller 4886 hp. With six masts named after the days of the week, the ship with 5900 square meters of sail area should even be able to be sailed when the steam boiler needs to be cleaned.
In the end, the colossus was 211 meters long and 25 meters wide. It had a freeboard height of 10 meters and a draft of 8 meters — and thus did not fit into any Asian port. The construction of the “Great Eastern” cost 750,000 pounds, which would be around 100 million euros today. By the way, the month-long towing from the transverse slipway into the water cost another 100,000 pounds.
Great Eastern in a contemporary painting.
The makers spared no expense in the subsequent interior fittings of the ship. The “Great Western” was intended to transport well-heeled people in first class (300 people) and second class (2000 to 3500 people depending on the configuration), there were no third class decks for emigrants like on other ships. Teak, silk, velvet and marble were used, the cabins had gas lighting, hot and cold running water and a bathtub.
Stroke on the test drive
When the ship was about to leave for the first sea trials on September 6, 1858, a broken man came on board, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He suffered a stroke when he was supposed to stand in front of the main mast for a photograph, from which he never recovered. Brunel died at just 53 years old.
The sea trials showed that the “Great Eastern” could reach a speed of 14.5 nautical miles per hour and was therefore very fast. On the test drive, however, the next accident happened with 6 dead and 15 seriously injured stokers when the foremost of the five chimneys and the boiler exploded.
About 1859 the ship was being repaired in the roadstead off Holyhead when a heavy storm snapped the anchor chains. The captain and crew battled the storm (and proved the Great Eastern’s seaworthiness), but the large saloons and many luxury cabins were destroyed. It was time to repair again. 300 first-class passengers boarded the maiden voyage to North America, but many of them abandoned the ship before departure due to numerous problems.
Jules Verne was enthusiastic about the ship
The ship finally set sail on June 17, 1860 with 35 passengers and a crew of 418. The most important passenger was Jules Verne, who was enthusiastic about the “floating city”. “You can hardly call this steamer a ship anymore; it is more like a floating city, a piece of county that detaches itself from English land and soil, only to grow together with the American mainland after a voyage across the sea.” In New York, after 11 days (a record), the ship was greeted with great acclaim, but soon there was outrage when a dollar entrance fee was charged for the inspection. A subsequent two-day cruise failed completely before the journey home with 100 passengers and a new record (9 days and four hours) was started.
The Great Eastern waits on the beach to be scrapped. She was hauled there for this purpose.
The second trip to the USA was scheduled for 1861 and went without incident, but it was also a financial fiasco because almost nobody wanted to travel to the civil war that had broken out between the northern and southern states.
On the third voyage, which began on September 10, 1861, a hurricane smashed the ship’s lounges and paddle wheels, and the rudder was also badly damaged. The “Great Eastern” could no longer be steered, which caused the cargo to slip. Big barrels of fish oil and Worcestershire sauce shattered. The stokers mutinied in the disgusting stench and plundered the alcohol stores.
Rudder repaired by resourceful engineer
The few passengers traveling with them had to form an armed on-board police force and entrench themselves. The whole thing did not end in fiasco, because an engineer who was traveling with him found a way to tame the rudder after 72 hours using anchor chains. He demanded a reward of the equivalent of one million euros from the corporation, which now owned Great Eastern, but was only awarded a third after a trial.
After repairs costing the equivalent of 5 million euros, the ship was able to return to Europe. On the next voyage, during which the ship was used almost exclusively as a cargo ship, the low-lying ship was cut open in two places by a rock seven meters under water, now known as the “Great Eastern Rock” as it entered New York. is known. Thanks to the double hull constructed by Brunel, the ship was able to move on – unlike the Titanic.
However, there was no dry dock far and wide in the USA for the necessary repairs of the colossus. The American engineers Edward and Henry Renwick constructed a kind of diving bell, with which repairs could be carried out under water for the first time. The repairs took 16 weeks and brought the corporation to the brink of ruin. The “Great Eastern” was auctioned off.
Jules Verne, the greatest fan of the “Great Eastern”, wrote: “The colossal transport ship was thus put out of course and found itself spurned by the seafarers and condemned to rest. Then, when the attempts to lay the transatlantic cable had failed, a Failure, due in large part to the inadequacy of the vessels used, the engineers first thought of the Great Eastern, which alone was of the dimensions required to store 3400 kilometers of metal wire weighing 4500 tons, and only it could, thanks his indifference to the dangers of the sea, unroll and sink this enormous Greling. In order to stow the cable in the ship’s hold, however, special devices were required, and so two of the existing six steam boilers and one of the three chimneys were blown.”
Superlative telegraph cable laid
The cable weighed 5,000 tons and could only fit in a ship the size of the Great Eastern. On July 13, 1866 the ship with the cable ran out, on July 27 the relay station Newfoundland was reached and on the 28th Queen Victoria and US President James Buchanan telegraphed each other via this line. “Two weeks to two minutes” was the headline in the newspapers.
After this late peak of her career, the life of the “Great Eastern” was modest. Another conversion to a luxury liner — the ship was supposed to transport wealthy Americans to and from the world exhibition in Paris — turned into a fiasco, because only 191 passengers booked the trip instead of the expected 1000. After that, it again laid cables for James Reuter’s intelligence service empire, was used as a coal bunker and finally loaned out for advertising purposes.
In 1888 she was sold for the last time and then scrapped. For this, a special scrapping ball had to be developed that could burst the rivets. The work was not completed until September 30, 1891 after two and a half years. The “Great Eastern” came 50 years too soon.
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