During my first week at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, I was given the opportunity to visit the ss Great Britain in Bristol. On my journey I saw some of the iconic landmarks of Bristol including the Clifton Suspension Bridge http://www.cliftonbridge.org.uk/ which was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1831, the old the Cabot Tower (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabot_Tower,_Bristol ) which is a 105ft tower built in 1897 to commemorate John Cabot’s well-known voyage from Bristol and the continent of North America four hundred years earlier. There was also the St Mary Redcliffe Church http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mary_Redcliffe located in Central Bristol.
The SS Great Britain is a Victorian ship and one of the many great creations of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It is located in the Great Western Dockyard in Bristol. The ship was launched in 1843, and was called ”the greatest experiment since the Creation”.
What makes the SS Great Britain great?
- The vast iron hull made the ship the biggest, strongest ship ever built at that time.
- Brunel used the very latest invention: a steam powered propeller instead of a wooden one.
- She had a 1,000 horse-power engine, and could carry enough fuel to power her to America.
- By using these 3 important elements, Brunel created a ship that changed history.
In part one of my tours I was shown the ‘Dry Dock’ this is a narrow basin or vessel that can be flooded to allow a load to be floated in, then drained to allow that load to come to rest on a dry platform. The Dry Dock is where the SS Great Britain is now positioned. I was guided under the glass sea where I explored the ship’s vast hull. I was able to see how the ship’s hull is preserved and learnt that there is a humid air extractor; used to ensure the ship is kept in good condition.
As moisture can cause corrosion to the ships iron hull, the Humid Air Extractor takes in water that is contained in the air around us. The humidity in Bristol’s air varies depending on the weather, but it is often more than 80%. When the air reaches 100% humidity it starts raining. There is a cloud of air containing 20% humidity that surrounds the hull to protect it.
In the second part of my tour, I moved onto the Weather deck where I stepped back in time to explore how passengers would have been accommodated on the ship. The tour guide provided details of how the first class passengers would be located near the more ‘pleasant’ half of the ship and the steerage passengers (known as third class) would have been sat in the less pleasant half of the ship. I learnt that travelling in steerage was not bad, but as long as you got along with your fellow passengers! Also there is a white line drawn across the deck; this revealed how passengers from different classes were kept separate.
I was surprised to learn that animals in the mid-19th Century would be carried on board: the ship was at sea for 60 days and there would have been no opportunity to buy food supplies during the voyage. I discovered that one passenger had listed the number of animals on board on one such journey, detailing: one cow, three bullocks, 150 sheep, 30 pigs, 500 chickens, 400 ducks, 100 geese and 50 turkeys.
Following from the Weather deck, I went to the Promenade deck, where I viewed the rooms that passengers would have stayed in during voyages. The ship had a Surgery room which was used for when a passenger or a crew member was injured. This part of the ship was visually exciting to see, as it gave me an impression of the way health and safety was considered in the Victorian times.
In the final part of my visit I went into the Brunel Institute & David MacGregor Library which is one of the world’s most important maritime archives. I was fortunate to get up close and personal to precious documents and rare personal objects which belonged to Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
My tour on SS Great Britain was incredibly insightful and enabled me to recognise the importance of changes in technology in Maritime history, which is why SS Great Britain holds such a historical significance.
Here are some pictures from my visit to ss Great Britain.
Humid Air Extractor
The Ships Iron Hull is more than 160 years old.
The surface of the iron hull has flaked away and has deteriorated that in some places there are holes in the plates, this is the result of corrosion which has been caused by chlorides trapped in the molecular structure of the wrought iron plates (as explained in the guidebook).
Brunel’s Propeller – This is a replica of the one used in ss Great Britain. The first Propeller was 15’6’’ (4.7) in diameter, weighed 3.9 tonnes and drove the ship up to 12 knots. Brunel tested several propeller designs to find which was the most efficient.
Dining Saloon in the Promenade deck was a popular area for socialising in between mealtimes. There were concerts, amateur theatrical performances, charades and other entertainment, as explained in the Guidebook.
Model of ss Great Britain 1:48 scale, built in
1977-1981. This model is on display in the David MacGregor Library.