Brunel's Last Launch


Oct 10, 2010
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If you get the chance to see the UK Channel 4 Time Team special: Brunel's last launch, please don't miss it. I personally would have preferred seeing more about the ship, but it does discuss the difficult transition from wooden to steel hulled ships, and paddle to screw ships. There was a good analysis of why the ship got stuck on the launch slip, and a fun simulation of the maneuverability of the ship without her screw (answer: not very).
The best part of the programme was a geophysics analysis of the place in Liverpool where the ship was broken up. Despite being very muddy, magnetometer readings hint that the keel plates for the Great Eastern's stern may still be down there.
 
Oct 10, 2010
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8PrBchiE4A
- you might need to view it behind a proxy server if you're watching it from outside the UK. However, it seems to be a legitimate YouTube video, and not a dodgy off-air recording. Just watch out for Phil Harding's wonderful Wiltshire accent, if might be off putting for our American friends ;)
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Despite being very muddy, magnetometer readings hint that the keel plates for the Great Eastern's stern may still be down there.<<

That would not surprise me in the least. Scrapyards aren't tidy places even today. Back in the 19th century, they would have been messy hell-holes which would make Alang and Chittigong look like a summer resort. I can see how some plates could go missing and how nobody would really give a toss about it one way or another.
 
Jun 13, 2006
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I saw it, as well as BBC's "Coast" last week and they both showed practically the same thing - beautifully preserved iron plates sitting a few inches under the mud. Time Team went one further by showing that at least all of her aft underside is still there under the mud. Now if we can just find a museum large enough to preserve it all...
 
Dec 29, 2006
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I thought they might have mentioned the Great Eastern's role in laying the first trans-Atlantic cable - a delicate task that meant that her paddle wheels came into their own. Apparently, they laid about 1,800 miles of cable and then dropped it onto the seabed, but somehow managed to find the loose end and haul it back up; in fact this happened several times. This was surely the Great Eastern's most famous exploit.
 
Oct 10, 2010
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Refresh my memory please: I think the show said that a supply of coal had been found in Australia, but why else didn't the Great Eastern travel the route down under?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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The short version is that the Great Eastern was just too big and as a consequence, way too uneconomical to support the existing trade at the time. The complicated propulsion plant couldn't have helped matters in this regard.

In a lot of respects, the ship was way ahead of her time but overall, she was too much, too soon, and ultimately, a money loser for her investors.
 
Oct 10, 2010
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But the market for Europe to Australia travel was a definite fact at that time, and the Great Eastern was the only ship that could do it non-stop. As the saying goes, "if you build it, they will come." The Great Eastern existed; the market existed; the fact that she lost money on the US run is irrelevant, as people travelling Down Under would have paid more. The question is; with the market in place, and a ship in service that could do it, there was never even at attempt to put her on the Europe to Oz route. Why?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>As the saying goes, "if you build it, they will come." <<

The problem is that they didn't come.

The market for which the Great Eastern was designed was for the Great Britain to Australia trade for which the ship's size and fuel capacity at least made sense. Unfortunately, the market just wasn't big enough and the North Atlantic immigrant trade was a long way away from the torrant it would become.
 
Jun 13, 2006
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Incredibly once Great Eastern was put into service on the north Atlantic she was a first class only ship. Had the idiots who owned her made her a three class ship she would have made a fortune.
 

Philip Hind

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Saw this last night... quite interesting. I will betray my considerable ignorance now! The presenter made a point about the sideways launch saying that the usual method was head-first. We are familiar with the stern-first launch but was head-first ever the norm?
 
Dec 29, 2006
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>>Incredibly once Great Eastern was put into service on the north Atlantic she was a first class only ship. Had the idiots who owned her made her a three class ship she would have made a fortune<<

But the "idiots who owned her" had run out of money after a series of misfortunes; L.T.C.Rolt claims, in his book "Isambard Kingdom Brunel" (1957) that the ship had, in effect, been sabotaged by ship-builder John Scott Russell, who had fallen out with Brunel in a big way (?)
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>We are familiar with the stern-first launch but was head-first ever the norm?<<

If it is, it's the first I've ever heard of it. Personally, I think it's a mistake on the part of the producers. Hardly a first for a lot of so-called "documentaries."
 
Oct 10, 2010
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If you can find the other nautical Time Teams, where they actually dive to the remains of ships like the Grace Dieu and the Colossus, then they are worth a look.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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I had a thought that perhaps, in the days of all-wooden ships, vessels might sometimes have been launched bow-first, but having looked through some 18th century prints of Devonport Dockyard, etc., they are all shown sitting on the slip ways stern-first.
 

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