Why was the Great Eastern a commercial flop


Tarn Stephanos

The Great Eastern was perhaps the safest liner of the 19th century, and probrolly should have been labled unsinkable. I believe even Jules Verne made mention of the five funneled Great Eastern in "20,000 Legues Under the Sea".

As I understand it, the Great Eastern was a bit of a financial lemon. Anyone know why?


Tarn Stephanos

John Meeks


Don't have any 'Brunel' sources available at the time of writing, so I'm working from memory, but -

Brunel was pushing the envelope a little with the size of Great Eastern and exacerbated his problems by picking a slightly less than ideal spot on which to build her, a mudflat on the Thames. Too flat! She couldn't or wouldn't launch (sideways, by the way!) by gravity alone and I believe the best part of a year or so was spent jacking the old girl into the river. This incurred the design and construction of a battery of humungous hydraulic jacks, at least one of which exploded with fatal results during the course of the operation.

You didn't do that, of course, for 'a dollar-ninety nine'! An awful lot of backers exited the scene in droves and a dumper load of credibility was lost.

The ship sadly started its life deep in a financial hole and its designer was regarded, by some, as a laughing stock. Further problems continued during fitting out, and I believe she suffered a boiler explosion during her trials. By the time she was ready for passenger service it was almost impossible to visualize her making a decent return.

I believe she actually spent some time as a floating exhibition hall in an attempt to keep creditors away!

There was actually a rumour that the ship was 'cursed' - it being claimed that two skeletons of long dead workmen were found sealed between the double hulls! I wouldn't make any claims of the authenticity of that one, though!

Curiously, she was converted for use as a cable layer in her old age and did sterling service pioneering Trans-Atlantic cable installation.

Not much, off the top of my head, but maybe something to start with.


John M

Colleen Collier

In a book I once read, it was stated that the Great Eastern was simply "a luxery liner whose time had not yet come". Launched in 1858, 693 feet long, it took 40 years to be surpassed in size. (Amazing!)
Michael H. Standart

Michael H. Standart

Another part of the problem was that the Great Eastern never saw a day of service in the Austrailian immigrant trade for which she was intended. Had she done so, it's conceivable that she could have turned a profit for her owners.

As it was, on the Atlantic run, her capacity represented vastly more supply then there was demand. Empty berths don't make money, and she sailed with a lot of them.

Michael H. Standart
Dave Gittins

Dave Gittins

Another reason for her failure was the inefficiency of her engines, paddle wheels and propeller. Every ton of coal you carry is a ton of cargo you don't carry. The hull was way ahead of the rest of her.