Sailing ship men considered
that the Great Britain's rig was too dumpy because the masts
were too low. Brunel had designed the ship so that the sails
could be handled by no more than 30 men. Back in Liverpool
the ship was dry-docked and a spare four bladed propeller
was fitted. At the same time alterations were made to the
masts and sails. The No.3 mast abaft the funnel was removed
and the wire rigging replaced by then then traditional hemp.
The No.4 mast was altered to take square sails and the 2nd
and 4th masts were fitted with top-gallants all, supposedly,
to improve the sailing performance.
On 22nd September,1846, the
Great Britain sailed from Liverpool on her fifth voyage with
180 passengers, the most that she had ever carried. Later
that night while passing the coast of County Down, Ireland,
she ran aground in Dundrum Bay. It was a squally night with
rain and Chicken Rock Light on the Isle of Man had not been
sighted and the ship ran too far before turning up the Irish
coast. There were no casualties and the passengers were embarked
next day but the Great Britain was stuck fast and holed. It
was nearly twelve months before the ship was towed back to
Liverpool at the end of August 1847. The cost of repairs were
estimated at £22,000 but the ship was under insured
and the company did not have the resources to cover the difference.
Consequently, the company was forced to sell its two famous
ships the Great Western and the Great Britain.
Gibbs, Bright & Company
of Liverpool were looking for a ship to carry gold prospectors
and emigrants to Australia and purchased the Great Britain.
Further alterations were made before she re-entered service.
A fourth mast was added with two being square rigged and the
other two fore and aft rigged. Two smaller funnels, installed
side by side, replaced the single funnel and a deck house
was fitted to increase the passenger capacity. The engines,
damaged when the ship ran aground, were replaced by twin-cylinder
oscillators which turned a three-bladed propeller which was
fitted with a clutch to allow it to freely rotate when the
ship was under sail.
Re-entering service the Great
Britain made one crossing to New York before, in 1852, departing
for Melbourne, Australia with 630 passengers. The length of
the voyage to Australia meant that the ship had to depend
a lot on sail to conserve fuel. But the new rig proved to
be unsatisfactory and there was still excessive drag of the
propeller. In an attempt to improve the ship's performance
she was, in 1853, virtually rebuilt. The twin funnels, which
may have interfered with sail handling, were replaced with
a single small funnel and a three-masted ship rig with a long
bowsprit provided the auxiliary sail power. A two-bladed propeller
was fitted and a lifting frame enabled it to be lifted clear
of the water when the ship was under sail.
A painting by Keith A. Griffin of the s.s. Great Britain in
(s.s. Great Britain Project)
Without any further alterations
the Great Britain made more than 30 voyages to Australia and
also carried troops to the Crimea and India. In 1855, when
Florence Nightingale required emergency hospitals to be sent
to the Crimea Brunel designed sectional buildings which were
transported in 23 ships within 10 months of the commencement
of the operation, with the Great Britain playing a major role.
The standard of living on board was far superior to that found
on the majority of other ships sailing at the time. The accommodation
was more lavish and the first-class menu listed a choice of
twelve dishes. On the long voyages passengers on sailing ships
were expected to help in the working of the ship which, in
many cases, was a welcomed break to the monotony. When she
was carrying troops the ship carried up to 1650 men and 30
In 1876, as she was beginning
to show her age, the Great Britain was taken out of service
and put up for sail. Antony Gibbs & Company bought her
in 1862, converted her to sail only and removed the engines,
deck housing and all of the passenger accommodation. The propeller
aperture was sealed, hatches were cut into the deck to facilitate
the loading of cargo and wooden cladding was fixed to the
hull between the high and low load lines. She had been modified
so that she could be loaded to 25 feet - 50 percent deeper
than Brunel's original design draught.
When the modifications were
completed she undertook two voyages to San Francisco carrying
coal on the outward passage and wheat on the return. Her third
voyage commenced at Penarth in South Wales on 6th February,
1886 and proved to be her last under her own power. As the
Great Britain was negotiating Cape Horn a hurricane was blowing
causing her cargo to shift. At the same time parts of her
masts were carried away and she was forced to put into the
Falkland Islands for repairs. A survey of the damage caused
by the hurricane revealed that repairs were not viable and,
consequently, she was condemned. From that time until 1933
she was used as a hulk for storing bales of wool.
The ship lay idle for
four years until, on 14th April, 1937, she was towed round
to Sparrow Cove, a few miles from Port Stanley, and scuttled.
Holes were punched into her bottom and she slowly settled
on the sea bed. For most ships this would been the end. Left
to the elements she would have eventually broken up and rusted
away. But the Great Britain was to live to see another day.