50th Anniversary of the SS Great Britain by John Greeves 50th anniversary of the return of the world’s first great ocean liner- SS Great Britain. Fifty years ago the spectacular return of Brunel’s SS Great Britain being towed up the River Avon and under the Clifton Suspension Bridge was greeted by thousands of spectators that lined the banks of the river to catch a glimpse of this famous hull before she was finally manoeuvred into the Great Western Dry Dock for the final time. The ship was launched on 19 July 1843 and was a technical marvel designed far ahead of its time, being the first ocean going ship built of iron and the first large vessel fitted with a screw propeller, a double bottom and water tight bulk heads. She is often recognised as the greatgreat grandmother for all modern ships.
In 1882, her propelling machinery was removed and she became a ‘Fully Rigged Sailing Vessel’ but unfortunately ran into a fierce storm off Cape Horn with a cargo of coal. Badly damaged she put into Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Her repair cost was considered uneconomical so she was purchased locally and used as a storage hulk in Port Stanley for many years. Later in 1936 the Great Britain was towed to Sparrow Cove by a Whale Catcher and small tug and she was allowed to sink in shallow water. This could have been the last we heard of the great ship, had it not been for the pioneering effort of Dr Ewan Corlett that involved salvage crews achieving a number of awe-inspiring ‘firsts.’ These included positioning the largest ship ever re-floated onto a pontoon then undertaking the longest ever salvage tow of this kind from the Falkland Islands to Bristol; an 8,000-mile journey taking 87 days which has never been beaten. Funding was given by the English philanthropist Sir Jack Hayward who gave £150,000 to fund the ship’s rescue and bring her back to Bristol. - 10 -