SS Great Western

From Academic Kids

The steamship SS Great Western (named for the Great Western Railway Company) was the first steamship purposely built for the Atlantic crossing. It was an iron-strapped wooden side-wheel paddle steamer (with auxiliary sails), designed by the great railroad engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose idea it was that steam would replace sail power on the regularly-scheduled trans-Atlantic "packet boat" services, which had been operating under sail since 1818. He convinced the directors of the Great Western Railway.

Though the Great Western's huge boilers took up almost half its interior, the ship was designed to carry 148 passengers, with a main passenger saloon 75 feet long by 34 feet at its widest.

Twenty-four first-class passengers paid 35 guineas each for the maiden trip. Adding to the value of the trip, on its maiden run, the Great Western raced the SS Sirius to New York, though the Sirius had left Cork, Ireland days earlier, on April 4. The Great Western left Bristol, England, on April 8, 1838.

The rival British and American Steam Navigation Company expected to open the first steam-powered regularly-scheduled "packet" trans-Atlantic service with their SS British Queen. But with their ship still at the shipyard, it became clear at the opening of the season that the Great Western, which had been launched in Bristol in April 1837 and was being fitted out with its machinery in London, was going to beat them to it. So they chartered the Sirius, which was a cross-Channel steamship.

Though the Sirius beat the Great Western to New York, arriving on April 22 with forty passengers, they had to burn the cabin furniture, spare yards and one mast, to do it, inspiring the similar sequence in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days (1872). The Great Western arrived the following day, with 200 tons of coal still aboard, and after only 15 days at sea.

The Great Western served in the trans-Atlantic run until 1846. Later, after serving as a troopship in the Crimean War, she was broken up in a salvage yard on the lower reaches of the Thames in 1856.


External links

nl:SS Great Western

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