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Carte-de-visite featuring SS GREAT BRITAIN and Captain John Gray

Date: c 1870
Overall: 100 x 63 mm
Medium: Albumen print on card
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Carte-de-visite
Object No: 00045891

User Terms

    SS GREAT BRITAIN was a familiar sight on the England to Australia immigrant route transporting more than 16,000 immigrants between 1852 and 1876. In somewhat mysterious circumstances Captain John Gray disappeared from the ship in 1872.
    SignificanceThis carte-de-visite is a rare piece of memorabilia dating to the 1870s and the career of Captain Gray and his service with the SS GREAT BRITAIN.
    HistoryThe keel of the wrought iron steamship GREAT BRITAIN was laid in Bristol in 1839 - a revolutionary design from the revolutionary architect and engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

    With its hull plated with 6 ft x 3 ft sections each rivetted and overlapped in clinker fashion and six masts to carry sail, the GREAT BRITAIN was powered by two double-acting twin cylinders driving a fore and aft six-bladed propeller. At 322 feet in length it could originally carry up to 360 passengers and 130 crew plus 1,200 tons of cargo and 20 days worth of coal.

    The ship was launched by Prince Albert in July 1843 although it stuck in the narrow dry dock which had to be partially destroyed to get it free. Its first sea voyage for its owners The Great Western Railway Company was to London to be fitted with engines in December 1844. From this point on it became a trans-Atlantic passenger liner travelling between the UK and New York until 1847 when repairs and modifications were made after a serious grounding.

    Sold to Gibbs, Bright & Co of Liverpool the ship carried gold prospectors and immigrants to Australia from 1852 to 1876 - more than 30 voyages were undertaken with more than 16,000 emigrants. The GREAT BRITAIN also served as a troopship in 1854 to the Crimea and India carrying 1,650 men and 30 horses.

    Put up for sale in 1876 it became a cargo carrier taking coal to San Francisco and returning with a cargo of wheat - via Cape Horn. Suffering hurricane damage off the Cape in 1886 the ship pulled into the Falkland Islands for repairs. But these proved too expensive and not viable so the GREAT BRITAIN was condemned and spent until 1933 as a hulk for storing wool bales.

    In 1937 it was towed to Sparrow Cove and scuttled. But the ship refused to die. In 1968 a trust was established to bring it home to Bristol and on 19 July 1970 the GREAT BRITAIN triumphantly arrived back in the Great Western Dry Dock where it had been launched 127 years earlier.

    Captain John Gray was one of many GREAT BRITAIN captains. His other claim to fame was his mysterious disappearance from the ship on a voyage from Australia back to England in 1872. It appears he retired to his cabin after falling ill but was never seen again. Rumour has it that he committed suicide after a period of depression by climbing through a stern porthole and jumping overboard; another theory is that he was murdered for the gold in his cabin and his body thrown from the ship.
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Carte-de-visite featuring SS GREAT BRITAIN and Captain John Gray

    Web title: Carte-de-visite featuring SS GREAT BRITAIN and Captain Gray

    Related People
    Photographer: Paterson Brothers

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