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The Screw Engines of the GREAT EASTERN Steam-Ship, by James Watt and Co

Date: 23 May 1857
Overall: 400 x 280 mm, 10 g
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00019730

User Terms

    This front page of the Illustrated London News features an image of the screw engines on the GREAT EASTERN. The engraving is after a photograph which belonged to the Scottish naval engineer John Scott Russell who, in partnership with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, built the GREAT EASTERN. John Scott Russell described the engines as:

    " slide-guide engines, and work with single and double connecting-rod, each pair working one crank. The engines are thus perfectly balanced, and the condensers lie between each pair of engines on both sides, and adjacent to them, the air-pumps being places in the condensers and worked by a rod from the cross-head of each engines. The engines are double piston-rod engines: all the pistons are attached direct to a cross-head, which not only serves as a journal to the connecting-rod, but also works the air-pump. The valves are worked by double eccentric and link motion, and the slide-valves are thrown to the outside of the engines, where they are conveniently accessible: these engines also are carried by a strong series of iron-plate box-beams, 6 ft deep, athwartships. The engines were made by Messrs James Watt and Co, and have proved themselves reliable..."

    - John Scott Russell, taken from George S Emmerson, 'The Greatest Iron Ship S.S. Great Eastern', (Newton Abbot, Devon : David & Charles, London) p 156.
    SignificanceThis newspaper engraving reflects the public interest in and celebration of the design and construction of the colossal passenger and cargo steamship GREAT EASTERN. Although designed to serve on the England - Australia run, the GREAT EASTERN was used only for trans-Atlantic trade and cable laying. Despite being considered a commercial failure as a passenger ship, the GREAT EASTERN was a milestone in 19th-century steam navigation and iron shipbuilding.
    HistoryIn 1858 when the 18,914-ton GREAT EASTERN was launched, it was the world’s largest iron ship. At a time when the largest ships on the seas were less than 5,000 tons, the GREAT EASTERN was a colossal vessel designed to carry 4,000 passengers along with 6,000 tons of cargo to Australia without the need to re-coal.

    Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the five-funnelled six-masted ship featured side-paddles and a screw propeller, and was built by Scott Russell & Co Ltd at Millwall on the River Thames between 1854 and 1858. The screw engines by James Watt & Co were built at the Soho Foundry at Smethwick, England in 1857.

    The third of Brunel's ‘great ships’ (after the GREAT WESTERN and the GREAT BRITAIN), the GREAT EASTERN was unique as the first ship to incorporate a steering engine and was designed with a double cellular hull. Despite a myriad of technical and financial difficulties during construction, the ship was eventually launched in January 1858 and fitted out at Deptford. During trials in September 1859, a heater attached to the paddle engine boilers exploded killing several men and damaging the forward funnel and grand saloon.

    In 1860 the GREAT EASTERN made its first trans-Atlantic run, and was promoted by a series of public exhibits and port visits along the United States east coast. In 1864, the GREAT EASTERN was sold for a fraction of its cost to a cable-laying company and it was used to lay the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. Between 1865 and 1874 the ship laid and repaired telegraph cables across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

    The GREAT EASTERN was then laid up at Milford Haven for the next 12 years, until it was used as a fairground and floating advertising billboard off the coast at Liverpool. It was sold for scrap in 1888, and in early 1889 the mammoth task of deconstruction began on the banks of the River Mersey.
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    Web title: The Screw Engines of the GREAT EASTERN Steam-Ship, by James Watt and Co

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