I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of ships lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today…Isambard K. Brunel

The GREAT WESTERN was built by William Patterson, Bristol (engines by Maudslay, Sons & Field, London) in 1837 for the Great Western Steamship Co. She was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was a 1,340 ton ship, length 212 ft x beam 35.3 ft, clipper stem, one funnel, four masts (rigged for sail), wooden construction, paddle wheel propulsion and a speed of 9 knots. There was accommodation for 128 passengers aft and 20 passengers forward. Launched on July 19th 1837, she was the first steamer built specifically for the North Atlantic.

Both men were geniuses. Brunel was the engineering genius whose  theory that the amount a ship could carry increased as the cube of its dimensions, whereas the amount of resistance a ship experienced from the water as it travelled only increased by a square of its dimensions made transatlantic steam navigation possible since it was previously believed that a ship would not be able to carry enough fuel for the trip and have room for a commercial cargo. As early as the 1830’s he helped create the conditions that would lead to the end of the age of sail and usher in the economies of scale and predictability of service that would result in today’s container ships and global economy.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Launching Chains of the Great Eastern

Although he and Cunard were both heavily involved in the railways of their day – Brunel saw the transatlantic steamers as a way of “extending” England’s railroads to North America – both owe their lasting glory to their shipping accomplishments.  Cunard was the shipping magnate  with a reputation for speed and safety and whose ocean liners were a success in the face of many potential rivals who could not keep up. The prosperous company eventually absorbed others including the Canadian Northern Steamships, and even their principal competition, the White Star Line.

The GREAT EASTERN was a 18,915 gross ton ship, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built by Scott Russell & Co.Ltd, London (screw engines by James Watt & Co.Ltd, Birmingham). Her dimensions were length 679.6 ft x beam 82.8 ft, five funnels, six masts, iron construction, paddle and screw propulsion and a speed of 12 knots. She was originally laid down on May 1st 1854 as the LEVIATHAN and there was an unsuccessful attempt at launching her on November 3rd 1857 when she refused to move and eventually launched herself during a spring tide and strong winds on January 31st 1858. She was then named GREAT EASTERN. On June 16th 1860 she left Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York which took her 11 days 13 hours 15 minutes. In 1864 she was sold to Daniel Gooch & colleagues and in July of that year proceeded from Liverpool to Sheerness where 10 boilers and one funnel were removed to make way for cable tanks. Between 1865-66 she was employed laying transatlantic cable. In 1869 she laid cable from Brest to St Pierre-Miquelon, Newfoundland and in 1870 laid cable from Bombay to Aden.

Transatlantic : Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the great Atlantic steamships  New York, NY : HarperCollins, c 2003 Stephen  Fox Steamboat lines North Atlantic Ocean History,  Ocean liners North Atlantic Ocean History, North  Atlantic Ocean Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing.  xviii, 493 p., [32] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm.  Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust  jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia  in text. VG/VG   

The MAURETANIA was built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson, Wallsend-on-Tyne (engines by Wallsend Slipway Co) in 1906 for the Cunard Line. She was a 31,938 gross ton ship, overall length 790 ft x beam 88 ft, four funnels, two masts, four screws and a service speed of 25 knots. There was accommodation for 563-1st, 464-2nd and 1,138-3rd class passengers. Launched on the 20th of September 1906, she left Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Queenstown (Cobh) and New York. Between 1907 and 1924 she broke several transatlantic records, her shortest crossing being 4 days,10 hrs,51 mins from Queenstown to Ambrose Light in Sep.1909 at a speed of 26.06 knots.

During the nineteenth century, the roughest but most important ocean passage in the world lay between Britain and the United States. Bridging the Atlantic Ocean by steamship was a defining, remarkable feat of the era. Over time, Atlantic steamships became the largest, most complex machines yet devised. They created a new transatlantic world of commerce and travel, reconciling former Anglo-American enemies and bringing millions of emigrants to transform the United States.

The MAURETANIA II was a 35,738 gross ton ship, length overall 771.8 ft x beam 89.4 ft, two funnels, two masts, twin screw and a speed of 23 knots. There was accommodation for 486-cabin, 390-tourist and 502-3rd class passengers. Built by Cammell Laird & Co, Birkenhead, she was launched for Cunard-White Star Line on the 28th of July 1938. In August 1939 she was the largest liner ever to visit London. She left New York on the 20th of March 1940, in company with the QUEEN MARY for Panama and Sydney where she was converted into a troopship and transported ANZAC troops to Britain. She made trooping voyages to Suez after which she returned to the Australia – Suez transport run. Later used to transport American troops to Europe.

In Transatlantic, the experience of crossing the Atlantic is re-created in stunning detail from the varied perspectives of first class, steerage, officers, and crew. The dynamic evolution of the Atlantic steamer is traced from Brunel’s Great Western of 1838 to Cunard‘s Mauretania of 1907, the greatest steamship ever built. Set against the classic tension of modern technology contending with a formidable natural environment, the story is rife with disasters. The key element is steam power: the universal, magical, transforming microchip of the nineteenth century.

The SS United States is the largest ocean liner constructed entirely in the US, the fastest ocean liner to cross the Atlantic in either direction, and even in her retirement retains the Blue Riband given to the passenger liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean in regular service with the record highest speed.




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