Between 1854 and 1858, construction on the SS Great Eastern (also known briefly as ‘Leviathan’) was ongoing. This gigantic ship was intended for commercial use, to sail from Britain to Australia without needing to stop once to refuel. Her mass was five times as large as the biggest ships around at the time, and no attempt at a ship of these proportions had been attempted until she was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel; a pioneering engineer and ship designer.
Unfortunately for Brunel her first launch attempt in 1857 went disastrously wrong. The steam winches employed to pull the ship out to sea failed and the ship moved only a few feet, killing operators in the process. It was not until January 31st 1858 that a successful launch was made and. Brunel was completely out of pocket trying to make up for the failed launch with his own money.
After its troubled maiden voyage the ship then went on to sail to America in 1860 and made many other voyages for the next five years. By 1865 the SS Great Eastern was being used to lay cable in the ocean and by 1888 she had been used as a static show boat and sold at auction.
So while the SS Great Eastern was certainly not without problems, it was undeniably the most incredible show of engineering for its time, exhibiting a design that was way ahead of its time and dimensions that no engineer or construction worker had catered for in the past.
As you already know, the SS Great Eastern transatlantic iron steam sailing ship was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel was a British engineer who not only built ships, but also the Great Western Railway system, plus various tunnels and bridges across the country.
The SS Great Eastern featured six sailing masts (providing 18 148 square feet of sail in total), gas illumination (an incredible luxury at that time), five funnels, a double hull, and twelve watertight compartments. Such a ship had never been conceived of until Isambard’s design in 1854. It could hold 4000 passengers at one time, although on its maiden voyage the total number of paying passengers didn’t exceed 40.
This enormous ship stood at a total length of 692 feet, and the 56 foot paddle-wheels, 24 foot four-bladed screw propeller and five engines that were used to propel it through the water were estimated to provide 8000 horsepower. A man named Daniel Gooch bought the SS Great Eastern at auction for just £25,000 in 1864, even though the materials it was built out of were worth £100,000 on their own.
Today very little remains of the construction, engineering and pioneering design of the SS Great Eastern as it was broken up and the materials reused to reinforce parts of the Rock Ferry on the River Mersey after 1890. However, visitors can still see her top mast which was purchased by Liverpool football club and placed outside their Anfield stadium over a century ago in 1890.
How to Get There:
The SS Great Western no longer stands as a ship today, as it was sold for break up in 1890. It is certainly possibly to visit the site where the majority of its materials were used: the Rock Ferry on the River Mersey, although they are largely indistinguishable as steam ship parts.
The best piece of material to have been saved from the SS Great Western is its top mast which is featured at Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium to this day. To travel here you can fly to one of the main London airports (Gatwick, Luton or Heathrow) and then catch a coach or train to Liverpool. Alternatively you fly directly to the Liverpool John Lennon airport, providing your nearest airport offers this service.
Where to Stay:
If you are visiting the Liverpool Anfield stadium to see the SS Great Eastern’s top mast then we recommend you stay at the Beatles themed four star Hard Days Night Hotel on North John Street, where rooms start at around $163 per night. Visiting the mast alone will not take up a holiday or even a weekend or whole day, so you will want to plan to see a football match or perhaps take a walk around the Tate Gallery.
Alternatively, rooms at the Liverpool Marriott Hotel (city center) start at around $130 per night and include very luxurious and comfortable rooms.