Brev. Brig. Gen'l
- Feb 14, 2012
- Central Pennsylvania
Steam ship Great Eastern off Sandy Hook, illustration from NYPL. She was 700 feet long, boasted 6 masts, five funnels, a propeller and two side wheels the size of small mountains. Passengers were carried in luxury which wouldn't have been out of place in Buckingham Palace. Our oceans would not see another ship this size for another four decades- an engineering marvel, we sure did marvel- with reason. Great Eastern also had the worst luck a ship could have without sinking.
" Gigantic " , " mammoth " and " massive ", words commonly used in descriptions of this historic ship still did not quite get there- a ship this size would not be contemplated again for another 4 decades. Steamship Great Eastern, purchased a year earlier by Cunard's newly formed Great Eastern Steamship Company ( from the Great Steamship Company ) played the starring role laying the cable connecting two continents. It was a kind of resurrection for the behemoth whose career from her launch ( launches ), 1857-1858 ( it's a long story ) to the 1864 auction was avidly followed by a fascinated public. A ' 7th Wonder ' by itself, ship was the perfect host to the cable, yet another.
Great Eastern could carry 4,ooo passengers and had ten ' saloons '. She could also board 10,000 troops, if need arose ( it did, although ' only ' around 5,000 embarked ).
Docked in NYC, this LoC photo gives some idea how huge Great Eastern was. Initially built to dominate trade, she was by turns a luxury liner, troop ship ( hang on, story coming ), cable layer, casino, music hall and really, an exhibit. So famous, tickets were sold for her ( 1857-1858, story also coming ) launches, plural, she also bankrupted a company, her designer/engineer and stockholders whose names I can't find.
What an awesome ship albeit one whose career during those years was succinctly summed up by a journalist. " A perverse fatality seems to attend everything connected with the Great Eastern. " Indeed.
While 1861 newspapers followed the fate of prisoners captured at Bull Run, stories ran in adjoining columns about yet another misfortune suffered by this famous ship. The largest ship ever built limped into harbor, having lost a propeller and, by the time she docked, both side wheels. She also left behind somewhere in the Atlantic, 5 dead seamen, swept from one of the six famous masts. Quite a few passengers were carried off, broken bones, concussions and lacerations common.
Velvet upholstered furniture and Persian rugs in first class tempted the elite to book passage.....
" Great Eastern " is quite a story about quite an awesome ship. And the genius who designed her. There's simply no way to truncate, summarize or condense her story- posting it in sections. Eye popping, fascinating and by turns tragic, Great Eastern had the worst luck a ship could have without actually sinking. There's a glancing connection to the ACW, too, a little unsurprising given her reign over era seas.
Here she is in harbor, chose it because the scale highlights this size compared to any, other ship- or anything afloat not an island.
Bear with the thread- it's a story as large as the ship. Hate to leave it here, worse, hate to not do it justice.