Great Britain in Bristol

I was in Bristol over the weekend of 26th-29th September 2014 so took the opportunity to visit the Great Britain as I waited for my friends to arrive since I was the only one interested in anything to do with passenger liners.  This one in particular is a chance to see how things were onboard during early Victorian times.  The 3443grt ship was the second designed by that great engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, for Great Western Steamship Company to ply the increasingly lucrative transatlantic trade.  But sadly, both Great Western and Great Britain had their problems which were not helped by Samuel Cunard getting the mail contract despite protests.  The Great Britain pioneered new techniques in ship building.  Instead of building another wooden paddle steamer, Brunel took inspiration from two other ships and designed her as the first iron hull and screw propulsion vessel, with sails as a back up.  She also became the largest passenger ship built.  She was launched in 1843 by Prince Albert and entered service two years later.  Unfortunately, as well as coming in well over budget, she endured many problems which resulted losses due to repairs and she ended up her being sold to Gibbs, Bright & Company.  They gave her a revamp but still ended up selling her after a couple of transatlantic round trips to Anthony Gibbs & Sons for the UK-Australia route, which she began in 1852.  During her thirty years going back and forth to Australia, she was also a troop ship during the Crimean War and Indian Mutiny.  She was sold once again in 1882 and converted into a coal ship.  Her sailing life came to an abrupt end four years later after a fire, leaving her stranded in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands.  She was scuttled and abandoned in 1937, having outlived her usefulness as a coal bunker.  Despite all this misfortune, it was lucky there was anything left to salvage when a group of people decided to do that very thing in 1970, returning her to Bristol to be restored, where she remains to this day.

When you visit, you can't miss those masts, even from a distance.  Once you've paid for your ticket, you begin the tour by exiting through the shop.  It's recommended you begin with the hull, which has been protected from the elements to prevent further corrosion.  There are a few slippery areas of the dock floor but at least a walkway along one side of her.  After this, you go out the way you entered then find the other door leading to the ship.  There are many artifacts split into sections, of which you can stamp your ticket to say you've done them.  Or you can just skip all that and go straight past the bell and onto the ship via a open air gangway.  Despite being a very small ship, she feels much bigger once aboard.  You can even pay to climb the rigging if you're brave enough.  On the deck is a door both port and starboard which lead down inside.  The dummies are disconcerting a first while as you reach the larder area, there is a very strong authentic smell of fish.  I didn't notice if there was a meat one too since the fish was overpowering.  It's a wonder so many people in steerage managed to live in such cramped conditions.  It's pretty dark in that part of the ship and at one bit, a step on the floor you could easily trip over, which I've photographed.  Down again to the Saloon Deck, which was it for me as I headed back out.  You return via the gangway but go down the stairs do the ground floor, which brings you out at the bow of the ship and you leave via the shop.


© Patricia Dempsey 26th September 2014
Not to be reproduced without permission