Unique Piece Of Brunel's Great Eastern Given To Museum

By David Prudames | 14 December 2004
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Shows a painting of the Great Eastern under sail on the sea.

The Great Eastern under sail. Courtesy SS Great Britain Trust.

A section of funnel from Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s enormous ocean liner, the Great Eastern, has been given to the SS Great Britain in Bristol.

Donated by Wessex Water to the SS Great Britain Trust, the section is just over two metres wide (seven feet) and over one and a half metres tall (five feet) and is the only remaining iron part still in existence of Brunel's third and final ship.

The historic artefact was due to be unveiled at the museum on December 15, where it will take centre stage in an exhibition all about the conservation of the SS Great Britain, Extreme Iron.

"This is excellent news for the Trust and for Bristol," said director of the SS Great Britain Trust, Matthew Tanner. "We are delighted that the directors of Wessex Water are keen to ensure that this important artefact is seen by as many people as possible."

"Trustees and staff are looking forward to putting the funnel section on display as part of the story of Brunel, and the 19th century engineering achievements that made our world what it is today."

Shows a photo of the ship in dry dock, with bunting hung from its masts.

The SS Great Britain is one of many Brunel engineering feats to grace the city of Bristol. Courtesy SS Great Britain Trust.

Launched at Millwall, east London in 1858 the Great Eastern was designed to travel between England and the Far East without stopping for coal.

The great ocean liner was unrivalled in size for the next 40 years and was known as The Leviathan; contemporaries observed that only Noah's Ark was bigger.

She was the first ship to be built with a double iron hull, was driven by paddles and a screw propeller and equipped with 10 boilers and five funnels.

However, the ship was beset by problems from the outset and on September 9 1858 while on sea trials off Hastings an explosion caused major damage to No. 1 funnel.

Despite the damage, the Great Eastern operated briefly as a luxury passenger ship, and was later used successfully as a troop ship. But her days of fame were not over and, under the supervision of renowned physicist Lord Kelvin, she laid the first successful transatlantic cable.

Shows a black and white photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing in front of a funnel on the deck of the Great Eastern.

The great engineer shown on board the Great Eastern, just days before his death. Courtesy SS Great Britain Trust.

Her working days ended when moored off Liverpool as a floating exhibition and the ship was finally broken up in 1889.

Brunel buffs will recognise the Great Eastern's funnels from the last photograph taken of the great man just days before his death on September 15, 1859.

He is shown complete with trademark top hat and cane, standing in front of one of the vast iron constructions.

It is a section from No 1 funnel that has been given to the SS Great Britain Trust. A unique survival, the section escaped being scrapped because it was taken off the ship following the boiler explosion that followed a few days after the photo was taken.

Removed from the ship, it was converted to act as a water strainer at a pumping station at Sutton Poyntz, near Weymouth, where until recently it formed an integral part of the system.

Shows an artist's impression of workers in the bottom of the dock by the ship's red hull.

Work is currently underway on an £11.3 million scheme to transform the SS Great Britain visitor attraction. Courtesy SS Great Britain Trust.

Wessex Water, which created a water supply museum in the Victorian pumping station in 1989, decided to make it available to a wider audience by presenting it to the SS Great Britain Trust.

"We are delighted that this historic artefact will become part of the SS Great Britain Trust museum," said Mark Fleming, Wessex Water's PR and Communications Manager.

"It seems very appropriate that it should join the SS Great Britain on display."

The trust, which still has £572,000 to raise to complete work on the SS Great Britain Trust, will now seek grant aid to preserve and care for the artefact.

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