Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Great Western Steamship Co

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1835 At a meeting of the directors of the Great Western Railway Company in October, 1835, when the subject of the extreme length of the new railway from London to Bristol was being discussed, Mr. Brunel raised the question "Why not make it longer, and have a steamboat to go from Bristol to New York, and call it the Great Western?" Acting on this suggestion, a tour was made of the shipping ports to collect information; soon after a handful of the directors present at the meeting formed themselves into what was subsequently known as the Great Western Steamship Company. They commissioned Mr. Paterson, a noted shipbuilder of Bristol, to build for them a wooden paddlewheel steamship to be called the Great Western.[1]

1836 Isambard Kingdom Brunel, his friend Thomas Guppy and a group of Bristol investors formed the Great Western Steamship Co to build a line of steamships for the Bristol-New York route. The idea of regular scheduled transatlantic service was under discussion by several groups and the rival British and American Steam Navigation Co was established at the same time.

The Board of Directors were:

  • Peter Maze, Chairman,
  • Thomas Kington, Deputy Chairman,
  • Captain Claxton RN, Managing Director,
  • Henry Bush,
  • Robert Scott,
  • T. B. Ware,
  • Thomas Pyecroft,
  • T. R. Guppy

1838 The company's first ship was the SS Great Western, an oak-hulled paddle-wheel steamship, the first steamship purpose-built for crossing the Atlantic.

1838 the company paid a 9% dividend, but that was to be the firm's only dividend because of the expense of building the company's next ship, the Great Britain. After the collapse of British and American Steamship Co, the Great Western alternated between Avonmouth and Liverpool, before abandoning Avonmouth entirely in 1843. The ship remained profitable even though she lacked a running mate because of the protracted construction on Great Britain.

1839 Start of construction of SS Great Britain

Those involved in designing and building the SS Great Britain included:

1839 In response to a request for tenders to supply engines for the ship, only Maudslay, Sons and Field and Francis Humphrys with John Hall and Sons of Dartford responded. Humphrys's tender was much cheaper than Maudslay's although Brunel suspected that his costings were wrong (Humphrys had not consulted Hall's before submitting his tender) and his health was suspect; the novelty of the trunk engine design added to Brunel's disquiet. Nevertheless the Company accepted his tender. Hall's declined to tool-up for a one-off engine so the Great Western SS Co set up its own engine works. Humphrys encountered problems in making the paddle shaft from wrought iron and instead sought advice from James Nasmyth, of Nasmyth, Gaskell and Co, who devised a steam hammer in order to make the shaft from cast iron[2]

1842 'The Great Western Steamer is advertised to sail in future from Bristol and Liverpool alternately. The Great Western Steam Ship Works, which cost £45,000, and were lately put up at public auction, and bought in for in £27,000, are now offered for sale by private contract. They include a dock, the size of which may be inferred from the fact that the enormous iron steamship, the Great Britain, is now building in it- a vessel 310 ft. in length, wbich is 70 feet longer than a 120 gun ship — ; a workshop 3 stories high, above 150 feet long, and 90 feet wide, having on the lower floor a lathe capable of turning a body 40 feet long and 16 feet in diameter, and also a large machine for planing iron ; and the upper floors are filled with turning lathes, screw cutters, and all the necessary implements for working in iron. Adjoining this building are a large foundry and smithy, where all the parts of the great steamer now building, including her boilers and engines of 1000 horse-power, are made. It may shew the spirit with which the Company proceeded, to state that all these works were complete, and the vast ship was in frame, and in great part sheathed (it would be a misnomer to call it planked), within 18 months from the time when the first spade was put into the ground.'[3]

1843 Launch (floating out) of the SS Great Britain

1843 Great Western's receipts were £33,400 against expenditures of £25,600.

1845 The company's fortunes improved when SS Great Britain entered service.[4]

In November 1846, SS Great Britain went aground on the sands of Dundrum Bay, Ireland

1847 the Great Britain was re-floated in August. However, the cost of the salvage bankrupted the Great Western Steamship Company.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1897/10/22
  2. Brunel's Three Ships by Dumpleton, Muriel Miller [1]
  3. Royal Cornwall Gazette - Friday 25 February 1842
  4. Bristol's 'M Shed'