Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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John Scott Russell and Co

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of London, Ship Builders

Isambard Kingdom Brunel entered into a partnership with John Scott Russell, an experienced Naval Architect and ship builder, to build the SS Great Eastern. Unknown to Brunel, Russell was in financial difficulties. The two men disagreed on many details.

1852 Russell's shipyard was devastated by fire but was only partially covered by insurance. The yard closed. In the same year David Napier's yard at Millwall closed because of competition from the Clyde yards. Part of the yard was later let to Russell for the building of the SS Great Eastern.

1854 The keel of SS Great Eastern was laid down on May 1.

1856 Russell had several fixed-price contracts for warships and these together with another fire, added to his financial problems; his shipyard, like several other Thames builders, failed in February 1856. He remained in charge of building the Great Eastern under a new contract.

1858 The Great Eastern was finally launched, after many technical difficulties on January 31, 1858.

It was Brunel's final great project, and he collapsed from a stroke after being photographed on her deck, and died only ten days later, a mere four days after Great Eastern's first sea trials.

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