July 19th, 1843 – The Launch of the SS Great Britain

Today-In-History

SS Great Britain is a museum ship and former passenger steamship, which was advanced for her time. She was the longest passenger ship in the world from 1845 to 1854. She was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Great Western Steamship Company‘s transatlantic service between Bristol and New York. While other ships had been built of iron or equipped with a screw propeller, Great Britain was the first to combine these features in a large ocean-going ship. She was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic, which she did in 1845, in the time of 14 days.

SS Great Britain 680

The launching or, more accurately, the “floating out” took place on July 19th, 1843. Conditions were generally favorable and diarists recorded that, after a dull start, the weather brightened with only a few intermittent showers. Prince Albert arrived at 10AM at the Great Western Railway terminus on the royal train, conducted by Brunel himself. 

At noon, the Prince arrived at the Great Western Steamship yard only to find the ship already “launched” and waiting for royal inspection. He boarded the ship, took refreshments in the elegantly decorated lounge then commenced his tour of inspection. He was received in the ship’s banqueting room where all the local dignitaries and their ladies were gathered. After the banquet and the toasts, he left for the naming ceremony.

It had already been decided that the christening would be performed by Clarissa Miles. She stepped forward, grasped the champagne bottle and swung it towards the bows. Unfortunately the steam packet Avon had started to tow the ship into the harbor and the bottle fell about 10 feet short of its target and dropped unbroken into the water. A second bottle was rapidly obtained and the Prince hurled it against the iron hull. In her haste, Avon had started her work before the shore warps had been released. The tow rope snapped and, due to the resultant delay, the Prince was obliged to return to the railway station and miss the end of the program.


 

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