SS Great Britain
From Merco Press
An exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of the salvage of the SS Great Britain and featuring film footage and original items as well as a wide range of photographs is now open at the Britannia House Museum in the Falkland Islands capital, Stanley.
Launched in 1843, the SS Great Britain was designed by celebrated Bristol engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Great Western Steamship Company’s transatlantic service between Liverpool and New York.
She was the largest vessel afloat when launched, and the first ocean-going ship to be made of iron and equipped with a screw propeller. From 1852 until 1876, the SS Great Britain carried immigrants to Australia.
In 1882 she was sold again and refitted as a cargo ship, carrying Welsh coal to San Francisco and returning with wheat.
The SS Great Britain was condemned in the Falklands in 1886 and purchased by the Falkland Islands Company for use as a storage hulk. After 50 years of service in Stanley Harbour, the hulk was deemed unfit for further use, towed out to Sparrow Cove, beached and holed, there to see out the rest of her days – or so it was believed.
However, in the mid-1960s interest in the old ship was renewed and a plan to return her to Britain for restoration began to gather momentum. The massive operation to return the ship to her home port began in January 1970 with the arrival in the Falkland Islands of a salvage expert who judged there to be an 80% chance of success.
The salvage operation that followed in April of the same year achieved what few thought was possible – the hulk was patched up, pumped out and refloated, then towed on to the submersible pontoon that would carry her 8,000 miles home to Bristol.
A number of Islanders were involved in the famous operation –either providing carpentry skills, working on the small boats and launches that helped to tow the hulk into position, or as part of the dive team.