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April 20, 2006

Modelling the Great Britain

It is difficult to get a picture of the Great Britain from any point around her that shows her full lines - it is also difficult to get a feel for her size. The model in the dockside museum at least gives some idea of the beauty that Brunel sculpted in the iron he used for her building. As an idea of size, her second mast from the bow is the main mast and this is 240 feet in height, and the yard on which the lower of the two square sails is set is made of iron and weighs 7 tons.

This model of the Great Britain gives a good view of the overall hull and her rigging and shows just how innovative Brunel's design is.

Brunel's design combined the then familiar structural method of creating a "tumblehome" above the waterline, so that the beam is at it's greatest at and just above the water, then tapers inwards until it meets the upperdeck. This increases the strength of the hull considerably - a fact borne out by her survival on an exposed Irish beach for eighteen months early in her career and then for almost sixty years aground in a cove in the Falkland Islands. Few modern ships would survive such treatment.

The use of iron also allowed Brunel to create a ship twice the size of any conventional ship of the time built in wood. Even so-called composite hulls could not practically exceed a certain size dictated mainly by the length of planking and the difficulty in creating joints which would not suffer excessive stress. The combination of the screw propulsion system and the balanced rudder also made a ship which was both fast and manoeuverable and lacked the clutter of the huge paddle boxes on her sides. It also allowed him to keep the engines low down in the hull and thus give her greater stability. One feature he retained from the paddle steamers and which subsequently became a feature in all modern ships is the "Bridge", a raised platform spanning the deck and placed just aft of the funnel, allowing the Captain and his officers to see clearly all round the ship from a vantage point. Only later would it become practical to combine the steering position and the "Bridge" - something the Royal Navy has not done until quite recently, arguing that it was better to keep the helm position separate so that both Bridge and Helm could not be "knocked out" at the same time.

While this model conveys the beauty of the ship, nothing can compare to standing on the real thing and admiring her "in the iron".

Posted by The Gray Monk at April 20, 2006 03:45 PM

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Re: SS Great Britain

Handsome ship and interesting description!

I would like to build a model of it. Do you know of a model kit on sale?

Thank you,


Posted by: Douglas Austin at June 14, 2006 09:21 AM

Sadly no, I have had no luck finding a model myself, but there are a lot of drawings and layout plans which give dimensions which may help. Try the website for her in Bristol.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at June 15, 2006 08:03 AM