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Claire Hornshaw
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The SS Great Britain was built in 1843 at the Great Western Dockyard in Bristol. Photograph by Mary Reynolds
The SS Great Britain was built in 1843 at the Great Western Dockyard in Bristol. Photograph by Mary Reynolds

Press Release - 02 May 2006

Free public lecture: Brunel’s flagship of the Industrial Revolution

Local people can hear how Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the world’s first iron hulled, steam powered ocean going ship, made international travel a possibility for thousands during the mid-nineteenth century. The free public lecture The Greyhound of the Deep will be held at the University of Bath in Swindon on Wednesday 10 May.

The SS Great Britain is the most significant surviving artefact of a transport revolution that happened with bewildering speed in the first half of the nineteenth century. She was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the North American route in 1845. Powerful and able to carry her passengers in unprecedented comfort, the design incorporated many features that later became standard. She was one of the wonders of her age.

With the advent of the SS Great Britain, ocean travel became a possibility for thousands and the experience of life at sea was recorded by passengers in letters home and shipboard journals. Drawing on this archive and other sources, Nicholas Fogg has written a biography of the great ship.

He said: “Many aspects of life aboard are described in fascinating detail, from the accommodation and food, to the social and religious life, the many dubious and eccentric characters encountered and the hazards of voyaging, particularly the ever-present menace of disease.”

The ship’s greatest success was on the Australia run, when she carried emigrants and fortune hunters. Some 250,000 modern Australians can claim descent from her passengers. She also operated as a troopship during the Crimean War and took reinforcements to India at the time of the mutiny. She ended her voyaging days as a sailing ship on the San Francisco run, before being employed as a store-ship by the Falkland Islands Company.

Her long career apparently over, she was beached and left to the mercy of wind and waves, but in 1970, she made a triumphant return to the very dock where she was built in Bristol. Today she stands as a great monument to the achievements of the Industrial Age.

Admission to the talk is free and people can just turn up on the evening. Free parking is available in the West Car Park. All lectures run from 5.30pm until 6.30pm in the Main Hall on the Oakfield Campus, Marlowe Avenue.

The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. View a full list of the University's press releases: