SS ‘Great Britain’ at Brunswick Wharf, Blackwall by Richard Barnett Spencer
National Maritime Museum – Date painted: mid-19th C
Some weeks ago, I told the story of the SS Great Eastern that was built and launched on the Isle of Dogs. It was argued that the stress and strain of that launch led to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s early death.
However several years earlier in 1845 , Brunel had an altogether more pleasant experience when his then new ship SS Great Britain was sailed to Blackwall to enable Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to come aboard and inspect the ship. The following entertaining report by the Illustrated London News records in detail the Queen’s reaction to the ship, it appears she was frequently “astonished” by the size of the ship, and gratefully accepted a gift of a golden propeller.
THE QUEEN’S VISIT TO THE “GREAT BRITAIN” STEAMER.
(From the Illustrated London News)
On Tuesday afternoon her Majesty and Prince Albert paid their intended visit to this extraordinary vessel. The day was remarkably fine, and many thousands of persons assembled, both at Greenwich and Blackwall, to await the arrival of the Royal party.
A Board of Admiralty, consisting of Lord Haddington and Capt. Gordon, had previously arrived at the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, to receive her Majesty, and accompany her on board the Dwarf.
The Greenwich Pensioners were drawn out in array and loudly cheered her Majesty as she embarked. Carpets were laid down the whole length of the distance from where her Majesty alighted to the water’s edge.
Her Majesty arrived at Greenwich at about twenty minutes past three o’clock, and immediately proceeded on board the Dwarf.
The Lord Mayor, attended by the usual civic functionaries, left London-bridge in the City State barge, a few minutes after one o’clock, and’ was towed to Greenwich by the” Watermen’s steamer No. 10, to attend upon her Majesty, in his official capacity as Conservator of the Thames. Upon her Majesty’s embarkation, the Lord Mayor, in the state barge, still in tow of the steamer, preceded the royal yacht to Blackwall.
Several of the river steamers, completely crowded with spectators, accompanied the yacht on her passage to the Great Britain, and the river in the neighbourhood of Blackwall was teeming with small boats filled with people. Two or three of the vessels of the Royal Thames Yacht Club were present, among which were the Mystery, Lord Seaham, and the Dolphin, Mr Perkins, which latter vessel manned her yards as soon as the yacht hove in sight. A platform was fixed alongside , the Great Britain, on which the accommodation-stairs, to enable her Majesty to get on board, were rigged. Both the platform and Stairs were covered with carpets. The height of the platform was so arranged that it should , be equal with the deck of the Dwarf, so that her Majesty should have no difficulty in getting on board, but be enabled at once to step from the steamer on to the platform.
As the Royal yacht neared the Great Britain, she slacked her speed, and proceeded slowly round her from the starboard quarter and under her bows to her port beam, by which means her Majesty was afforded a excellent opportunity of viewing the exterior-of the vessel , upon the Queen’s ‘arriving on board the Great Britain, her commander, Lieutenant Hosken, R.N. was presented to her Majesty by Lord Hawarden, and that officer conducted the Royal party through the vessel.’
Her Majesty appeared quite amazed at the enormous length of the ship, which, is one-third longer than any line-of-battle ship in the service, being 322 feet in length, while the Queen, which her Majesty visited when at Spithead, is not above 210. In order to obtain a full fore and aft view of the length of the ship, her Majesty and Prince Albert, accompanied by Captain Hosken, went right aft and stood by the wheel, and then proceeded forward to the bows, viewing the vessel from the raised forecastle.
Her Majesty frequently expressed her astonishment at the extraordinary length of the ship. The singular appearance of the six masts, so out of the ordinary mode in which ships are rigged, also attracted her Majesty’s attention, and formed a subject of comment. From the forecastle the Royal party descended into the forward saloon and state rooms, which, having inspected, her Majesty returned on deck.
A model of the midship part of the ship, and a working model of the engines, with the screw, were then shown to her Majesty, and Mr Brunel explained its mode of working and the manner in which the screw propelled the vessel, und how they were enabled to back astern. After having inspected this model, her Majesty and Prince Albert went down into the engine-room, to view the engines. These were shown to her Majesty by Mr Guppy, the constructor both of the vessel and the engines. Her Majesty expressed her admiration of their workmanship, and inquired their power, and was informed that they were of 1000 horse-power. The immense chain which turns the screw shaft seemed particularly to engage her Majesty’s attention, which was described to her to revolve at the rate of twenty five miles per hour. After leaving the engine-room her Majesty next inspected the after promenade saloon and stateroom, and expressed her astonishment at the size of the dining-room. At the extremity of this apartment there were three models of different screws, one with six blades, similar to the screw with which the Great Britain is now fitted ; another with four blades, which is to be used as a reserved screw for the ship, and a third model, with only three blades.
Whilst the Royal party were inspecting these models, Mr T. P. Smith, the inventor and patentee of the screw-propeller, was presented by Lord Hawarden to her Majesty and Prince Albert as the inventor. Mr Smith presented a very appropriate model in gold, in an appropriate case, of the propeller that he has recently applied to her Majesty’s new tender yacht Fairy, which recently obtained such a rapid speed as to surpass all other steamers on the river. Her Majesty was graciously pleased to accept the model, which was handed over to Lord Hawarden.
SS Great Britain in Blackwall
Captain Claxton presented her Majesty with two copies of the description of the Great Britain, which her Majesty was also graciously pleased to accept. Her Majesty while in the dining-room sat down on one of the chairs, which was placed in such a position that enabled her to see the effect of the mirrors, which made this extensive apartment appear almost boundless.
Her Majesty, just previous to her departure, addressed Capt Hosken, and said, ” I am very much gratified with the sight of your magnificent ship, and I wish you every possible success on your voyages across the Atlantic.”
Prince Albert asked when it was intended to start on the voyage, and upon Captain Hosken informing his Royal Highness that it would be either the latter end of July, or the beginning of August, the Prince remarked, he supposed that Capt. Hosken wished to save the equinox. Captain Hosken replied that that was not so much the object as to make one or two voyages as speedily as possible, in order that the public may be perfectly convinced of the safety of the ship.
After remaining on board about three quarters of an hour, the Royal party returned to the Dwarf.
Previous to the departure of the Dwarf, his Royal Highness called Captain Hosken to him, and requested him to convey to Mr Smith her Majesty’s thanks for the model of his screw.
No extra ornamental work had been done to the ship on the occasion of her Majesty’s visit, but it was shown to her in its ordinary state, with the exception that the decks had been cleaned and holystoned, and the carpets were laid down in the saloons and on the staircases leading to them and to the engine-room.
The band of the first Life Guards was on board, and played some of the national airs during her Majesty’s stay.
The Dwarf, upon leaving the Great Britain, returned to Greenwich,.
Her Majesty disembarked at Greenwich, and immediately left for Buckingham Palace, escorted by the detachment of Dragoons which had accompanied her down.
The Great Britain was dressed out in colours, as also every vessel in the vicinity of Greenwich and Blackwall.
Immediately after her Majesty’s departure the ship was thrown open again to the inspection of the public, and in a short time was completely thronged.
Her Majesty has expressed her great satisfaction at her visit.
The ship was built at Bristol, when she was launched in 1843 she was twice the tonnage of any previous ship.Unlike the Great Eastern which was broken up, The Great Britain was restored and is now on show in a dry dock in Bristol.
We might smile at the formal nature of the visit but was clearly a important event for many locals who flocked to see the ship and the Queen.
Chinese Junk – Keying
Three years later , the Queen and Prince Albert visited another ship in Blackwall, but this could not be more different from the Great Britain. They came to visit the Keying a large Chinese Junk that had been sailed from China against the express wishes of the Emperor himself.
Museum of London
Sailed first to America , the ship reached Blackwall in 1848 and became a major attraction, as well as the royal couple , the Duke of Wellington, Charles Dickens and many thousands of people came to view the novelty of a large Chinese ship.
However by 1853, the novelty had worn off and the junk was towed to Liverpool where she was broken up.