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Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the 'Great Babe'

Brunel and the SS Great Eastern - 'The Great Babe'

John Russell, a shipbuilder, recalls the time that Isambard Kingdom Brunel asked him to build his latest ship. The ship was called the 'SS Great Eastern' - or, to use the affectionate name that Brunel gave it - the 'Great Babe'.

It was to be the biggest of all the ships designed by Brunel and capable of sailing around the world without refuelling.

Russell had been shocked to hear that Brunel wanted to launch his ship sideways, instead of the usual lengthways, because of her size.

Russell pointed out that he was the one with the greater experience of launching ships...but Brunel was insistent and would not be dissuaded.

The day of the launch was a huge occasion with important people in attendance. When the moment arrived for the ship to be launched, to the consternation of all assembled, the ship refused to budge and it took several attempts before the ship eventually slipped into the water. However, The Great Eastern was soon sailing regularly across the Atlantic.

Then one day in 1862 on the way to New York she struck a rock, which caused a huge gash down one side. But, instead of taking on water and sinking, as the crew expected, the ship stayed afloat. Any other ship would have sunk, but Brunel had designed the ship with a double hull and only the outer hull had been damaged. More proof of Brunel's extraordinary expertise in ship design.

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