Forward Deck of the Great Eastern Cleared for the First Attempt to Grapple for the Lost Cable, August 11th, 1865
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SS Great Eastern was the largest ship ever built at the time of her 1858 launch and had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers. She was capable to sail from England to Australia without refueling. The steamship was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built by J. Scott Russell & Co. at Millwall Iron Works on the River Thames, London. The ship's five funnels were rare and were later reduced to four. It also had the largest set of paddle wheels. On 25 March 1852, Brunel made a sketch of a steamship in his diary and wrote beneath it: "Say 600 ft x 65 ft x 30 ft" (180 m x 20 m x 9.1 m). These measurements were six times larger by volume than any ship afloat. Brunel realized that the ship would need more than one propulsion system; since twin screws were still very much experimental, he settled on a combination of a single screw and paddle wheels, with auxiliary sail power. Using paddle wheels meant that the ship would be able to reach Calcutta, where the Hooghly River was too shallow for screws. Brunel knew her affectionately as the "Great Babe". He died in 1859 shortly after her ill-fated maiden voyage, off Portland, when conducting trials, an explosion aboard blew off one of the funnels. The funnel was salvaged, purchased by the water company supplying Weymouth and Melcombe Regis in Dorset, and used as a filtering device. It was later transferred to the Bristol Maritime Museum close to Brunel's SS Great Britain then moved to the SS Great Britain museum. Her first voyage to North America began on 17 June 1860, with 35 paying passengers, eight company "dead heads" (non-paying passengers), and 418 crew. Among the passengers were the two journalists and engineers Zerah Colburn and Alexander Lyman Holley as well as three directors of the Great Ship Company. Upon Great Eastern's return to England, the ship was chartered by the British Government to transport troops to Quebec. 2,144 officers and men, 473 women and children, and 200 horses were embarked at Liverpool along with 40 paying passengers. The ship sailed on 25 June 1861 and went at full speed throughout most of the trip arriving at her destination 8 days and 6 hours after leaving Liverpool. Great Eastern stayed for a month and returned to Britain at the beginning of July with 357 paying passengers. However, the ship operation had a little commercial success. In 1865, after repairs, she plied for several years as a passenger liner between Britain and North America before being converted to a cable-laying ship and laying the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866. At the end of her cable-laying career, she was refitted once again as a liner but once again efforts to make her a commercial success failed. She was used as a showboat, a floating palace/concert hall, and a gymnasium. She acted as an advertising hoarding—sailing up and down the Mersey for Lewis's Department Store. An early example of breaking-up a structure by use of a wrecking ball, she was scrapped at New Ferry on the River Mersey by Henry Bath & Son Ltd in 1889–1890—it took 18 months to take her apart.