Ship model, PSS "Great Eastern", complete with four oscillating engines driving the paddles, a four cylinder horizontal engine driving the propeller and large drum type boiler. Red ensign and British flag, paddle wheels, finished in brown and black, Australia [c.1935]; A A Stewart Collection (OF).
The "Great Eastern" at 18 915 tonnes was at the time of her launch (1858) by far the largest ship of her time. She was designed by great Victorian-era engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel . After a chequered career as a passenger liner with the capacity to carry up to 4000 passengers, the "Great Eastern" was refitted as a cable laying ship. In this role she was eminently successful, laying the first lasting transatlantic cable in 1866. In all, she laid five transatlantic cables and also cables connecting Aden and Bombay.
This model is part of the A.A. Stewart collection of ship, mechanical, and railway models acquired by the Museum over 25 years from 1938 to 1963. Albyn A. Stewart was a trained engineer who was fascinated by engineering models and he constructed some of those in the collection. Others were bought from amateur and commercial modellers at great expense to Stewart, who travelled regularly to England to seek out models. In January 1938, Percival Marshall, the editor of "The Model Engineer", England's premier modelling magazine, devoted editorial space to the collection, in which he stated that
" Mr. Stewart has been fortunate in acquiring some excellent examples of both screw and paddle marine engines of considerable value as records of real prototype practice". Later, the same year, he remakred further "As a trained engineer himself, his judgement of the technical merits of a model is very sound, and I should imagine that his collection is now the finest of its kind in Australia, in private hands. Many of the models are undoubtedly worthy of careful preservation, and I hope that they will eventually find a suitable resting place in one or more of the Australian national museums ".
Stewart was first contacted by the Technological Museum, as the Powerhouse Museum was then known, in 1933. The then Director/Curator A. R. Penfold immediately recognised the importance of the engineering models, and in 1935 began to borrow items for display. Penfold expanded the area available for displaying the models as they were seen as instructive for students in the adjacent Technical College as well as for the general public.
In early 1938, Stewart's company "Lymdale Ltd.", which owned most of the models, was approached about the purchase of a large part of the collection. Stewart was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Museum and, in July 1938, it began to purchase the models it had borrowed, as well as the best examples in the rest of the collection.The cost was estimated at ¬£3000. By 1943, the Museum was still acquiring material for the collection, and the Advisory Committee made a special appropriation request to the Minister of Education. " In view of the advantage of retaining a collection intact, and the national asset which the Museum possesses, the Committee recommends the purchase of the remainder of the Stewart collection offered at approximately ¬£2400 pounds". This sum was approved and between 1943 and 1945, around 80 more models were purchased. Apart from the monetary limitations, the acquisition was spread over a number of years, because some of Stewart's models needed to be finished before they could be sold.
The high costs reflected the quality of the models. Many of the working steam engines are one-off examples hand crafted by amateur modellers over the course of years. The same is true of some of the ship and locomotive models, many of which were made to exact scale, and include working parts. The models were carefully collected by Stewart, who collected as much for posterity as he did for personal interest. Once contacted by the Museum, he deliberately sought out models which would fill historical and technological gaps, and, as a result, the collection is one of the most significant still extant in Australia.
This model was purchased in 1944.
Senior Curator, Transport
Research by Museum Volunteers Rob Mayrick and Helen McGregor.
Chalmers, A., 'The Model Engineer in Australia and New Zealand ', Melbourne, January 1939.
Davison, G., Webber, K., ' Yesterday's Tomorrows; the Powerhouse Museum and its precursors 1880-2005 ', Powerhouse Publishing, 2005.
Lavery, B., Stephens, S., ' Ships Models ; their purpose and development from 1650 to the present', Zwemmer, London,1995.
Marshall, Percival, "The Model Engineer", London, April 29. 1937.
Marshall, Percival, "The Model Engineer", London, May 27,1937.
Marshall, Percival, "The Model Engineer", London, January 27, 1938.
Marshall, Percival, "The Model Engineer", London, April 14, 1938.
In 1852 a contract was given by the British Government to the P & O Steam Navigation Company for a large passenger ship designed to compete with fast clipper ships for speed and economy. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the ship at 18 915 tonnes, was by far the largest ship ever built in her time, and had the capacity to carry up to 4000 passengers. Building commenced on 1 May 1854 at the shipyard of J. Scott Russell & Co. The ship was finally launched in 1858 sideways into the Thames. She proved disastrously expensive to build and launch, which effectively sent the shipyard bankrupt.
The first trials proved catastrophic as well, when a boiler exploded, blowing off the forward funnel, killing six crew, wounding others, and wrecking the Grand Saloon. The funnel was salvaged by Weymouth Water Company, and was used as the container for a water filter unit submerged in a new reservoir. It was recovered by Wessex Water when they carried out a major overhaul of the reservoir and finally moved to the Great Britain Museum at Bristol in 2004.
Repaired and refitted, the ¬?Great Eastern¬? sailed on her maiden voyage to New York on 17 June 1860 with 400 crew and 36 passengers. Several more voyages to the US were undertaken, with major damage being sustained on one voyage (September 1861) in a severe Atlantic storm. On another voyage in August 1862 she ran aground on submerged rocks outside New York Harbour. There were three voyages to New York in 1863 but soaring costs forced sale of the ¬?Great Eastern¬? to a new company, Great Eastern Steamship Company.
The company chartered the ship to the newly formed Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, who had the ship refitted for a new role as a cable layer. The ship was highly successful in this capacity, laying the first lasting transatlantic cable in 1866, and in all from 1865 to 1874 laying five telegraph cables under the Atlantic from Europe to North America, and others linking Aden to Bombay.
At the end of her cable laying career the ¬?Great Eastern¬? was once again refitted as a passenger liner, but this was not a commercial success. She was variously used as a showboat, a floating palace/concert hall, and even as an advertising hoarding, sailing up and down the Mersey River in Liverpool, advertising Lewis's Department Store, her then owners.
She was finally broken up for scrap at Rock Ferry on the Mersey in 1889/90. At that time, the Liverpool Football Club was looking for a flagpole for their Anfield Ground, and subsequently purchased the topmast of the ¬?Great Eastern¬? for that purpose. It still stands there today.