Ventilation would be almost minimal, although it is possible that a porthole could be opened depending on what deck you were on and what the weather was like outside. Ablutions would be “down the hall”, and any entertainment was usually provided by the passengers themselves. The concept of stabilisers did not exist, the passengers were at the mercy of the sea just like the crew, although they may have had more superior accommodation to the fo’c’stle where the deck crew usually were bunked.
Voyages were long, cramped and uncomfortable. But a ship like the Great Britain was probably light years ahead of her competitors, and she was no tub either, but a well found vessel, albeit one that seems to have had a chequered career.
The skylights in the image above are directly underneath the skylights on the deck above so that light could penetrate the gloom below. It is really an effective method of providing light, although I wonder how watertight they were? This is the Promenade Deck and it has the large windowed stern at the far end.
Rising up into this deck area is the engine room, and this is a fascinating space in itself. The machinery occupying the space is massive. It occupies 3 decks and weighs in at 340 tons. There are 4 cylinders in 2 sets, each at a 33 degree angle in a V shape.
These drive a wooden toothed chain wheel just over 18 feet in diameter which turns another wheel on the shaft via a set of chains. The Great Britain used the same principle as a bicycle! The engine really has to be seen to be believed, quietly turning but never going anywhere.
Apparently her original engines were replaced by better ones (as the technology improved) and naturally there would be the benefit of more efficiency with less expenditure of money. However, the reliance on sails still existed, and while she was built as a steam ship with sail power available, she later changed to a sailing ship with an auxiliary engine. She also had the unique ability to retract her propeller when not in use and when running on sail.
I was also able to catch a glimpse at “steerage” dormitory style accommodation, and it is frightening to think of being cooped up in this area on a long voyage.
Another area of interest was what I expect you would call the first class dining saloon, and it is quite a large space, although the decor doesn’t really do much for me. I do not know what was behind those ornate doors though,. although I do know one was the gents!
Right in the bow of the ship was a large open area that was probably used at one point for cargo and probably crews quarters. Its a dark area and I don’t know how original it is, but it does give a good indication of the internal lines of the ship.
The ship is not afloat, and rests on keelblocks in the dry dock. Parts of her hull plating are rusted through, and there is a sophisticated humidifying system in place in the dry dock. to keep her hull stabilised. The fact is that iron rusts, and this ship is over 160 years old, and spent many years neglected and unused and semi derelict, it is inevitable that she is not in a pristine condition, in fact she is really a very tired old ship, but also a very handsome tired old ship.
Parts off the hull plating have rusted through and these have not been replaced, but you can get an idea of the fragility of the hull if you really take the time to have a look.
The part that interested me was in the dry dock itself, the ship is surrounded by glass panels and water flows across the panels giving the impression that she is afloat. For some reason this seems to work much better than what they did with the Cutty Sark which is more like a giant goldfish bowl.
Bear in mind that each of those rivets was put in by hand….. and many of the hull plating has a curvature to it. And did I mention it is over 160 years old? Seeing a ship from this angle is always fascinating because it is here that you really get a sense of scale (and how small you are compared to it). The propeller is a replica of Brunel’s 6 bladed design which is remarkably similar in performance to modern 6 bladed screws.
There is still so much to say about the ship and what I saw, it is always difficult trying to do justice to a vessel such as this in a blog, the ship is always better seen and experienced up close and personal. I know she was very different to what I expected, and I would have loved to have explored much more, but time was catching me and I still had to get to the station for my train. I will return to her one day, preferably in summer when the days are longer, and hopefully this time will know what to look for.
I revisited Bristol on 21/07/2018 and while I did go to the bookshop did not go on board the vessel. It was pretty crowded in there and not a very cheap excursion either. However, I did manage to get pics of her from the other bank of the harbour.