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The steamship Great Eastern laying the first successful Atlantic cable

Oil paintings

Object connections:

Collection Oil paintings, Fine art
Gallery locationNot on display
VesselsGreat Eastern (1858)

Object details:

Object ID BHC3380
Description The 'Great Eastern', or Leviathan, launched in 1858, was much larger than any previous ship and was not equalled in size for another 50 years. She had both paddle and screw propulsion and was designed to carry 4,000 passengers, but she made only nine Atlantic crossings before her conversion to a cable-laying ship in order to lay the first transatlantic cable from Ireland to Newfoundland in 1865. A previous attempt by the 'Agamemnon' had failed in 1858. The 1865 project also failed when the cable broke and could not be recovered, but a repeat attempt by 'Great Eastern' in 1866 succeeded and recovered and completed the 1865 cable as well. In 1869 'Great Eastern' also laid a French Atlantic cable from Brest and was seen doing so at sea off Ushant by a passenger called H. Short from Lower Sydenham, making a voyage in another ship to Gibraltar: his illustrated travel journal was sold at Bonham's, London, on 7 June 2011 (apparently to a French dealer) but a relevant passage was quoted in the sale report in the 'Antiques Trade Gazette' of 9 July, p. 37: 'we were broadside on to the great ship and within hail, the Captain having deviated somewhat from his course in order to give his passengers a view of the monster vessel, with her attendant steamer, which appeared like a waterman's boat, by comparison. Great excitement - crew ordered to man the rigging - passengers standing in line on the deck - the Captain uncovered [i.e. took his hat off], and with the usual number of "hips", we all joined in three tremendous cheers, which after some little delay were returned...We could plainly see the cable "paying" out.' Henry Clifford (1821-1905) was second engineer on the 'Great Eastern' and in charge of its cable machinery, but also an amateur artist in oils and watercolours: the Museum holds a number of his works in both media, all those in oil relating to the ship and its Atlantic cable work.
Date made 1865

Artist/Maker Clifford, Henry
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials oil on cardboard
Measurements Frame: 538 mm x 694 mm x 55 mm;Painting: 430 mm x 585 mm
  • The steamship Great Eastern laying the first successful Atlantic cable (BHC3380)
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