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A deck scene on the 'Great Eastern'

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleDepiction: Russell, John Scott
VesselsGreat Eastern (1858)

Object details:

Object ID BHC4252
Description A rare view of life on deck aboard the transatlantic steam ship ‘Great Eastern’. It was made during the first leg of the 1865 transatlantic cable-laying voyage of the ship, then the largest paddle steamer in the world. In the summer of 1865, seven years after the failure of the 1858 cable, another attempt was made to lay a cable between Ireland and Newfoundland. Brunel’s ‘Great Eastern’ had just been converted to a cable ship to be used for the expedition. While at Sheerness the ‘Great Eastern’ was loaded with 7000 tons of cable and 21,000 tons of coal: she set sail on 24 June, for Valentia in Ireland. On 19 July the operation began and though initially uneventful was soon disrupted by damage to the cable. This was caused by broken pieces of the armouring wires though at first it was thought to be sabotage. Then on 2 August 1865, after 1200 miles of the cable had been laid, disaster struck when it broke and sank 2½ miles into the ocean with all attempts at recovery being unsuccessful. After the loss of the cable the ship returned to Ireland, arriving there on 17 August 1865. The cable was not successfully laid until 1866. Robert Dudley was among the dignitaries and journalists invited to travel on the ship and record this momentous journey. In the painting he shows some of the passengers on the upper deck, which was also the main thoroughfare of the ship. The four men and three women are grouped on the right, the women hold parasols and shawls. Behind them on the right some men are shown standing on the gantry by the paddle wheel casing. On the deck on the left are the skylights which both lit the main salon and provided extra ventilation. The painting prominently shows the funnels, ropes and sails of the ship. A shawl has been casually draped over the cannon in the foreground. Dudley was the expedition artist on board and made watercolour sketches for the ‘Illustrated London News’ which he sent back by mail packet. Later, 26 of his original drawings of this trip were turned into lithographs to illustrate William Howard’s account of the 1865 ‘Great Eastern’ cable-laying voyage, ‘The Atlantic Telegraph’ published by Day in 1866. Some of the sketches were worked up into finished oil paintings for Cyrus W. Field, American promoter of the Atlantic Telegraph Company. Many of these are now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Dudley is best known for his pictures of the 'Great Eastern' but he also illustrated the ‘Army and Navy Almanacs’.
Date made 1868

Artist/Maker Dudley, Robert Charles
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Purchased with the assistance of the Society for Nautical Research Macpherson Fund.
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 1016 mm x 1422 mm; Frame: 1360 mm x 1790 mm x 135 mm, Weight: 50kg
  • A deck scene on the 'Great Eastern' (BHC4252)
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