The ss Great Britain was a revolutionary and influential ship. Designed by Brunel and launched in 1843 she was the world’s first ocean going propeller driven iron ship. Packed with new technologies she was considerably longer and faster than her rivals. However when she arrived in the shelter of Port Stanley, Falkland Islands on May 26th, 1886 she was a worn and battered ship. Damaged in a storm whilst trying to navigate around Cape Horn from east to west she would never sail again.
For the next 51 years, the Great Britain was moored in Stanley Harbour as a store ship for coal and wool, from where she was towed some 3½ miles to be beached at Sparrow Cove on April 12th, 1937. The following day holes were knocked into her stern and one amidships to ensure that she would never float again.
However that was not to be the case! The recovery of this historically significant ship was discussed over the years in both the United States of America and Great Britain. Funding was eventually sought and following a very welcome message of encouragement in the recovery project made by Prince Phillip, funds started to trickle in. Following a conversation between Richard Goold-Adams, Chairman of the ‘ss Great Britain Project’ and Jack Hayward, the Bahamas-based British philanthropist, Jack Hayward promised up to £150,000 towards the cost of returning her home to Bristol. On February 4th, 1970, following detailed technical assessments made by Burness, Corlett and Partners, naval architects, the recovery became a reality when the project chartered through Risdon Beazley Ulrich Harms Ltd of Southampton, a large submersible pontoon, Mulus III of 2,667 gross tons. Towed by the tug Varius II, the pontoon headed for the Falkland Islands arriving at Stanley on March 25th, 1970.
The Anglo-German salvage team (15 German crew of the tug and 6 British who had joined the vessel in Montevideo en-route including Leslie O’Neil the salvage officer in charge) moved to Sparrow Cove the following day and dropped anchor near the Great Britain and started work, ably assisted by the detachment of Royal Marines stationed in the Islands and local building contractor, Willie Bowles, all under the watchful eye of Lord Strathcona.
The pontoon itself was lashed end on to the port side of the ship, and the sheerlegs were erected on the pontoon deck. It was from this stable platform that work began on removing the masts so as to avoid any damage should they collapse on the voyage north. Three divers started patching the holes below the waterline by fitting plywood patches on the outside of the hull, hooking them tightly on to pieces of angle iron across the inside and then sealing the whole area from the inside with hydraulic cement. The fixing of the 13” crack which had opened up below the forward entry port on the starboard side, as a result of the scouring of the tide, was achieved by bolting 3 steel strip plates across the crack at each of the three upper deck levels. Each steel strip measured 30 ft long, 1 ft wide and ½” thick. A dozen old mattresses were stuffed into the crack and once pressure was applied on the vessel becoming water-borne the crack sealed as planned. The straps were then cut, straightened and lap-welded back into place with concrete poured in behind to create a seal.
Title: Restoration of ss Great Britain
Date of Issue: 12 April 2010
Country: Falkland Islands
27p – ss Great Britain positioned on the pontoon alongside a jetty in Stanley prior to being towed to Bristol
50p – Beached at Sparrow Cove where she was rested for 33 years
65p – showing the bow section of the ss Great Britain
£1.10 – showing one of the masts and remains of her rigging