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William Harrison (1813-1860)

William Harrison was the Captain of the great Iron Ship, The Great Eastern. Built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and launched (sideways) in January 1858, the ship was dogged by misfortune. The actual launch took three months and pushed the cost of the ship to astronomic proportions, such that the ship had to wait two years for it's maiden voyage, in June 1860. Built to such huge proportions to make the England - Australia run with as few stops as possible, it's maiden voyage was to New York, with about 230 passengers aboard, she could hold almost 4,000!

Bad luck followed the ship, on her fourth trip across the Atlantic she got caught up in a storm which broke her rudder and she had to drift for three days, until repairs could be made in Cork, Ireland, at a cost of £60,000.   In 1862 the ship carried its record amount of fare paying passengers, 1500, and tore a gash in its hull some 45 feet long and 4 feet wide, she stayed afloat thanks to her double hull. After these, and other mishaps, the Great Eastern spent the remainder of its life as a cable laying ship.

She was chartered by the Atlantic Telegraph Company to lay a cable between America and Great Britain.   After several tries she completed her mission in 1866. In the final few years she was bought for the paltry sum of £26,000 to be used as a floating advertising board. Finally, in 1888 she was sold to a scrapping firm in Birkenhead for £16,000. While the ship was being dismantled, a skeleton was found in the double hull.

Source: © Mike Faulkner

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