Isambard Kingdom Brunel

The world’s first modern ship – SS Great Britain

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Launch of the Great Britain in 1843

Desiring nothing than to push his inventions to the limit, Brunel began experimenting with a propeller-driven steamship technology in the early 1840s. His goal was to build a sister ship to the Great Western, only this time the ship would be propeller-driven. His tests from the propeller-driven steamship Archimedes revealed that propeller-driven ships were far better than paddle wheels.

Launched in 1843, Great Britain at 322-foot (98 m) was the longest ship in the world at the time. It came with a six-bladed propeller. It also took the honor of being the first modern ship as it was constructed primarily from metal and not wood. Instead of wind or oars, it used a steam-powered engine and propeller.

Making its maiden voyage in early autumn of 1845, Brunel’s ship was truly the first of its kind to cross the Atlantic Ocean as it sailed from Liverpool, England, to New York.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s prefabricated hospital saved numerous lives during the Crimean War

Renkioi Hospital, Turkey

It was estimated that Brunel’s prefabricated hospital – the Renkioi Hospital – reduced the mortality rate by about 10 times. The hospital came with pre-installed features that improved hygiene, ventilation and sanitation. | Image: Map of pre-fabricated Renkioi hospital designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel

About a year into the Crimean War (1853-1856), Florence Nightingale, a renowned British nurse and social reformer, sent out a desperate plea to the British over the deplorable and deadly state of affairs at a British Army Hospital at the Selimiye Barracks in Scutari (present-day Uskudar District, Istanbul, Turkey). Then-Permanent Under Secrtary of War, Sir Benjamin Hawes, tasked Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design and build a pre-fabricated medical facility to alleviate the sufferings of injured British soldiers during the Crimean War.

Towards the end of winter in 1855, Brunel began work on what would become Renkioi Hospital. It took him about five months to get the pre-fabricated hospital fully equipped with features that offered health workers and nurses much cleaner conditions to operate in. By so doing, his pre-fabricated hospital, which made ample provision for drainage and ventilation, helped reduced the deaths, prompting the patroness of modern nursing Florence Nightingale to describe it as “those magnificent huts”.

Even to this day, English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s hospital designs continue to serve as the blueprint for how field medical facilities are constructed.

The Great Eastern

The SS Great Eastern (1866) was the world’s first ship to use a double iron hull design and strategic compartmentalization, making it, like the inventor, way ahead of its time.

Launched on January 31, 1858, Brunel’s SS Great Eastern made its maiden voyage on August 30, 1859. Originally called Leviathan, the Great Eastern combined both paddles and screw to make it the first double iron hull ship. Great Eastern bagged the honor of being the largest in the world at its date of launching. It displaced a whopping 32,000 tons and measured twice the length of the SS Great Britain. 

A leading pioneer of huge, propeller-driven and mostly metal steamships

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was undoubtedly one of the greatest engineers of his time, if not the greatest of all time to come from England. His ability to consistently introduce innovative engineering works makes him the father of large ships and all-metal steamships design and construction.

Although some of his ideas proved a bit unsuccessful (commercially), there is no doubt that his large, propeller-driven ships contributed enormously to not just transportation services across the Atlantic, but also improved telecommunication between the two continents. For example, the Great Eastern, a ship he built to embark on voyages to the Indian subcontinent and Australia, ended up playing a vital role as the layer of oceanic telegraphy cable across the Atlantic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *