Building the 'Great Leviathan' (the 'Great Eastern') by William Parrott

Building the 'Great Leviathan' (the 'Great Eastern')

William Parrott

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Building the 'Great Leviathan' (the 'Great Eastern')

This is an oil painting of the ‘Great Eastern’ (originally to have been named ‘Leviathan’) under construction in 1858 at a site adjacent to Millwall Shipyard on the Isle of Dogs. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built by the engineer and iron-ship designer John Scott Russell, she had both paddle and screw engines and, for extra strength, a double bottom and a tubular upper deck. She was partially square rigged. A company was floated for the purpose of building her and trading between Britain and India, and potentially on to Australia.

On the far left of the painting are two barges flying the Royal Standard and another Admiralty barge. This probably denotes a private visit that Queen Victoria made to the ship on 28 June 1858 – not to Millwall, but to Deptford, after the ship had been floated down to her new moorings there on 31 January 1858, for fitting out. In the distance are visible the domes and facades of the Royal Naval College. The single-masted hospital ship ‘Dreadnought’ can be seen to the right of the college. The foreground is full of carefully observed river craft, including a Dutch trading smack and Thames barges. In the foreground, a Thames barge with lowered mast contains a number of people on board, including several children.

  • Image reference: S3901

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