The SS Great Western was at the time the fastest way to cross the Atlantic Ocean. This meant that passengers could get from England to New York much faster. Thus emigrating to America would have been quicker for our ancestors.
So first a little about the ship. She was built by the Great Western Steamship Company owned by amongst others Isambard Kingdom Brunel. She was built at the Patterson and Mercer ship yard in Bristol. She was 76.8 metres long and 17.5 metres wide. She was an iron cladded wooden ship with 2 steam engines giving out 750 horse power which was used to power 2 side mounted paddle steamers. She also had 4 masts for sails just in case. In total she had 60 crew members to run the ship which could house 128 1st class passengers (with their 20 servants). On her maiden voyage leaving from Bristol on the 8th April 1838 she arrived in New York on the 23rd April. The Great Western was in service from 1838 until 1846 when she was sold after a number of incidents including a grounding to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. She ended her life after the Crimean War where she had been used for troop transport.
Now I know the ship only transported 1st class passengers but she did open the doors to faster transatlantic travel. With a sail powered ship in the early Victorian period it could take up to 6 weeks to cross to America. SS Great Western did it in 15 days on average.
So what did this mean for our ancestors? Well for many 6 weeks to cross the Atlantic was far too long a prospect. It perhaps stopped them from making the journey to a new life. I know I wouldn’t want to be on a ship for that long, I’d have gone stir crazy. 4 and half hours to Jersey was enough for me thank you very much. Now with the advent of these new faster ships that meant that you could get to New York faster and faster. Admittedly it probably cost a lot more than going by sailing ship and initially probably only attracted the wealthier but things were heading in the right direction.
Now a lot of us will probably have ancestors who left our shores for America and Canada. I know I have. I have ancestors who left in the mid 1840’s on board the sailing ship Hottinguer. They were druggists (chemists) in England and moved to New York State to set up a successful business Hudson County. Now John and Hugh Wardle were just19 and 20 and from Leek, Staffordshire when they left so I would assume a first class ticket on board a steam ship was beyond their reach. But did they ever use a steam ship if they ever came back to England? (I don’t think they did as their mum was dead and their father died in New York State so he must have joined them).
But the advent of the steam ship didn’t just reduce sailing times across the Atlantic. You may have had ancestor who decided that Australia was they place they wanted to emigrate to. Warm sun, gorgeous beaches, wombats why not! But by sailing ship this was a voyage of around 4 months. 4 months of seasickness, cramped conditions and poor food, that probably wasn’t mentioned in the brochure. Enter the steamships. In 1888 the SS Australasian could get you from London to Sydney in just 50 days with 640 passengers on board.
So SS Great Western was the first of the steam ships built with the purpose of crossing the Atlantic and by doing so she paved the way for faster travel for our ancestors and thus made the prospect of emigrating to a new country and my quicker one.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!