The history of the Great Eastern is full of surprises. It is always that which is most unlikely to happen to her which occurs. Not long since we recorded her sale by auction in Liverpool for £26,000. It was stated that her purchasers were going to fit her out for the Australian trade, and that she would at once be sent from Dublin to Glasgow to be fitted with new engines and boilers, and to undergo thorough renovation. Lord Ravensworth, in his address to the Institution of Naval Architects, spoke recently of the bright future before her in that Australian trade for which she was specially built. Yet at this moment the Great Eastern is lying in her old berth in the Sloyne at Liverpool, and unless something else at present quite unforeseen takes place, she will once more play the undignified part of a floating music hall. It seems that although she was certainly sold, as we have stated, the transaction was not completed. Her owners then cast about for the next highest bidder, who at once took her. He is, we understand, a Manchester cotton spinner, and he paid £25,500 for her. It is no secret that Messrs. Lewis made a considerable sum out of the ship last year, and the knowledge of this fact has no doubt induced her present owner to follow their example.
The ship left Dublin on Sunday, April 3, under her own steam and in tow of two Liverpool tugs, the Brilliant Star and the Wrestler, and arrived in the Mersey without accident on Monday, after a passage of only thirteen hours. Mr. Reeves, formerly her chief officer, has been made captain. Mr. Jackson is still chief engineer. We cannot at present explain the fact that she went more than twice as fast as she has done recently, her engines making as many as 36 revolutions a minute, save on the assumption that while lying at Dublin much of the enormous growth of seaweed on her bottom died off, as will sometimes happen as a result of change of water. Her engines and boilers, too, have had a good overhaul by Mr. Jackson, and this may account in part for this improvement. It is much to be regretted that the scheme of using the ship for her legitimate purpose has not been carried out. It is not, however, yet too late. The Great Eastern was not a success in Dublin, for one reason, that a beer and spirit license could not be obtained for her. It is said that notice has been given at the Birkenhead police court that any application for a license of a similar kind will be opposed.
Whether the ship will be as popular a resort without as she was with a license, we cannot pretend to say; and we may add that all our predilections are against her degradation to the status of a floating music hall. The greater her failure as such, the greater the chance of her being put to a better use; and it may help to that desirable end if we say here something concerning the way in which she could be rendered a commercial success as a trader.
It may be taken as proved that the present value of the ship is about £26,000. Mr. De Mattos gave, we understand, £27,000 for her, and he bought her by auction. The last sale gives nearly the same figures. If we assume that there are 10,000 tons of iron in her, we may also assume that if broken up it would not fetch more than £3 a ton at present rates; but even if we say £4, we have as a total but £40,000. To break the ship up would be a herculean task; we very much doubt if it could be done for the difference between £26,000 and £40,000; her engines would only sell for old iron, being entirely worthless for any other place than the foundry once they were taken out of her; as for her boilers, the less said about them the better. In one word, she would not pay to break up. On the other hand, by a comparatively moderate further outlay, she might be made the finest trading ship afloat. There are two harbors at all events into which she can always get, namely, Milford and Sydney. There are others, of course, but these will do; and the ship could trade between these two ports. By taking out her paddle engines, she would be relieved of a weight of 850 tons.
The removal of her paddle engine boilers would further lighten her, and would give in addition an enormous stowage space. By using her both as a cargo and a passenger ship, the whole of the upper portion could be utilized for emigrants, let us say, and the lower decks for cargo, of which she could carry nearly, if not quite, 20,000 tons. She would possess the great advantage that, notwithstanding she was a cargo ship, she would be nearly, if not quite, as fast as any, save a few of the most recent additions to the Australian fleet. There is every reason to believe that she has been driven at 14 knots by about 6,000 horse power. We are inclined to think that the power has been overstated, and we have it on good authority that she has more than once attained a speed of 15 knots. Let us assume, however, that her speed is to be 13 knots, or about fifteen miles an hour. Assuming the power required to vary as the cube of the speed, if 6,000 horsepower gave 14 knots, then about 4,800 would give 13 knots - say 5,000 horse power. Now, good compound engines of this power ought not to burn more than 2 lb. per horse per hour, or say 4.5 tons per hour, or 108 tons a day. Allowing the trip to Australia to take forty days, we have 4,320 tons of coal - say 5,000 tons for the trip.
The Etruria burns about this quantity in the run to New York and back. For each ton of coal burned in the Great Eastern about 15,000 tons of cargo and 3,000 passengers could be moved about 3-1/3 miles. There is, we need hardly say, nothing afloat which can compare in economy of fuel with this. Taken on another basis, we may compare her with an ordinary cargo boat. In such a vessel about 3,000 tons of grain can be moved at 9 knots an hour for 600 horse power - that is 5 tons of cargo per horse power. Reducing the speed of the Great Eastern to 9 knots and about 2,000 horse power, we have 9 tons of cargo moved at 9 knots per horse power; so that in the relation of coal burned to cargo moved she would be nearly twice as economical as any other vessel afloat.
The important question is, What would the necessary alterations cost? Much, of course, would depend on what was done. A very large part of the present screw engines could be used. For example, the crank shaft, some 2 feet in diameter, is a splendid job, and no difficulty need be met with in working in nearly the whole of the present framing. If the engines were only to be compound, two of the existing cylinders might be left where they are, two high-pressure cylinders being substituted for the others. If triple expansion were adopted, then new engines would be wanted, but the present crank and screw shafts would answer perfectly. The present screw would have to be removed and one of smaller diameter and less pitch put in its place. All things considered, we believe that for about £75,000 the Great Eastern could be entirely renovated and remodeled inside. Her owners would then have for, say, £100,000 a ship without a rival. Her freights might be cut so low that she would always have cargo enough, and her speed and moderate fares ought to attract plenty of passengers.
Sum up the matter how we may, there appears to be a good case for further investigation and inquiry as to the prospects of success for such a ship in the Australian trade, and the opinion of merchants and others in Melbourne and Sydney ought to be obtained. Something would be gained even if the opinions of unprejudiced experts were adverse. We might then rest content to regard the ship as an utter failure, and not object to see her sunk and filled with concrete to play the part of a breakwater. Until, however, such an opinion has been expressed after full discussion, we must continue to regard the ship as fit for something better than a music hall and dancing saloon. - The Engineer.See Engraving in SUPPLEMENT NO. 584.