History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
Henry Clifford painting at National Maritime Museum (1)
The steamship 'Great Eastern' off Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, July 1866
The third of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s shipbuilding masterpieces. At a time when the largest ships afloat were under 5,000 tons, Great Eastern had a designed tonnage of 18,914. Like the Great Western and Great Britain before her, the Great Eastern was a one-off. There was nothing else like her in the world. Yet she was considered a commercial failure, ending her career as a floating billboard before being scrapped in 1888.
The artist was a second engineer on the Great Eastern and painted numerous oils of the ship.
Here is another version of the same painting. While it appears identical at first look, there are differences in the details.
Atlantic Cable Expedition, 1866
Bright (1898 p 98) describes the scene of the painting above as:
The two-volume biography of Sir Charles Bright includes black and white reproductions of three
of Clifford's paintings. Below is one of the illustrations from that book, a third variation of the same scene.
|Henry Clifford painting at National Maritime Museum (2)
The steamship Great Eastern laying the first successful Atlantic cable
Artist: Henry Clifford (fl. 185794)
Below is a smaller version of the same scene, about one quarter of the size of the painting and perhaps a study or a rough for the oil shown above. Move mouse over the image to compare with the NMM painting; click on the caption for a larger image.
A Cable Laying Ship
Another small painting of the Great Eastern, similar in size and execution to the one above, has descended in the Clifford family to Henry's great-granddaughter, Jacy Wall.
|Henry Clifford painting reproduced in Bright (1898)
Recovery of 1865 Atlantic Cable by S.S. “Great Eastern,”
Although the present location of the original of the painting shown above is unknown, this watercolour in the Clifford collection at the National Maritime Museum is clearly the source for it:
The Great Eastern at night
And this oil on canvas at the National Maritime Museum, although untitled, is also of the same scene:
Bow view of the steamship Great Eastern
Henry Clifford's fourth painting at the National Maritime Museum also appears to show this operation:
A buoy caught in the paddle of the steamship Great Eastern
Robert Dudley: Henry Clifford's Paying Out Machinery
Designed by Henry Clifford, the paying-out machinery used on the Great Eastern incorporated an automatic release mechanism and jockey wheels. The machinery had been designed to keep the cable taut as it paid out over the Great Eastern’s stern.
Image courtesy of IET Archives
See this article on the paying-out machinery on Great Eastern for a detailed description of Clifford's machinery, including period photographs.
Last revised: 19 December, 2019