Ron Pinner


This 1:48 scale S.S. Great Britain seen at the 2017 London exhibition at Alexandra Palace was designed and built by Ron Pinner. It is as the ship was in 1845, with some modifications to rigging and bilge keels to make it a working model. The rudder, motor and sails are all radio controlled. Hull construction is plank on frame.

The original is now in Bristol in the care of a Trust. As it says: “No one had ever designed so vast a ship, nor had the vision to build it of iron. Brunel fitted her with a 1000 hp steam engine, the most powerful yet used at sea. Perhaps most daring of all, Brunel rejected using conventional paddle wheels to drive his ship. Instead, he gave the SS Great Britain a screw propeller. This was the newest invention in maritime technology. By seeing how to combine these key innovations, Brunel created a ship that changed history.”

In 1852 the ship was sold for use in carrying emigrants to Australia. The original engine was replaced with a more efficient one, a second funnel was added, and the ship’s rudder and propeller were replaced. On the Australia run the ship was to rely more on sail power than on her steam engine, which saved money. The engine and propeller were used mostly as back-up, when the wind was light or blowing from the wrong direction. An extra upper deck was built, so that the ship could carry up to 700 passengers.

The ship faced the wildest sea conditions in the world. In 1886, storms off Cape Horn badly damaged the SS Great Britain and she sheltered in the Falkland Islands. The ship’s owners decided the cost of repairs was too high and, eventually, their insurers sold the ship to the Falkland Islands Company. The ship’s working life ended in 1933, but after a rescue attempt failed she was left to rot.

However, Ewan Corlett, a naval architect, had long recognised the importance of the SS Great Britain. Months of research and planning gave him the confidence to attempt a second rescue operation which would return the ship to the U.K.

Despite ferocious gales, an expert salvage team managed to re-float the ship in April 1970. The SS Great Britain crossed the Atlantic sitting on a huge floating pontoon pulled by tugs for 8,000 miles back to her birth place in Bristol.

Photos by Roger Froud.