Dubbed 'the great iron ship', the Great Eastern was designed to ply trade routes between Europe and Australia.
She was the most technologically advanced and the largest ship of her day - 40 years ahead of her time. She set precedents for design and construction that inform ship building today.
Structurally, the Great Eastern performed as a giant beam. Longitudinal bulkheads running between the bow and stern gave massive girder strength, with a steel deck performing as a top flange.
Unusual for the time were transverse iron bulkheads, providing watertight integrity.
The ship's cellular double hull gave additional strength and security in the event of hull damage. Some 140 years later this feature is becoming mandatory for large tankers.
The Great Eastern was driven by side paddles and a screw propeller. With all systems in operation her top speed approached 13 knots.
Like all large ships she was difficult to turn. But like bow and stern thrusters on modern ships, the side paddles enhanced manoeuvrability.
Commercially the Great Eastern was not a success - she was put into competition with smaller ships on the transAtlantic route rather than the long-distance Australia route she was designed for. Her enormous size meant she was constantly loaded under capacity, while few ports could offer berthing with sufficient draft. Technologically, though, she was a triumph.