With a little help from Jules Verne and a Netflix documentary [ii], our homeschoolers researched, drew then wrote about engineer, and visionary, Isombard Brunel’s, passenger liner, ‘The Great Eastern.’ The first ship made mostly of Iron.
This massive ship was built between 1852 and 1858. Deemed a commercial disaster, due to low demand, it was utilised to lay the transatlantic cable, being the only ship afloat that could carry the load. The Great Eastern was later refit to once again carry passengers.
In 1867, Jules Verne travelled on board the boat from Liverpool to New York [ii]. Documenting his travel and noting almost every detail of the ship, inside and out, he wrote,
‘this steamship is indeed a masterpiece of naval construction; more than a vessel, it is a floating city.’ [iii]
In 1889, The Great Eastern’s days were over. The ship was scrapped and its material recycled.
In addition to discussing this monumental building and design project, we examined both the human and environmental costs of iron shipbuilding, coal and steam-powered engines.
Of course, on paper, all of this sounds complex. Even, over the top. It wasn’t.
Throughout this our homeschoolers were able to point out three things: the mistreatment of people, and the pollution produced in making and running the ship. This added a whole new element to the discussion.
Consequently, we were able to briefly look at the lack of workplace safety considerations and the lack of workers rights in that age. Included in this was the issue of child labour and the ever relevant concept that challenges even the most compassionate of capitalists: the constant challenge to balance cost, profit and vision, with the safety and rights of the people involved.
[i] BBC, 2011 ‘Seven Wonders of the Industrial World’
[ii] University Of Bristol, 2006 ‘Brunel’s Great Eastern: A Floating City’
[iii] Verne, J. 1871, ‘A Floating City’, Kindle Ed. (p.2)