The steamship Great Eastern was built to carry 4,000 passengers from England to Australia without refueling. However – for its first long distance journey it had been arranged that it would leave Southampton about 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, 16th June 1860 to cross the Atlantic to New York. There were large crowds at Southampton to watch – but when 4 o’clock arrived nothing happened! At 7 o’clock the steam began and everyone got ready to cheer. Nothing happened! There were stories that the delay was because the crew were drunk! It is certainly true that the company director Daniel Gooch, who was traveling aboard, was not at all pleased! It was not until 8 o’clock on this Sunday morning 17th June 1860, after a night at it’s moorings, that the Great Eastern finally slipped her moorings in Southampton waters and started on her first voyage to America. The newspapers of the day note that she had just 35 paying passengers on board – 2 or 3 of who were ladies! There were also eight company non-paying passengers, and a crew of 418. Among the passengers were two journalists; two engineers – Zerah Colburn and Alexander Lyman Holley –- and three directors of the Great Ship Company.
Although the weather was described as ‘thick and stormy’ it was recorded that she ‘threaded the narrow and tortuous channel down the Solent, and through the Needles, in safety, under the pilot-age of Mr Bowyer’.
Various telegrams give us a deeper understanding of the delays and departure. One says ‘The weather was far too thick and stormy to render it prudent for her to have got away last night’. Perhaps it is as well she didn’t, as on passing Hurst Castle a ‘large troop ship could be plainly distinguished stuck fast among the rocks near the Needles.’
There are, though, also stories that the delay was because the crew were drunk! It is certainly true that the company director Daniel Gooch, who was traveling aboard, was not at all pleased!