Features / ss Great Britain

The story of every person who ever travelled on the SS Great Britain

By lois ilse mae, Saturday Feb 10, 2018

After 18 months of painstaking work, volunteers at the SS Great Britain have unveiled a huge new database that holds all the names and details of every single person that ever traveled on the ship throughout its lifetime – both crew and passengers – offering an insight into their life on board.

It is hoped that the database, called Global Stories, will enable every single visitor to the SS Great Britain to find at least one link to someone who was once on Brunel’s world famous ship – whether that’s by name, ancestry, nationality and more.

The Global Stories project began as a database for researchers to find out more about the people who traveled on the ship during the 19th century, but once Arts Council England funding was secured, it transformed into a database that everyone could make use of.

The database will constantly updated, so that if further information is unearthed, or, as occasionally happens, visitors bring in diaries and other artifacts from relatives with a connection to the ship, volunteers can expand the stories of life on board.

The handwritten diary of Allan Gilmour, a passenger on board the SS Great Britain

“There is the engineering and technical side of the ship, but it’s really interesting to understand the lives that were changed or started or ended as a result of traveling on the ship,” explains Dominic Rowe from the SS Great Britain.

“It is really great to have that depth of database.”

While the SS Great Britain was built in Bristol, she travelled to the four corners of the Earth while in service, making regular journeys to Australia as a passenger liner and then to other parts of the globe as a troop ship.

As a result, visitors from all over the world have links with the ship, offering the team a myriad of potential stories to add to the database.

A volunteer in the on-site library transcribing passenger lists

Although the team at the SS Great Britain now have many names and a clear vision of what life on board was like, they are still some way from having the stories of every person on board.

However, there are several people for whom a full story has already been built up, and for these, boarding cards with original boarding information and antidotes from diaries have been created.

As visitors walk onto the ship, the boarding cards will be available to pick up and read. There are activities on the cards for children and also QR codes that enable visitors to view the profile of the person that is on their card on the Global Stories website.

Dominic adds: “The diaries that have been donated by family feed into the database, but also into the story of the ship.”

Visit the Global Stories website at www.globalstories.ssgreatbritain.org

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