Five of the most famous ships in history
History is full of magnificent vessels which captured the imaginations of sailors and the general public alike. Many of these great ships became famous because they sustained great voyages, others helped to the tides of crucial battles, while some simply had an especially memorable name that hit the headlines.
With the Mayflower 400 celebrations on their way next year for Plymouth, we decided to take a look at some of the most famous ships in history. Whether sunk or still sailing strong, here are five of the most famous ships to sail into the history books.
5. SS Great Britain
Dubbed as the forefather of the modern ship, the SS Great Britain revolutionised boat-building and the way humanity crossed the ocean. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the SS Great Britain incorporated the newest marine technology, including a screw propeller. The vessel began her life as passenger ship before being used as a cargo ship from 1882.
The ship was sold to the Falkland Islands in 1886 and ceased being used to ship cargo in 1933. After this, the SS Great Britain was left to rust until 1970, where she returned home to Bristol. It took three years to complete her restoration but today you can climb aboard the SS Great Britain at the original Great Western Dockyard in Bristol and explore this amazing piece of floating history for yourself.
4. RRS Sir David Attenborough
A famous modern ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough is a research vessel owned by the National Environment Council, which went down an unusual route to decide on the vessel’s name. The research team took to social media asking for people to vote on a name for the ship, and unsurprisingly, they received some rather unusual responses, with the most popular being Boaty McBoatface.
Naturally, the sheer novelty of the campaign created a large response, but the team opted for the second most popular response in the end, RRS Sir David Attenborough. The name Boaty McBoatface was instead relegated to the sub-sea vehicle of the ship, to uphold the wishes of the British public.
Possibly one of the most iconic ships of all time, the fleet-leading HMS Victory was involved with five famous naval battles during a lively period of British history during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, after she was launched in 1765.
The most well-known of these, the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, saw HMS Victory commanded by Vice- Admiral Nelson, who sadly died on the deck after the battle was won. Today, this is largely observed as the greatest success of the British Navy.
In 1922, HMS Victory was permanently moored as a museum. Currently, the ship is the oldest commissioned warship in the world and can still be viewed at Portsmouth dock.
2. HMS Belfast
This mighty vessel was built to be the signature vessel in an imposing naval blockade to protect Britain during World War Two. After hitting a mine and being forced out of action for three years, HMS Belfast returned to glory in 1942 when she rejoined the home fleet and succeeded in taking down the German Battle cruiser, Scarnhorst. From there, HMS Belfast played an active role in the D-Day landings and was a major contributor to their success.
After helping in the Korean War and carrying out minor peacekeeping, the vessel was retired and was later converted into an exhibit for the Imperial War Museum. Today, the warship is in excellent condition and can still be seen on the River Thames.
1. The Mayflower
What else could we name as number one? The Mayflower set sail from Sutton Harbour itself almost 400 years ago, leaving what we now call the Mayflower Steps in the autumn of 1620 to reach ‘the New World’. Around 100 Protestant Separatists set off to establish a new way of life and to find religious freedom, and they became known simply as ‘the Pilgrims’.
Life on the ship was harsh and cramped, but many hoped it would be worth it when they reached new lands and found new opportunities. The Mayflower was not built to house passengers; it was a goods ship by nature and the passengers had to face gruelling conditions for two months, all whilst battling gale force winds. The structure of the boat was even damaged at one point but the ship was saved and successfully reached America where the Pilgrims became the Founding Fathers of the New World.
Next year marks the 400th anniversary of this legendary voyage, and a vast variety of exciting, commemorative events will take place in Plymouth. The celebrations will kick off in November this year with the Illuminate festival officially launching the Mayflower 400 commemoration year.
You can even discover the history and importance of boat naming on our previous blog.