Like the Levant Packet which was launched at St Ives on 4th January 1828, Brunel's Great Eastern was also a difficult ship to launch and needed several attempts to get her afloat. On 31st January 1858 Great Eastern finally floated and on 7th September 1859 she set off on her maiden voyage down the Thames and round to Holyhead. At 692 feet long with an 83 feet beam and a displacement of 27,000 tons Great Eastern was easily the biggest ship the world had ever seen. In fact it would be 49 years before before a a larger ship, the Lusitania, outstripped her.
Great Eastern never sailed the Far Eastern routes for which she had been designed and only found profitable use in laying under-sea cable. Her vast size made her the only vessel afloat which could carry enough cable to connect Great Britain to America and on 13th July 1866 the first message was sent over the cable which which Brunel's great ship had successfully laid.
The cable laying was overseen on shipboard by Sir Daniel Gooch who, together with Brunel, had developed the Great Western Railway and used the broad gauge to put Penzance within a day's travel of London. By July 1866 Brunel was dead but the partnership of Gooch and Brunel was still instrumental in creating the Atlantic telegraphic link which led to a boom in telegraphic communications and paved the way for the creation of the Porthcurno Telegraph Station. The first cable came ashore at Porthcurno in 1870, the first link in a cable which would eventually stretch to Bombay.
Steven Brindle, Brunel: The Man Who Built the World, Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2005
The Diaries of Sir Daniel Gooch, Nonsuch Publishing, 2006