FALSE. Although stories of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship, the Great Eastern, suggest that this myth may have originated there, where boys were required to work in the narrow space between her double hulls, where only they could fit. Later, men working on the ship complained of mysterious hammering noises below decks, which they said were the ghosts of those boys who had been trapped inside. It was also claimed that skeletal remains were found inside her hull when the Great Eastern was broken up for scrap, but there is no contemporary report of this, and the hull was never actually sealed, having several hatches for access.
The Great Eastern (at that time called Leviathan) may not have been haunted, but she was beset with difficulties in her construction and lifetime.
On her sea trials, there was an explosion in her boiler room which killed several people, and on one voyage from New York she ran down and damaged a small sailing ship, the Jane. She also collided with a rock off Long Island, an accident which ripped a gash in her outer hull 9 feet wide by 83 feet long, over 60 times the area of Titanic’s damage. Her double hull, however, allowed her to reach harbour with only a list to port to show for the damage. Interestingly, Titanic would also have survived this accident, as a continuous tear of 83 feet in the forward part of her hull would not have flooded more than three of Titanic’s forward compartments and Titanic was designed to cope with this sort of injury. Unluckily for Titanic, her much smaller injury was spread over a much greater length of her hull—300 feet—thus breaching the first six of her watertight compartments.
Although Great Eastern was unsuccessful as a commercial ship and inefficient in many ways, history has shown us that Brunel was nevertheless greatly ahead of his time when he finally launched her in 1858. Indeed, Brunel’s 19,000 ton, 700 feet long Great Eastern, launched in 1858, is probably still the closest the world has ever got to a truly unsinkable ship. Like Titanic, she had 15 transverse watertight bulkheads, but hers had no doors in them, went higher, and joined a watertight bulkhead deck at the top. Great Eastern also had a complete double-hull, but Titanic’s double bottom did not extend much higher than the turn of her bilges.
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