Ewan Corlett -1923-2005

Champion of the SS Great Britain

1967.... 'This the forefather of all modern ships is lying a beached hulk in the Falkland Islands at this moment'
A letter to The Times, London
 The Great Britain in Sparrow Cove just outside Stanley harbour in the Falkland Islands / Islas Malvinas, 1969

In 1967 Ewan Corlett was a distinguished naval architect. He had been involved with prestigious projects, he had written scientific papers, he had gained his doctorate and yet remained a modest, quietly persuasive person. From his research he realised the importance of the rusting iron hulk of the steamship Great Britain, designed and created by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and launched in 1843. The wreck was about 8000 miles / 12,870 kms from his home in England and yet he knew the ship 'inch by inch' from records left by Brunel covering the structure and finer points of design. Ewan Corlett could see how the ship was a landmark in the history of marine engineering and over the next seven years the SS Great Britain became the work by which he will be remembered. His book 'The Iron Ship' published in 1974 is a classic combining all the feeling of a biographer with the meticulous care of a serious academic. The book stands side by side with the ship as something not to be missed by anyone interested in the development of maritime engineering.

Ewan Corlett's interest in the SS Great Britain began in the 1950's and led to his letter to The Times, London in 1967. From that opening he received a considerable response including a chance to talk on the BBC Radio 'Today' programme. After that the ball started to roll and in the following year a group of enthusiasts gathered in Bristol where they considered how the 'Britain' could be recovered. Ewan Corlett travelled by sea to the Falkland Islands in November 1968 and made a survey of the hull to assess the problems. One of the critical factors he deduced was that there were a handful of serious holes in the hull and that if they were repaired then the ship would still be strong enough to float. This observation was the key to the successful salvage operation less than two years later. In April 1970 the SS Great Britain was floated in Sparrow Cove and moved over a sunken pontoon. Air was then pumped into the pontoon to lift the hulk out of the water so it was ready to be towed to Bristol. Perhaps Ewan Corlett's greatest moment of achievement was on July 19th 1970 when the SS Great Britain was floated back into the Bristol dock where she had been built 127 years earlier.

In 1988 Ewan Corlett retired. By then he was honoured with an OBE [Order of the British Empire 1985] and was settled in the Isle of Man where his family had roots dating back for generations. He found a vocation in the Church and was ordained first as a deacon then as a priest [1992]. In July 2005 Ewan Corlett returned to Bristol to attend the 're-launch' of the SS Great Britain celebrating the near completion of an extraordinary restoration project. 


Reverend. Dr Ewan Christian Brew Corlett.M.A.Phd., F.Eng., OBE, Architect and Priest, Aged 82 of Port - E - Vullen, Isle of Man. [a Britsih Crown dependency- a self governing possession of the British Crown]

Montevideo Uruguay, Sunday May 3rd 1970 Dr. Ewan Corlett on the Hamburg tug Varius ll which had towed the SS Great Britain from the Falkland Islands / Malvinas after the salvageBristol , England Sunday July I9th 1970 It was late on a summer day when the SS Great Britain was edged back into the dock where she had been built. Dr. Ewan Corlett walks across temporary decking ahead of the benefactor Jack Hayward who financed the salvage.

1975 The dust jacket of the first edition of The Iron Ship with a photograph of the Great Britain rising from the sea on a pontoon on Sunday April 12th 1970, 33 years after being towed to Sparrow Cove in the Falkland Islands/ Las Malvinas      photo Marion Morrison

Bristol, July 19th 2005 The Reverend Dr. Ewan Corlett at the re-launch of the SS Great Britain in Bristol. England This was one of his last moments with the ship he loved.

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