After hopes deferred, and delays almost innumerable, the Great Eastern is at last upon us. While we write, her gigantic shadow is quivering in the waters of the North River, and before another sun has set our Oriental friends will be almost forgotten in the contemplation of this new sensation. Public interest has so often been aroused in connection with this huge triumph of art, and so often disappointed, that the various announcements of her trial trips and departure have heretofore had little more effect than to excite the disparaging criticisms of the multitude, who, with Yankee pride, are loath to believe in the promptness of English enterprise. Now that the leviathan is fairly here, however, no one can be found who will gaze upon the magnificent proportions of this mighty ship and cast a slur upon the experiment which, if successful, is destined to revolutionize, in a measure, the maritime intercourse of the world. The first announcement of the arrival of the Great Eastern at this port was received by telegraph from Sandy Hook in the following dispatch:

"Sandy Hook, June 28th, 10:30 A.M.

"The steamship Great Eastern came in to the Lightship at half past seven o'clock this morning. She left the Needles at 10 A.M. on the 17th. With the exception of two days she has experienced fine weather. She has forty-two passengers, among whom are George Wilkes, Esq., of Wilkes' Spirit of the Times, and several of the directors of the company. She steamed the entire passage, ranging from 254 to 333 miles per twenty-four hours. The engines were not stopt until she was off George's Shoal, for soundings. She came in a route southeast, direct to the Lightship, where she was boarded by our ship-news collector and Mr. John Van Dusen, of pilot-boat Washington No. 4, a business partner of Admiral Murphy, who went out to Southampton for the ship. She was received on reaching the Lightship by Captain Cosgrove, with a salute and a dipping of colors, and as the mist blew away all the vessels in sight set their bunting and cheered her. She is drawing twenty-seven feet water aft, and will be trimmed to an even keel before crossing."

From one of the passengers we obtained the following information: There were thirty-eight passengers and eight guests, all in the best of health, and have been so during the entire voyage, which has been a particularly fine one and full of interest. It has demonstrated the Great Eastern's superiority as a seagoing vessel, and the excellent reliability of her machinery. The highest speed attained was fourteen and a half knots. The ship's bottom is very foul, and an allowance of at least two knots an hour should be made on that account. The distance from Southampton, as usually steamed, is 3,190 miles, but to avoid the ice she went farther south.

The only New York boat which had the honor of boarding the Great Eastern, with the exception of the yacht of the press, was the steam-tug Achilles. As the tug passed on her way from the dock down the upper bay, at an early hour in the morning, the masts of the monstrous steamer were first discerned raking the sky in a direction across Coney Island (above which they loomed like pillars on the vast desert of waters), and extending to Quarantine almost in a straight line. From the bluff at Fort Tompkins the view of the great steamer was splendid, the elevation at that point tending to raise and relieve her long black hull against the horizon of waters extending beyond.

As the boat passed through the Narrows a fleet of vessels of every description, from a steamer to the most insignificant craft that could carry a sail, was observed behind, coursing on like Flora Temples,2 vieing with each other in their efforts to first reach and greet the Great Eastern. In fact, so crowded was the Narrows at one time with this fleet that the entrance to our noble harbor appeared one white spread sheet of canvas glistening in the sun, which shone during the whole time with great warmth and brilliancy. Passing Fort Hamilton her spars became more clearly visible over the vast expanse of waters, rising in the distance like a wooded islet in the winter, from the trees of which the cold breath of the frost had stript all their leaves, leaving it a stretch of black against the horizon.

Such was the appearance of the Great Eastern as seen at this time. Passing inside of Sandy Hook, her beautiful tapering masts still loomed above the bleak, sandy shore. Indeed, it seemed as if she was "irrepressible" from the time she anchored off the bar until her arrival in the city. While the boat remained inside the Hook the hull of the great vessel was invisible, consequently, when the point was turned, her monstrous proportions were brought the better into comparison by this sudden glimpse of her, and her immensity was for the first time truly realized.

As the Achilles crossed the neighborhood of the bar, the Great Eastern, which was lying stern and solemn in the distance, like a mighty monster of the deep, was observed to dip her ensign. The Achilles immediately responded by hoisting the American colors to the peak, and shortly afterward made for her in a straight course, reaching her about half past twelve o'clock. A small sloop was observed a few minutes before passing alongside, and under her bows. No better, illustration could have been had of the immense size of the Great Eastern than this. The sloop first slowly crept along her whole length from stem to stern, the highest point of her mast reaching the lower portion of the vessel's bulwarks. Passing in front the great steamer's size was only the more clearly shown by the little speck of white which the sloop's sails displayed against the blue sky toward the east.

During this time the Great Eastern was surrounded by a number of craft of all kinds, many of which, ships, barks, etc., outward bound, turned from their course to pass as near as possible and gaze upon her, the whole forming one beautiful, glistening, and ever changing scene, such as the eye seldom dwells upon. Another fact which we may here mention will show the great portions of the steamer. As the Achilles neared her, under a full head of steam, prophecies, which were doomed to prove false, were continually made by those on board as to the time she would be reached. They so proved, owing to her vast outline, which brought her apparently nearer the observer than she really was. Her majestic hull loomed up against the sky at a distance of five miles almost as clearly as the ordinary steamer at a distance of one.

On nearing and mooring alongside her great size was truly realized. The steamer affixt herself to one of the iron brackets near the wheelhouse, and from her deck, on gazing upward, it appeared like looking toward a housetop in our city, over the edge of which vast numbers were bending to watch the motions of the mimic pigmy boat below. Such was the height of the bulwarks that the smokepipe of the Achilles, the largest steam-tug in New York harbor, reached out slightly above the rail. Her immense steering apparatus, with eight men to work it, also struck the observer with peculiar wonder, as well as the systematic manner in which all orders from the forward deck to the stern were sent with the rapidity of a glance.

The British ensign, which had been hardly discernible, except as a speck, during the trip, made its appearance at this moment, and its broad and immense folds were now brought into full view, waving broadly in the breeze, which blew strong and fresh from the southwest. The approach of the steam-tug caused no little sensation on board the Great Eastern, and heads were thrust over the rail of the bulwarks and from the cabin windows, the latter forming excellent impromptu photographs, appropriately framed by the iron panel work surrounding those apertures. These photographs, besides aiding in magnifying the vessel's proportions, appeared like miniatures when viewed from the deck of the Achilles beneath.

The Great Eastern had been advertised to sail from Southampton on Saturday, the 15th of June. Workmen were engaged on her up to five o'clock in the afternoon of that day, and before they could be disembarked, the weather, which had been stormy since noon, became thick and hazy, so that it was felt by the pilot that it would be dangerous to attempt taking so large a vessel through the intricate channel of the Solent in the uncertain light of the evening. She lay, therefore, at her moorings in Southampton water till Sunday morning. About seven o'clock orders were given to unshackle the mooring-chains. Such is the ponderous character of these cables that it was some forty-five minutes before this could be effected. Steam was admitted into the cylinders of the paddle engines about ten minutes past eight; shortly after the order was given, "easy ahead with the screw," and the Great Eastern steamed slowly out on her first voyage to sea.

1 As reported in the New York Herald, June 29, 1860. The Great Eastern was then, and until 1809 remained, the largest ship ever built. She was never commercially successful, but was long in use in laying ocean cables. Her length over all was 692 feet, her width 82, her displacement, 27,000 tons.
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2 Flora Temple was a noted race-horse of the period.
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© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman