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.
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.
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 . 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]