After the considerable success of his two steamships Great Western (launched 1837) and Great Britain (launched 1843), the idea of his "great leviathan" -- a huge steamship capable of sailing to Australia and back without refuelling -- was first proposed by Brunel in March 1852. The concept being accepted by his backers, he was appointed Engineer to the Eastern Steam Navigation Company that July and the contract placed with John Scott Russell's yard at Millwall for a vessel costing /p377,200. Work commenced early in 1854 but was beset by financial as well as technical problems. Continually escalating costs were exacerbated by Scott Russell's mysterious bankruptcy. The greatest difficulty arose as the ship -- by now named Great Eastern -- approached completion; built sideways-on along the Thames foreshore in the absence of any dock or slip large enough to take her, her colossal dead weight of almost 19,000 tons made her impossible to move by conventional means. After several unsuccessful attempts to launch her, Brunel appealed to engineering colleagues for help, amongst them Robert Stephenson, and it was during this critical period that he allowed himself to be photographed by Robert Howlett in front of the gigantic chains brought to Millwall to assist with the launch. The present photographs of The Great Eastern were all taken in November, 1857, as part of Howlett's commission from the Illustrated Times to document the ship's construction, and nine engravings from the photographs appeared in a special issue of the magazine published on 16th January, 1858.