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B1461 Engine indicator, in box with accessories, brass / steel / timber / paper, designed by G D Kittoe, manufactured by James Munro, London, England, 1863, used by James Rorison on the SS Great Eastern. Click to enlarge.

Steam engine indicator used on SS Great Eastern

This engine indicator was used on the huge iron steamship Great Eastern, which is famous for its role in laying the first telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean to enable rapid communication between Europe and America. The indicator was used by chief engineer James Rorison to monitor the engines that turned the ship's two side paddles and its screw (propeller).

To perform a test, Rorison would screw the indicator into a fitting on an engine cylinder. He would then open a tap to let steam …


Object No.


Object Statement

Engine indicator, in box with accessories, brass / steel / timber / paper, designed by G D Kittoe, manufactured by James Munro, London, England, 1863, used by James Rorison on the SS Great Eastern

Physical Description

The indicator is housed in a fitted box. Accessories include: 2 taper taps and 1 bottoming tap; indicator papers; wooden ruler and set square (both stamped J RORISON); hexagonal socket spanner and C spanner; hook for attaching string to moving engine part; small pulley (broken off the main unit); linkage for holding pen and transmitting motion to it (broken off main unit); and small wooden and glass objects of unknown use.

The general appearance of the indicator is that of a pair of concentric cylinders. Within the inner cylinder is located a piston whose motion is resisted by a spring in the upper portion of the cylinder. In use, this piston is subject to the steam pressure in the engine cylinder being tested. The spring is designed to compress if the engine cylinder pressure is above atmospheric and to extend if the engine pressure is below atmospheric. The motion of the spring is transmitted by rods that pass through slots in the inner cylinder and cause the movement of a pencil-holding mechanism, thus allowing changes in the engine cylinder pressure to be recorded on paper. The marker mechanism, which is broken but has no missing parts, can be detached from the top of the spring to allow installation of a replacement spring in order to change the sensitivity of the indicator.

The outer, shorter, cylinder is the drum for holding the indicator chart paper. It is provided with a channel in which the drum drive cord is wrapped. Below the drum is a clutch lever which engages the drum with the cord drive. In this manner, the device can be permanently attached to an engine, with the drum only being turned when an indicator diagram is being recorded. The indicator would be screwed to a boss mounted on the engine cylinder and fitted with a stop-cock to isolate the indicator when it is not in use.


Inscribed on top section, inside which the spring is located: G D KITTOE / Engineer and Machinist / 56 Compton Street / London E C / Manufactured by / JAs MUNRO / 4 Gibson Street / Waterloo Road S

On the reverse side is inscribed: J RORISON / 1863

The contents of the indicator's storage box include a ruler marked 7,8,9,10 units and a set square, each stamped with the name J. RORISON.

A card inside the box has the following hand-written on it: STEAM ENGINE INDICATOR / FORMERLY USED ON THE ENGINES / of / SS GREAT EASTERN / PRESENTED BY J Rorison Esq, some time chief / Engineer of the vessel



530 mm



It appears from the engraved names that GD Kittoe designed the indicator. He had worked over many years for both Isambard Brunel, designer of the Great Eastern, and William Froude, a distinguished scientist in the area of fluid mechanics. Kittoe assisted Froude with the design and construction of a towing tank at Torquay, Devon, for studying the resistance offered to model ship hulls when towed through water. (The Froude number, analogous to the Mach number for aircraft, is named in honour of this research, which aimed to discover the most efficient hull shape.) In November 1875 Froude wrote of Kittoe that he was an "admirable craftsman and sketcher and a thorough mechanic". (David Brown "The way of a ship in the midst of the sea: the life and work of William Froude" p 149)

David Brown mentions that James Rorison installed a 'dynamometer' that had been designed for the Great Eastern's paddle engines by William Froude and Henry Brunel (son of Isambard) and made by GD Kittoe ("The way of a ship in the midst of the sea: the life and work of William Froude" p 92). This is probably a reference to the indicator, so it is possible that Kittoe was not the sole designer, but the evidence of maker on the device itself is stronger than the written account. Brown also states that Rorison was delighted with the device.

In 1867 Kittoe entered into partnership with Peter Brotherhood to make engines, at 53-56 Compton Street, Clerkenwell, London. The indicator shows that Kittoe must have been in business at 56 Compton Street by 1863. After Kittoe retired in 1871, Brotherhood moved the business to Peterborough; the company still exists there and now designs and manufactures steam turbines with power outputs between 1MW and 40 MW.

The indicator was made by James Munro in London in 1863. According to Mari Williams ("The precision makers: a history of the instruments industry in Britain and France, 1870-1939" p 20), a James Munro was apprenticed to an instrument maker in 1783, his family followed this trade and had premises in Lambeth, and one of his grandsons, RW Munro, dissolved his partnership with his brother in 1864, set up in business on his own and became a renowned maker of precision instruments. Gibson Street, where the indicator was made, is in Lambeth, and the James who made this indicator could well have been the brother of RW Munro.

This indicator is similar in design to the earliest indicators made by Scotsman John McNaught, in that the indicator cylinder and spring are concentric with the recorder drum. McNaught is usually credited as the first to use a rotating drum to replace the oscillating tablet of the Watt/Southern indicator; it has also been suggested that this idea first occurred to Henry Maudslay or his partner Joshua Field. The McNaught indicator introduced a torsion spring which returned the recording drum to its starting position at the end of the inward stroke of the engine piston.

McNaught later offset the recorder drum from the indicator piston axis in order to provide greater flexibility to change the pressure sensitivity of the indicator. Perhaps for the task of monitoring the huge engines on the Great Eastern it was thought that the simplicity and robustness of the early type of indicator was preferable.



The indicator was used from 1863 by Chief Engineer James Rorison on the steamship Great Eastern, a ship that was far larger than any other of its day. It was designed to carry 4000 passengers and enough coal to travel from England to Australia without stopping. However, it could not attract enough passengers to achieve commercial success and instead achieved fame as a cable-laying ship.

The Great Eastern was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, built by John Scott Russell, and launched in 1858. It was propelled by two four-cylinder oscillating steam engines driving two paddle wheels and two two-cylinder horizontal direct-acting engines driving a screw propeller. The paddle engines were made by John Scott Russell in London, and the screw engines were made by James Watt & Co in Birmingham. The screw engines were larger than any made before; each cylinder had 7 foot bore (2130 mm) and 4 foot stroke (1220 mm). The ship also carried a large area of sail on six masts.

James Watt & Co made two auxiliary engines for the ship. These were installed in the main engine rooms (one in the centre of the ship, which housed the paddle engines, and the other towards the stern, which housed the screw engines) and ran several pumps located in the bow and stern.

Rorison was born around 1824, was chief engineer of the Great Eastern by 1861, and by 1867 had become chief engineer on the Rakaia. It is likely that he retired to Sydney and later presented the indicator to Sydney Technical College, which donated it to the Museum in 1961.


Credit Line

Gift of T Bailey, 1961

Acquisition Date

16 June 1961

Cite this Object


Steam engine indicator used on SS Great Eastern 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 27 June 2022, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Steam engine indicator used on SS Great Eastern |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=27 June 2022 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}