Brunel, Isambard Kingdom

b. 9 April 1806 Portsea, Hampshire, England
d. 15 September 1859 18 Duke Street, St James's, London, England
English civil and mechanical engineer.
The son of Marc Isambard Brunel and Sophia Kingdom, he was educated at a private boarding-school in Hove. At the age of 14 he went to the College of Caen and then to the Lycée Henri-Quatre in Paris, after which he was apprenticed to Louis Breguet. In 1822 he returned from France and started working in his father's office, while spending much of his time at the works of Maudslay, Sons \& Field.
From 1825 to 1828 he worked under his father on the construction of the latter's Thames Tunnel, occupying the position of Engineer-in-Charge, exhibiting great courage and presence of mind in the emergencies which occurred not infrequently. These culminated in January 1828 in the flooding of the tunnel and work was suspended for seven years. For the next five years the young engineer made abortive attempts to find a suitable outlet for his talents, but to little avail. Eventually, in 1831, his design for a suspension bridge over the River Avon at Clifton Gorge was accepted and he was appointed Engineer. (The bridge was eventually finished five years after Brunel's death, as a memorial to him, the delay being due to inadequate financing.) He next planned and supervised improvements to the Bristol docks. In March 1833 he was appointed Engineer of the Bristol Railway, later called the Great Western Railway. He immediately started to survey the route between London and Bristol that was completed by late August that year. On 5 July 1836 he married Mary Horsley and settled into 18 Duke Street, Westminster, London, where he also had his office. Work on the Bristol Railway started in 1836. The foundation stone of the Clifton Suspension Bridge was laid the same year. Whereas George Stephenson had based his standard railway gauge as 4 ft 8½ in (1.44 m), that or a similar gauge being usual for colliery wagonways in the Newcastle area, Brunel adopted the broader gauge of 7 ft (2.13 m). The first stretch of the line, from Paddington to Maidenhead, was opened to traffic on 4 June 1838, and the whole line from London to Bristol was opened in June 1841. The continuation of the line through to Exeter was completed and opened on 1 May 1844. The normal time for the 194-mile (312 km) run from Paddington to Exeter was 5 hours, at an average speed of 38.8 mph (62.4 km/h) including stops. The Great Western line included the Box Tunnel, the longest tunnel to that date at nearly two miles (3.2 km).
Brunel was the engineer of most of the railways in the West Country, in South Wales and much of Southern Ireland. As railway networks developed, the frequent break of gauge became more of a problem and on 9 July 1845 a Royal Commission was appointed to look into it. In spite of comparative tests, run between Paddington-Didcot and Darlington-York, which showed in favour of Brunel's arrangement, the enquiry ruled in favour of the narrow gauge, 274 miles (441 km) of the former having been built against 1,901 miles (3,059 km) of the latter to that date. The Gauge Act of 1846 forbade the building of any further railways in Britain to any gauge other than 4 ft 8 1/2 in (1.44 m).
The existence of long and severe gradients on the South Devon Railway led to Brunel's adoption of the atmospheric railway developed by Samuel Clegg and later by the Samuda brothers. In this a pipe of 9 in. (23 cm) or more in diameter was laid between the rails, along the top of which ran a continuous hinged flap of leather backed with iron. At intervals of about 3 miles (4.8 km) were pumping stations to exhaust the pipe. Much trouble was experienced with the flap valve and its lubrication—freezing of the leather in winter, the lubricant being sucked into the pipe or eaten by rats at other times—and the experiment was abandoned at considerable cost.
Brunel is to be remembered for his two great West Country tubular bridges, the Chepstow and the Tamar Bridge at Saltash, with the latter opened in May 1859, having two main spans of 465 ft (142 m) and a central pier extending 80 ft (24 m) below high water mark and allowing 100 ft (30 m) of headroom above the same. His timber viaducts throughout Devon and Cornwall became a feature of the landscape. The line was extended ultimately to Penzance.
As early as 1835 Brunel had the idea of extending the line westwards across the Atlantic from Bristol to New York by means of a steamship. In 1836 building commenced and the hull left Bristol in July 1837 for fitting out at Wapping. On 31 March 1838 the ship left again for Bristol but the boiler lagging caught fire and Brunel was injured in the subsequent confusion. On 8 April the ship set sail for New York (under steam), its rival, the 703-ton Sirius, having left four days earlier. The 1,340-ton Great Western arrived only a few hours after the Sirius. The hull was of wood, and was copper-sheathed. In 1838 Brunel planned a larger ship, some 3,000 tons, the Great Britain, which was to have an iron hull.
The Great Britain was screwdriven and was launched on 19 July 1843,289 ft (88 m) long by 51 ft (15.5 m) at its widest. The ship's first voyage, from Liverpool to New York, began on 26 August 1845. In 1846 it ran aground in Dundrum Bay, County Down, and was later sold for use on the Australian run, on which it sailed no fewer than thirty-two times in twenty-three years, also serving as a troop-ship in the Crimean War. During this war, Brunel designed a 1,000-bed hospital which was shipped out to Renkioi ready for assembly and complete with shower-baths and vapour-baths with printed instructions on how to use them, beds and bedding and water closets with a supply of toilet paper! Brunel's last, largest and most extravagantly conceived ship was the Great Leviathan, eventually named The Great Eastern, which had a double-skinned iron hull, together with both paddles and screw propeller. Brunel designed the ship to carry sufficient coal for the round trip to Australia without refuelling, thus saving the need for and the cost of bunkering, as there were then few bunkering ports throughout the world. The ship's construction was started by John Scott Russell in his yard at Millwall on the Thames, but the building was completed by Brunel due to Russell's bankruptcy in 1856. The hull of the huge vessel was laid down so as to be launched sideways into the river and then to be floated on the tide. Brunel's plan for hydraulic launching gear had been turned down by the directors on the grounds of cost, an economy that proved false in the event. The sideways launch with over 4,000 tons of hydraulic power together with steam winches and floating tugs on the river took over two months, from 3 November 1857 until 13 January 1858. The ship was 680 ft (207 m) long, 83 ft (25 m) beam and 58 ft (18 m) deep; the screw was 24 ft (7.3 m) in diameter and paddles 60 ft (18.3 m) in diameter. Its displacement was 32,000 tons (32,500 tonnes).
The strain of overwork and the huge responsibilities that lay on Brunel began to tell. He was diagnosed as suffering from Bright's disease, or nephritis, and spent the winter travelling in the Mediterranean and Egypt, returning to England in May 1859. On 5 September he suffered a stroke which left him partially paralysed, and he died ten days later at his Duke Street home.
Further Reading
L.T.C.Rolt, 1957, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, London: Longmans Green. J.Dugan, 1953, The Great Iron Ship, Hamish Hamilton.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Brunel, Isambard Kingdom — born April 9, 1806, Portsmouth, Hampshire, Eng. died Sept. 15, 1859, London British civil and mechanical engineer. He was the son of Marc Brunel. His introduction of the broad gauge railway, with rails 7 ft (2 m) apart, made possible high speeds… …   Universalium

  • Brunel , Isambard Kingdom — (1806–1859) British engineer Brunel s father, Marc Brunel (1769–1849), a French emigré and distinguished engineer, arrived in England in 1799. He sent his son to Paris in 1820 to learn mathematics and engineering. Brunel returned to England in… …   Scientists

  • Brunel, Isambard Kingdom —  (1806–1859) British engineer; son of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769–1849), also an engineer …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • Brunel, Isambard Kingdom — (9 abr. 1806, Portsmouth, Hampshire, Inglaterra–15 sep.1859, Londres). Ingeniero civil y mecánico británico. Era hijo de Marc Brunel. Su introducción del ferrocarril de trocha ancha, con rieles separados 2 m (7 pies) entre sí, posibilitó alcanzar …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • BRUNEL, ISAMBARD KINGDOM —    son of the preceding, assisted his father in his engineering operations, in particular the Thames tunnel; was engineer of the Great Western Railway; designed the Great Western steamship, the first to cross the Atlantic; was the first to apply… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel — en 1857 Naissance 9 avril  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel — Brunel antes de la botadura del SS Great Eastern (1857). Naci …   Wikipedia Español

  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel — Brunel mit Zylinder und Zigarre vor der riesigen aufgewickelten Ankerkette des Dampfschiffes Great Eastern, Fotografie von Robert Howlett Isambard Kingdom Brunel (* 9. April 1806 in Portsmouth; † 15. September 1859 in London) war ein britischer… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel — [Isambard Kingdom Brunel] (1806–69) an English engineer, famous for his ambitious designs for ships, bridges and railways. He designed the ↑Clifton Suspension Bridge and the largest ships that had ever been built at the time, including the Great… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel — Infobox Engineer image size = caption = Brunel before the launching of the Great Eastern name = Isambard Kingdom Brunel nationality = birth date =birth date|1806|4|9|df=y birth place = Portsmouth, United Kingdom death date =Death date and… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.