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Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859)

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One of the greatest engineers in history
Known for


Isambard Kingdom Brunel at Millwall during the building of the Great Eastern.
View full size imageIsambard Kingdom Brunel at Millwall. © NMM

He was chief engineer for the:  

  • Clifton suspension bridge
  • Bristol docks
  • Great Western Railway 
  • Great Western steamship 
  • Great Britain steamship
  • Great Eastern steamship
Port connection

Building the 'Great Leviathan'.
View full size imageBuilding the Great Eastern. © NMM
He helped his father, Marc Brunel, to build the Thames Tunnel under the river.

His Great Western steamship was fitted out in London.

The contract for building Brunel's Great Eastern went to John Scott Russell who had a yard at Millwall. It took several attempts over three months to launch the ship (sideways) so it could be towed to Deptford for fitting out.

Interesting facts
Brunel smoked over 40 cigars a day, kept in a purpose-built bag, which he carried with him at all times.
Life story
1806Born in Portsmouth, the only son of the French engineer Marc Brunel.
1823Worked with his father on the Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe; was later appointed resident engineer at the site.
1829Designed a suspension bridge to cross the River Avon in Bristol.
1831Designed the Monkwearmouth Docks at Bristol; he later designed and built similar docks at Plymouth, Cardiff, Brentford, and Milford Haven.
1833Appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway (opened 1841) linking London to Bristol.
1836Married Mary Horsley.
1837Built the 'Great Western', at that time the largest steamship in the world.
1845Built the 'Great Britain', the first screw-driven iron ship to cross the Atlantic.
1859Completed the 'Great Eastern', the largest steamship in the world.
1859Died and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery.

Find out more
StoriesThe 'Great Eastern' as a passenger liner
The ship of the future?
StoriesThe 'Great Eastern' as a cable laying ship
Connecting the world
StoriesThe 19th-century port
Docks and industry transform the Thames
Fact fileThe 'Great Eastern'
A giant steam ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Fact fileJohn Scott Russell
A groundbreaking naval architect
GamesThe Great Eastern Quiz
Get 100% to see an animated London skyline (flash 6 player needed)
GamesShip Trumps
Which ships were the fastest? (Flash 6 player needed for game)
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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