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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
1806 Born in Portsmouth, the only son of the French engineer Marc Brunel.
1823 Worked with his father on the Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe; was later appointed resident engineer at the site.
1829 Designed a suspension bridge to cross the River Avon in Bristol.
1831 Designed the Monkwearmouth Docks at Bristol; he later designed and built similar docks at Plymouth, Cardiff, Brentford, and Milford Haven.
1833 Appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway (opened 1841) linking London to Bristol.
1836 Married Mary Horsley.
1837 Built the 'Great Western', at that time the largest steamship in the world.
1845 Built the 'Great Britain', the first screw-driven iron ship to cross the Atlantic.
1859 Completed the 'Great Eastern', the largest steamship in the world.
1859 Died 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
Port profileThe 'Great Eastern'
A giant steam ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Port profileJohn Scott Russell
A groundbreaking naval architect
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory Greenwich New Opportunities Fund  
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