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Brunel was one of the most versatile and audacious engineers of the 19th century, responsible for the design of tunnels, bridges, railway lines and ships.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born on April 9, 1806 in Portsmouth, Great Britain. His father Mark was a French engineer who had fled France during the revolution. Brunel was educated both in England and in France. Brunel's first notable achievement was the part he played with his father in planning the Thames Tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping, completed in 1843.
As well as bridges, tunnels and railways, Brunel was responsible for the design of several famous ships. The Great Western, launched in 1837, was the first steamship to engage in transatlantic service. The Great Britain, launched in 1843, was the world's first iron-hulled, screw propeller-driven, steam-powered passenger liner.
February 18, 1854, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California
The Echo du Pacifique of yesterday contains a lengthy article upon the marvellous enterprise of a company in England, who propose to build a steamer of 88,090 tons. The author of the design is Brunel , son of the engineer of the Thames Tunnel, and himself an engineer of celebrity and undoubted ability. The company has adopted the name of the Eastern Steam Navigation Company, and they propose to build their first vessel 680 feet long, 83 feet in the beam, and 58 feet deep, with steam engines of 2,800 horse power. The company expect that such a vessel will make fifteen knots an hour and will be able to run 25,000 miles without stopping for coal; to make which distance about 6,000 tons of coal would be consumed. The immense size of the vessel would enable her to carry at least 5,000 tons of merchandize, and have besides an abundance of room for passengers and employees.
The projected steamer is already is the course of construction at London, and the engines have been ordered at the house of James Watt. She will be an iron vessel, and it is thought that she will be so strong as to resist the stress of wind and wave with less strain than our best wooden vessels. The hull will be divided off into compartments, that in case a small hole be knocked in the bottom, the vessel will be in no danger of filling.
If the great experiment should succeed, it will form a new era in ocean navigation; will tend to decrease to a wonderful extent the expenses of transportation and travelling, and the dangers of navigation, and will put an end to the barbarous character of the life led by the majority of those now engaged in ocean navigation.
The Great Eastern was designed in cooperation with John Scott Russell, and was by far the biggest ship ever built up to that time, but was not commercially successful. The Great Eastern was launched on the Thames River at London in 1858.
Brunel was also responsible for the redesign and construction of many of Britain's major docks, including Bristol, Monkwearmouth, Cardiff and Milford Haven.
October 25, 1859, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California
Isamberd K. Brunel
It it melancholy to contemplate the fact that the illustrious engineer whose came heads this article, could not hare been permitted to have witnessed the crowning triumph of his genius, demonstrated is the successful trial trip of the monster ship, theGreat Eastern. But we know that the dispensations of a kind and ever watchful Providence are always wisely administered, and, while as the world may mourn the sadden departure of this truly great man, we may not forget that it was ordered for the best.
Isamberd K. Brunel was born at Portsmouth, England, in 1806, and had reached the age of fifty-three at the time of his decease. His mechanical triumphs have made for him a name that will live forever, to be honored and revered as one that charmed circle in which such as Watts, Stephenson, Fulton, and others have only been admitted, and to the triumphs of whose genius the world it indebted for the wonderful progress of the last half a century.
Brunel came from a family in which scientific mechanism seemed to have formed part of their organization. His father constructed the famous docks of Portsmouth, which stand today, and will stand for ages to come, as lasting monuments to his memory. He was also the engineer under whose superintendence the Thames tunnel was constructed, Isambert acting as his assistant in this stupendous undertaking. It is related of him that while this latter work was in progress, he was, on several occasions, exposed to eminent danger from the interruption of the water, especially in 1828, when, being surprised by the current about six hundred feet from the mouth of the tunnel, he was seized by the water and thrown upon the beach, sustaining, however, but little injury. Some years before the completion of the tunnel, namely, 1833, he was appointed to construct the Great Western Railroad, upon which he employed all the resources of science and displayed a skill as an engineer which was never before and has never since been equalled. The famous Box tunnel on this road, was entirely his work.
His next triumph was the construction of "the longest suspension bridge in England," to wit: 'that of Hungerford, over the Thames.' He assisted Mr. Stephenson in floating and raising the Conway and Britannia tubular bridges, one of the most difficult enterprises on record.
He was also engaged in the construction of the Tuscan end of the Sardinian railway, and during the late war with Russia, was employed to construct and organize the hospital of Renkioi, situated on the Dardenelle, and intended to afford accommodation to no less than three thousand sick and wounded at one time. These are only a portion of the land works to which he has devoted himself. Most of the large docks at all the principal seaports of Great Britain were either wholly constructed or completed by him.
But the mechanical triumphs of Brunel were not confined to the construction of bridges and tunnels. The practicability of ocean steamship navigation was first fully established by him in the construction of the steamshipGreat Western, the successful performances of which vessel fully settled and removed all doubts that had before existed as to its feasibility.
We need not pause here to consider what has grown out of this great triumph, except to remark that the remotest seas are now traversed by an endless fleet of ocean steamships, the existence of which has fairly revolutionized the commerce of the world.
The intermediate triumphs of Brunel's genius we pass over to come to the last crowning act of all, the construction of the Great Eastern. It is true, that this monster of the deep was mainly designed by Scott Russell, but the idea, the germ from which she sprung, originated in the master mind of Brunel. He it was who first projected and broached the proposition to construct a sea-going steamer upon such gigantic dimensions, and he it was who stoutly and obstinately maintained the idea of the practicability of the undertaking, and who finally and successfully cleared away all opposition to the project. An exchange says that "Mr. Russell acknowledges that it is to Mr. Brunel, as the Company's engineer, that the original conception is due of building the mammoth ship. The idea of using two sets of engines and two propellers, was also his. It was his idea, also, to introduce a cellular feature, like that at the top and bottom of the Britannia Bridge, into her construction. These are the main characteristics which distinguish the Great Eastern from other ships, and these are Mr. Brunel's. The launching of the ship, her rigging and masting, her cabin and her outfit, were under Mr. Brunei's superintendence.
Of the immense size and capacity of the Great Eastern we need not speak, since every journal in the country, our own included, has devoted, within the past year, so great an amount of space to the subject, as to render it familiar to all. Suffice it to say, that as the mammoth ship ? with her ponderous engines, working at smoothly and successfully at the machinery of a fine watch, her masts gaily decorated with flags of every hue and her decks thronged with the nobility and the leading people of England, moved swiftly and gracefully down the Thames, on her first trial trip. He who had originated her and witnessed her successful completion, lay upon the bed of death, and like her. his spirit was "going out with tide," he lived to hear of the success of the great Leviathan, and as she glided swiftly out into the trackless deep, his spirit set sail out into the broad and unknown ocean of a future existence.
There was a sublime majesty in such a death that causes every contemplative heart to thrill with the powerful emotions which it generates. It was a glorious ending of a glorious life. As the sun, that, since the mornings dawn, has, from the eastern horizon traversed his onward course to the zenith, and departing full of glory on his western flight, gathers about him his gold and purple robes, to deck himself in his most refulgent glory, ere yet the night shall follow on the track of the full orbed day so departed Isambert K. Brunel, leaving behind him undying evidences of the triumph of his genius, and an illustrious name.
May 27, 1880, Livermore Herald, Livermore, California, U.S.A.
Pranks With the Mouth
An incident is told of the late Mr. Brunel, the eminent English engineer, who planned the Thames Tunnel and the Great Western Railway. One day, while diverting a child with tricks of sleight of hand, by causing a half sovereign to mysteriously disappear and re-appear, a stunning disaster occurred. The trick consisted in adroitly concealing the coin in his mouth, and pretending to bring it out at his ear. All at once, before he was aware, and to his dismay, the half sovereign slipped down into his gullet. He tried to cough it up without effect. There it stuck.
Every surgical device was tried to get hold of it without avail. It became evident that if the coin could not be dislodged, fatal results would ensue. It was a matter of life and death. In the dire dilemma into which he had needlessly brought him self, Brunel's presence of mind did not desert him. He devised a wooden structure to which he could be strapped head downward, in the hope that the half sovereign would fall out of his throat by the force of gravity. It was a painful experiment, but life was at stake. He was fixed to the machine head downmost, keeping his mouth open. To his inexpressible relief, the coin dropped from its lurking-place, and rolled to the floor.