Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Brunlees, James

1417771Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement, Volume 1 — Brunlees, James1901Thomas Hudson Beare

BRUNLEES, Sir JAMES (1816–1892), son of John Brunlees and his wife Margaret, daughter of John Rutherford of Kelso, was born on 5 Jan. 1816 at Kelso. His father was gardener and steward to the Duke of Roxburgh's agent. James was educated at the parish school, and afterwards at a private school, and on leaving this he engaged in gardening and farm work in order to prepare himself to become a landscape gardener. He had, however, a natural taste for engineering work, and, becoming acquainted with a surveyor on the Roxburgh estates, he picked up a considerable knowledge of surveying, and was eventually employed to make a survey of the estates. During this time he saved money to pay for attendance on classes at the Edinburgh University, where he studied for several sessions.

In 1838 he was an assistant on the Bolton and Preston line, and afterwards on the Caledonian line to Glasgow and Edinburgh. He then became an assistant to (Sir) John Hawkshaw [q. v. Suppl.] on the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway. He carried out railway works in the north of Ireland and Lancashire from 1850 to 1866 (Proc. Inst. Civil Eng. xiv. 239, xvii. 442).

In 1856 Brunlees began the preparation of plans and estimates for the construction of several important railways in Brazil, including the São Paulo railway, a line across the very steep slopes of the Serra do Mar, where he had to adopt the system of inclined planes and stationary engines. This system was fully described in a paper by the resident engineer, Mr. D. M. Fox {Proc. Inst. Civil Eng. xxx. 29). For his success in carrying this work to completion he was in 1873 granted the order of the Rose of Brazil.

Another fine and remarkable piece of railway construction for which Brunlees was in part responsible was the Mersey railway, with the tunnel under the river between Birkenhead and Liverpool; he was joint engineer with Mr. (now Sir) Douglas Fox, and on the completion of the work in 1886 they were both knighted. The tunnel was described in a paper by Mr. F. Fox {Proc. Inst. Civil Eng. lxxxvi. 40). He was also, with Hawkshaw, engineer to the original Channel Tunnel Company.

The most important of the harbour and dock works for which Brunlees was responsible was the construction of the Avonmouth dock for the city of Bristol, the trade of the city of Bristol having suffered severely from the difficulties of approach to the city through the narrow and tortuous course of the river Avon. This dock was in construction from 1868 to 1877 (see Proc. Inst. Civil Eng. lv. 3).

Brunlees also designed several important piers, the longest being those of Southport and Southend. He became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1852, served on the council for many years, and was president during 1882-3.

He died at his residence, Argyle Lodge, Wimbledon, on 2 June 1892 at the age of seventy-six. A bust of Sir John is now in the possession of his son, Mr. J. Brunlees of Westminster. He married on 6 Aug. 1845 Elizabeth, daughter of James Kirkman of Bolton-le-Moors.

He wrote the following professional papers, in addition to those already mentioned: 'The Construction of Sea Embankments in Morecambe Bay,' 1855. 'Proposed Ship Railway across the Isthmus of Suez,' 1859. 'Proposed Wet Docks at Whitehaven,' 1870, 'Report on proposed Site for Docks at Bristol,' 1871. 'Railway Accidents, their Causes and Means of Prevention' {Proc. Inst. Civil Eng. xxi. 345). 'Presidential Address ' (ib. lxxii. 2).

[Obituary notices in Proc, Inst. Civil Eng. cxi.; Burke's Peerage &c. 1890; Times, 4 June 1892.]

T. H. B.