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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/149

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BRUNEL, ISAMBARD KINGDOM (1806–1869), civil engineer, the only son of Sir Marc I. Brunel [q. v.], was born on 9 April 1806 at Portsmouth. He was educated first at private schools, and later in the college of Henri Quatre at Paris, then celebrate for its staff of mathematical teachers. At a very early age he evinced decided talent for drawing and when only fourteen employed himself in makin an accurate plan of Hove, near Brighton, where he was then at school. After two years spent at Paris he returned to England for his practical training. In 1823 he entered his £ather’s olhce, and at the age of seventeen took part. in his operations at the Thames Tunnel where he was afterwards a ointed resident engineer, and there gained personal experience of all kinds of work. Brunel rendered his father great assistance in meeting the various disasters which occurred in the course of the tunnelling operations. At an anxious time, in September 1826, he was actively engagled on the works for ninety-six consecutive hours with a few snatches of sleep in the tunnel. On the occasion of the first great irruption of the river, Brunel, to save the life of a workman in danger of drowning, lowered himself into the shaft, then half full of water, and succeeded in bringing the man to the surface.

One of Brunells first great independent designs, executed in 1829, was for a suspension bridge aeross the river Avon hom Durdham Downs, Cliiion, to the Leigh Woods His first plan was, on the advice of Telford, rejected; but a second design, sent in in 1831, was pronounced to he the most mathematically exact of all those tendered (among which was one by Telford himself), and was accepted. Brunel was appointed engineer and the works were begun in 1836, but owing to lack of funds were not completed in his lifetime. After his death the bridge was erected nearly in accordance with his original designs with chains taken from the old Hungerford suspension bridge, constructed by himself between the years 1841 and 1845, and removed in 1862 to make room for the Charing Cross railway bridge. Brunel was appointed engineer to the Bristol Docks, in which he afterwards carried out extensive improvements. In 1831 be designed the Monkwearmouth Docks, and in later years similar works at Plymouth, Briton Ferry, Brentford and Milford Haven. In March 1883 Brunel was appointed engineer to the Great Western railway, and in that capacity carried into effect his plans for the broad-gauge railway, a system which became the subject of much controversy among the engineers of the day. His work on this line established for him a high reputation in his profession. The viaducts at lanwell and Chippenham, the Maidenhead and other masonry bridges, the Box tunnel, and the iron structures of the Chepstow and Saltash bridges on the Great Western line and its extensions, all exhibit boldness of conception, taste in design, and great skill in the use of material. He obtained a high reputation for his evidence given before the parliamentary committees on schemes of which he was engineer. He was employed to construct two railways in Italy, and to advise upon the Victorian lines in Australia and the Eastern Bengal railway. He adopted the system of atmospheric propulsion on the South Devon railway in 1844, but it resulted in failure. The last and greatest of his railway works was the Royal Albert bridge of the Cornwall railway, crossing the river Tamar at Saltasha It has two spaces of 456 feet each, and a central pier built on the rock 80 feet below high-water mark. It was opened in 1859.

Brunel’s greatest fame was obtained in the construction of ocean-going steamships of dimensions larger than anypreviously known. The object was in each case to enable them to carry coal sufficient for at least the outward voyage. In 1836 the largest steam vessel afloat not exceed 208 feet in length. The Great Wastern, constructed by him, far surpassed any other existing steamship in size, measuring 236 feet in len th by 35 in breadth, with a displacement of 5300 tons. She made her first voyagein 1838, and achieved n great success. She was the iiist steamship employed in a regular ocean service hetween this country and America, and accomplished the voyage in the then unprecedented time of fifteen days. In the construction of this vessel Brunel had the assistance of Mr. Paterson of Bristol as shipwright, and Messrs. Maudslay & Field as makers of the engines. A series of observations upon screw propulsion, made in the course of experimental voyages in the Archimedes, convinced him of the practicability of applying the system to large steamships. In 1841 Brunel was commissioned by the admiralty to conduct experiments which led to the adoption of the screw propeller in the navy in 1845. The Great Britain, an iron ship of dimensions far exceeding those of any vessel of the period, first designed by him for paddles, was the first large vessel in which the screw propeller was used. She made her first voyage from Liveizpool to New York in 1845, and abundantly demonstrated her excellence of design and strength of hull, especially when she was stranded on the coast of Ireland in 1846, and remained there a whole winter. After the Launch of these vessels