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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/151

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Brunel
Brunel
145

corvette named after that minister. In this vessel Brunel sailed on a cruise to the West Indies, and continued to serve for six years. At starting he constructed a quadrant so accurate that he was able to use it throughout his naval career. In 1792 his ship was paid off and early in 1798 he returned to Paris, which he soon had to leave in consequence of his open expressions of loyalist opinions. After some time spent at Rouen in considerable danger, he obtained a passport for America, sailed from France on 7 July, and landed in New York on 6 Sept. 1793. Here he first definitely adopted the profession of civil engineer and architect, and obtained his first engagement on the survey of a Large tract of land near Lake Ontario. His next engagement was on the survey of a line for a canal to connect the river Hudson with Lake Champlain. The superintendence of these operations was first placed in the hands of another French refugee, but Brunel displayed such capacity as the diiliculties of the undertaking increased, that the command was resigned to him. Brunel now obtained various commissions, and he competed successfully against several professional architects in designs for the new House of Assembly at Washington. His plan, however, was ultimately set aside on grounds of economy; His was also the selected design for the Bowery Theatre, New York, which he constructed. It was burnt down in 1821.

Brunel was now appointed chief engineer of New York, and in that capacity was employed to erect an arsenal and cannon foundry, in which he introduced much new and ingenious machinery for casting and boring ordinance; and shortly afterwards furnished plans for the defences of the channel between Staten Island and Long Island. He had for some time been engaged in elaborating an idea for the application of machinery to the manufactured ships’ blocks on a large scale, and he determined upon visiting England with the object of submitting his plans to the British govemment. Accordingly he sailed from America on 20 Jan. 1799, and landed in England in the following March. Shortly after arriving in this country he was married to Miss Sophia Kingdom, a lady whose acquaintance he had made in France previous to his departure for America. In May 1799 Brunel took out his first patent for a writing and drawing machine similar in principle to the pantagraph, and about the same time he invented a machine for winding cotton thread, which was largely adopted in cotton factories, but of which he neglected to secure the benefit by patent. He also invented various other ingenious machines of minor importance, which brought little profit to himself beyond the testimony they afforded of his mechanical skill. In the construction of the ‘block machinery’ he was fortunate enough to secure the co-operation of Henry Maudslay, and having completed his drawings and working models, Brunel in 1801 took out a patent for his invention. He had introductions to Lord Spencer at the admiralty, and through him the plans were made lmown to Sir Samuel Bentham, then inspector general of naval works, who forwarded to the authorities Brunel’s application for the substitution of his machinery for the more expensive manual labour then in use. After long negotiations and delay the government ultimately, in May 1803, adopted his proposals, and he was directed to erect his machinery at Portsmouth dockyard. In spite of many hindrances, the machinery was completed in 1806. The saving of labour and expense effected by the adoption of Brunel’s ingenious mechanism was enormous. The system consisted of forty-three machines executing the various processes in the block manufacture, and by its aid operations which by the old method had required the uncertain labour of over one hundred men, could be carried out with precision by ten. The blocks were better made than they had ever been before, and the estimated saving to the country in the first year after the machinery was in full working order was about 24,000l. Brunel had incurred great expense in carrying out his plans, but his claims received tardy recognition from the government. In compensation, and as a reward for his invention, he ultimately received a sum of l7,000l. Between the years 1805 and 1812 Brunel was occupied in perfecting various machines for sawmills, cutting, and bending timber, as well as one for cutting staves, and in 1810 he took out a patent for ‘improvements in obtaining motive power’ by means of an ingenious air engine, but this invention appears to have had no practical results. About this time he erected sawmills of his own at Battersea, where many valuable operations in the working of wood by machinery wore for the first time introduced. In 1811 he was employed by the government to erect sawmills an other machinery of his own invention at Woolwich.

In the following year he was entrusted with an order for carrying out improvements on a large scale in the dockyard at Chatham, b which immense saving was effected in this time and labour required for the transport and working of timber, and in which an iron railway laid on longitudinal sleepers was introduced by Brunel for the conveyance