List of entries |  Feedback 
  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Isambard Kingdom Brunel

The outstanding example of an entrepreneurial Victorian engineer, seen at his most memorable in front of the chains used to launch the Great Eastern. His father, the French-born engineer Marc Isambard Brunel (1769–1849), invented the tunnelling shield and with it built the world's first underwater tunnel (366m/400yd long, constructed 1825-43) under the Thames between Wapping and Rotherhithe; it is still in use as part of London's *underground. The younger Brunel was appointed resident engineer of the project at the age of 19. In 1833, when he was 27, he became chief engineer to the Great Western railway, building the line from Paddington to Bristol. His design for the new *Clifton suspension bridge had been accepted in 1831.

The boldest of his many endeavours were his three great ships, each the largest in the world when launched. The Great Western, a wooden paddle steamer, was the first steamship to be built specifically for the Atlantic; she made her inaugural crossing in 1838 in 15 days (the smaller Sirius, an Irish packet steamer, had been by a whisker the first to steam across, reaching New York the previous day after a journey of 19 days). The iron-hulled *Great Britain was launched in Bristol in 1843 and is now back there.

The Great Eastern (1858) was a monster which almost literally killed Brunel. It was another half century before any ship exceeded her length of 211m/692ft or her displacement of 22,500 tons.

She proved almost impossible to launch and then had an unsatisfactory career crossing the Atlantic (so much coal had to be carried that there was insufficient room for the intended 4000 passengers). She only came into her own when laying the Transatlantic telegraph cable in 1865. Brunel was spared the pain of much of this saga; he suffered a stroke on board the ship just before her maiden voyage.

A  B-BL  BO-BX  C-CH  CI-CX  D  E  F  G  H  IJK  L  M  NO  P  QR  S-SL  SM-SX  T  UV  WXYZ