Brunel, Isambard Kingdom 1806 - 1859

Brunel, Isambard Kingdom (1806–1859), civil engineer, was born at Portsea, Portsmouth, on 9 April 1806, the third child and first son of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769–1849), civil engineer. He worked as apprentice to his father who was then working to construct the first tunnel under the River Thames in London, from Rotherhithe to Wapping. Brunel designed Clifton Bridge, Bristol and advised the Bristol Docks Company on improvements to the condition of the Bristol City docks.

In 1833 he was appointed Engineer to the Great Western Railway (GWR), the line ran from Paddington Station in London to Temple Meads in Bristol. He chose to adopt a broader gauge than that adopted by previous railways, so that the GWR was built on a ‘broad gauge’ of 7 feet instead of the conventional ‘narrow’ gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches. The two systems were used together until 1845 when the broad gauge was rejected by the Gauge Commission. The GWR also operated steam ships from Bristol to New York and a subsidiary company the Great Western Steamship Company was created with Brunel as its engineer.

He was a keen supporter of the Institution of Civil Engineers, He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in June 1830 of which he became an associate in 1829, and a member from 1837. He was an active member of the buildings committee of the commission for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and supported Paxton's design for the Crystal Palace. In 1857 he was awarded an honorary degree of DCL from the University of Oxford. He operated from his office in Duke Street, London. Brunel died on 15 September 1859 aged fifty-three.