Brunel Collection: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The University of Bristol Information Services Special Collections holds a diverse array of materials pertaining to both the career and private life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. These concern a wide variety of his projects, as well as his personal interests and life outside of Engineering. Within the collection we have the following:

Diaries, 1824-1859Diaries, 1824-1859Private and personal diaries include Brunel's personal thoughts whereas office diaries cover appointments.Private and personal diaries include Brunel's personal thoughts whereas office diaries cover appointments.Private Diaries, 1824-1826, 2 volumes: DM 1306/II.2.i-ii.Private Diaries, 1824-1826, 2 volumes: DM 1306/II.2.i-ii.Thames Tunnel Journals, 1826-1829, 3 volumes: DM 1306/3.Thames Tunnel Journals, 1826-1829, 3 volumes: DM 1306/3.Personal Diary, 1827-1829, 1 volume: DM 1306/II.i.Personal Diary, 1827-1829, 1 volume: DM 1306/II.i.Private Diaries, 1830-1840, 2 volumes: DM 1306/II.3.i-ii.Private Diaries, 1830-1840, 2 volumes: DM 1306/II.3.i-ii.Office Diaries, 1833-1859, 25 volumes: DM 1758.

Sketchbooks, 1830-1857Sketchbooks, 1830-1857We hold 57 of Brunel's original sketchbooks which contain preliminary sketches for many of Brunel's projects. The majority of the sketchbook contents are in random order, with a few relating to specific projects. We hold 57 of Brunel's original sketchbooks which contain preliminary sketches for many of Brunel's projects. The majority of the sketchbook contents are in random order, with a few relating to specific projects. Small Sketchbooks, c. 1837-1856, 17 volumes: DM 162/8, DM 1758.Small Sketchbooks, c. 1837-1856, 17 volumes: DM 162/8, DM 1758.Large Sketchbooks, 1830-1857, 17 volumes: DM 162/8.Large Sketchbooks, 1830-1857, 17 volumes: DM 162/8.Great Western Railway Sketchbooks, 1836-1842, 18 volumes: DM 162/8.Great Western Railway Sketchbooks, 1836-1842, 18 volumes: DM 162/8.Other Sketchbooks, 1835-c.1836, 5 volumes: DM 162/8.

Notebooks, 1827-1859

We hold a large number of Brunel's personal notebooks, many of which contain notes and data on different projects undertaken by Brunel. There are also notebooks which focus on distinct projects.

General notebooks, 1827-1850, 4 volumes: DM 1306.General notebooks, 1827-1850, 4 volumes: DM 1306.Facts - miscellaneous notes and data, 1829-1844, 1 volume: DM 162/10.Facts - miscellaneous notes and data, 1829-1844, 1 volume: DM 162/10.Clifton Suspension Bridge notes, sketches and calculations, 1829-1850, 4 volumes: DM 162.Clifton Suspension Bridge notes, sketches and calculations, 1829-1850, 4 volumes: DM 162.General notebooks, 1830-1859, 20 volumes: DM 1758.General notebooks, 1830-1859, 20 volumes: DM 1758.General Calculation books, 1834-1841 and 1850-1858, 3 volumes: DM 162/25.General Calculation books, 1834-1841 and 1850-1858, 3 volumes: DM 162/25.Notebooks on data from experiments with the Polyphemus and Rattler steamships, 1841-1844, 2 volumes: DM 162/13-14.Notebooks on data from experiments with the Polyphemus and Rattler steamships, 1841-1844, 2 volumes: DM 162/13-14.Notebooks, calculations and sketches on the Great Eastern, Saltash Bridge, South London Railway, 1856-1857, 8 volumes: DM 1758.Notebooks, calculations and sketches on the Great Eastern, Saltash Bridge, South London Railway, 1856-1857, 8 volumes: DM 1758.Duke Street Inventories, 2 volumes: DM 1285.

Letterbooks, 1832-1866Letterbooks, 1832-1866These letterbooks contain copies of Brunel's outgoing correspondence as well as the outgoing correspondence of his office.These letterbooks contain copies of Brunel's outgoing correspondence as well as the outgoing correspondence of his office.Letterbooks, 1832-1866, 15 volumes: DM 162/10.

Letters, 1830-1859Letters, 1830-1859These letters can be divided up into three categories - Letters from Brunel, Letters to Brunel and Brunel Family Correspondence, covering several generations.

Letters (1830-1858) from Brunel to various correspondents including Charles Babbage (1791-1871), Jerome-Adolphe Blanqui (1798-1854), Christopher Claxton (b.1790), Sir Daniel Gooch (1816-1889), Thomas Guppy (c.1797-1882), Sir Roderick Murchison (1792-1871), Sir Joseph Paxton (1801-1865), Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, Fourth Marquis of Lansdowne (1816-1866) and Joseph D'Aguilar Samuda (1813-1885). Many of these correspondents also wrote to Brunel. These letters concern such subjects as the Great Western Railway, Oxford and Worcester Railway, Bristol Docks and Clifton Suspension Bridge: DM 326, 1154, 1238, 1277, 1281, 1306, 1546.

Letters (1831-1859) to Brunel from various correspondents including Sir William Armstrong (1810-1900), Michael Faraday (1791-1867), William Froude (1810-1879), Sir James Robert George Graham (1792-1861), Dionysius Lardner (1793-1859), Sir Bradford Leslie (1831-1926), Charles Alexander Saunders (fl. 1830s-1850s) and Robert Stephenson (1819-1905). These cover such subjects as the Great Eastern and Great Britain steamships, as well as the Great Western Railway, Victoria Railway and Chepstow Bridge: DM 162, 326, 1174, 1240, 1306, 1758.

Brunel family Correspondence (1836-1858), including letters to and from Sir Benjamin Hawes (1797-1862), John Callcott Horsley (1817-1903) and his family, including Mary Horsley, Brunel's sister, as well as William Horsley (1774-1858): DM 1281, 1285.

Bank Books, 1835-1856Bank Books, 1835-1856Bank books of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1835-1856), 13 volumes: DM 1758.Bank books of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1835-1856), 13 volumes: DM 1758.

Large Scale Plans, 1829-1939Large Scale Plans, 1829-1939These plans are limited in number and do not necessarily represent the finished project, but are more often representative of an earlier stage in the development of the design. These plans are limited in number and do not necessarily represent the finished project, but are more often representative of an earlier stage in the development of the design. Bristol Harbour Railway (1869): DM 1229.Bristol Harbour Railway (1869): DM 1229.Channel Tunnel Railway, project of Henry Marc Brunel (19th Century): DM 1452.Channel Tunnel Railway, project of Henry Marc Brunel (19th Century): DM 1452.Cheltenham & Great Western Union Railway (1830s): DM 1230.Cheltenham & Great Western Union Railway (1830s): DM 1230.Clifton Suspension Bridge plans, including 1829 Competition Drawings by Brunel (1829-1939): DM 484, 797, 1761, 1929.Clifton Suspension Bridge plans, including 1829 Competition Drawings by Brunel (1829-1939): DM 484, 797, 1761, 1929.Great Western Railway, including surveys, working drawings and station designs including Bristol Station (1836-1889): DM 1171, 1233, 1234, and 1306.Great Western Railway, including surveys, working drawings and station designs including Bristol Station (1836-1889): DM 1171, 1233, 1234, and 1306.South Wales Railway (1857-1879): DM 1235.South Wales Railway (1857-1879): DM 1235.Album of Tool drawings (1837-1840): DM 1463.Album of Tool drawings (1837-1840): DM 1463.Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth Railway (1840s): DM 1232.

Drawing tools of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Henry Marc Brunel, 1 wooden chest: DM 162.

As well as these, we have a large collection of papers relating to the construction, launch, and operation of the SS Great Eastern. There is also a substantial amount of material relating to the Eastern Steam Navigation Company: DM 162, 1306.

Administrative / Biographical History

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born to Marc and Sophia Brunel on 9 April 1806 in Portsmouth. He was educated at the College de Henri Quatre in Paris, famous for the quality of its mathematical teaching. At the age of fourteen he surveyed and drew an accurate plan of Hove, near Brighton, where he was living at the time. In 1823, aged 17, he commenced working for his father and took part in his operations at the Thames Tunnel. He was soon appointed Resident Engineer for the Tunnel, and dealt with the disasters which plagued its construction. In 1829, he designed a bridge to cross the Avon at Clifton, though his plan was rejected by Thomas Telford, who did not favour the length of span Brunel required. Brunel's second design was deemed the most mathematically exact, better than Telford's, much to the embarrassment of the committee. The bridge was begun but abandoned due to cost until after Brunel's death, when it was completed as a memorial to him in 1864. In 1830 Brunel was appointed chief engineer at Bristol Docks, which he improved as well as he was able within the budget granted to him. In 1831 he designed the Monkwearmouth Docks, and this was later to stand him in good stead when he worked on the docks at Plymouth, Briton Ferry, Milford Haven, and Brentford. In 1833, Brunel was appointed Engineer for the Great Western Railway Company, where he carried into effect his plans for a broad gauge railway system. Despite the controversy of his decision, his work brought him great renown, and he was asked to design railways in Italy and to advise upon the construction of the Victorian Lines in Australia and the Eastern Bengal Railway. He worked on the system of atmospheric propulsion and attempted to use it on the South Devon railway in 1844, though it did not work in practice.

In 1836, Brunel began construction of the Great Western, a steamship of 2,300 tons - one far larger than any in existence at that time. Her first voyage, in 1838, was considered a great success, and she was then employed in regular service between Britain and America, completing the journey in fifteen days. He then considered the merits of screw propulsion, making a series of observations on the Ship "Archimedes" and projecting its application on larger steam vessels. In 1841, he was commissioned by the Admiralty to study this further, and his work in this field led to the adoption of the screw propeller by the Royal Navy in 1845. He used the screw propeller in the construction of the Great Britain, a large iron ship first designed for paddle wheel propulsion. The Great Britain made her first voyage in 1845 from Liverpool to New York. She was stranded on Dundrum Bay, Ireland, for the winter of 1846, and demonstrated the excellence of her hull by sustaining no damage for the whole period of her grounding. In 1851 Brunel was appointed Consulting Engineer to the Australian Steam Navigation Company and recommended that they construct vessels of 5,000 tons burden, vessels capable of crossing to Australia with only one stop for coal. The Company did not take Brunel's advice at that time, considering expense in the short term as their priority - a problem which frequently dogged Brunel's grand designs. In 1852, the Eastern Steam Navigation Company commissioned Brunel to design a vessel for them. This vessel would be the Great Eastern, the largest steamship built by far, and would remain so until the construction of the Lusitania in 1907. Construction began in 1853, and after a troublesome three-month launching, the Great Eastern entered the water in January 1858. Financially, the Great Eastern was deemed a failure, and she was given work laying the transatlantic telegraph cable. While working on the Great Eastern Brunel busied himself with a number of other designs, including a floating gun carriage and prefabricated military hospital, both designed for use in the Crimean War. In 1858 he journeyed to Egypt to rest and recover; the Great Eastern and his work on various architectural projects including the Saltash or Royal Albert Bridge having taken a great toll on his health. He was present at the testing of the engines of the Great Eastern on 5 September, 1859, though he collapsed on the deck of the ship and died on 15 September, 1859. He was buried at Kensal Green, and a statue was erected in his memory. His family dedicated a window in Westminster Abbey to him, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge was completed to his designs as modified by Sir John Hawkshaw, as a lasting tribute to his ability as an engineer.

Brunel was an influential and enthusiastic member of the scientific and engineering communities, and was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers from 1829 onwards, holding the office of Vice-President from 1845 until his death in 1859. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1830, as well as being a prominent member of most British and European scientific societies. He had three children: Henry Marc Brunel (1842-1903), Isambard Brunel Junior (1837-1902), and Florence Mary Brunel (c.1847-1876). Florence Mary married into the James family, and was the only one of Brunel's children to produce offspring.

Conditions Governing Access

Accessible to all bona fide readers.

Acquisition Information

The original Brunel Collection was given to the University of Bristol Library by Isambard Kingdom Brunel's granddaughter, Lady Celia Noble, in 1950. This makes up the bulk of the collection, and includes letter books, sketchbooks, calculation books, documents and drawing instruments of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, as well as papers of Isambard Brunel Junior, Sir Marc Brunel and Henry Marc Brunel. Additional material was purchased from the family in 1990 with the aid of grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the J. Paul Getty Junior Charitable Trust, the Wolfson Foundation, the Pilgrim Trust and the Dulverton trust. A further series was purchased in 1996 with the assistance of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries and the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust.

Note

Compiled by Martin Hall, Assistant Archivist, University of Bristol Information Services - Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

Typescript catalogues and subject indices are available in University of Bristol Information Services - Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to copy documents must be obtained from Special Collections staff.

Related Material

Special Collections houses 4 archive boxes of secondary material as well as biographies and engineering studies of Brunel's works.

Additional Information

See the following link for our online description of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's works and a summary of our archival holdings: http://www.bris.ac.uk/is/services/specialcollections/brunel.htm

Family Names